Only four riders have ever successfully defended their titles in the $250,000 FTI Consulting Grand Prix, the closing event at the Hampton Classic. A fifth was added on Sunday in the 38th version of the show in Bridgehampton.
Joining Rodney Jenkins, Michael Matz, Margie Engle and McLain Ward, Kent Farrington repeated as the Grand Prix champion. His flawless time of 38.51 seconds on Zafira, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood, defeated Richie Moloney on Slieveanorra (40 seconds) and Georgina Bloomberg on Juvina (44.03 seconds).
“I won it two years in a row,” Farrington said. “It’s really special to me.”
Farrington won last year’s event on Voyeur, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood, and was riding him throughout the Classic this week. But Voyeur was suffering from a swollen ankle on Saturday so Farrington decided to go with the younger, less-experienced horse in Zafira.
“I thought it was better I didn’t push my luck and give him the rest of the week off and save him for further events coming up,” Farrington said of Voyeur. “Zafira is a young horse, she’s a 9-year-old, so she’s very inexperienced at this level. So that was going to be a big step up and she stepped up to the plate and answered all of the questions today.”
Farrington admitted that he was banking on a small number of riders in the jump-off round so that Zafira could handle the workload. “My horse is fast, but not the fastest horse, so I think it was better that there were five in the jump-off and not ten,” he said. “I thought the course was actually something that she could handle. She did a lot of showing in Calgary so it’s a very similar style on a grass field. There are pretty intimidating jumps but I thought it would be our day and felt very good despite her being very green.”
Moloney, one of the more local riders in the competition, out of Riverhead, was vying for his second Grand Prix victory in two days, having won the $40,000 Longines Cup on Saturday with Carrabis Z. He also rode Slieveanorra to second place in Friday’s $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix Qualifier. His three performances propelled him to the top of the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider Challenge, with 229 points.
Moloney, a native of Ireland, looked as if he could steal the championship away from Farrington, who explained how he was able to edge Moloney in the final round. “Richie and I are riding two very different types of horses,” he explained. “His is a quicker-mover, can turn probably shorter than my horse, but it doesn’t have as big of a stride. So today my strategy was to do less strides within the lines and try to beat him on a bigger gallop.”
Bloomberg, the daughter of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stole some of the spotlight from Moloney, even though she finished behind him in third place, her highest placement ever at the Classic. Bloomberg is expecting her first child in December and had announced earlier in the year that the Hampton Classic would be her final show before she takes a break.
Bloomberg said she plans to jump right back into training in January and back to riding in February, if all goes to plan.
“I’ll play it by ear and not push myself or do anything stupid,” she said. “I’ve had two nice young horses who I’ve worked with all year, two nice Grand Prix horses in Lily and Juvina. They’ll enjoy the break and hopefully they’ll come back stronger and go right back to the top.”
Bloomberg has said in the past that she never does well with her father in attendance but put that superstition to rest on Sunday. “I hope I’ve broken that spell,” she said, with a smile. “I’m very appreciative that he came and supported me. It meant a lot.”
For much of Sunday, it looked as if there wouldn’t even be a jump-off round. After more than a dozen riders failed to go clean, Kevin Babington, out of Gwynedo Valley, Pennsylvania, finally recorded a perfect round, finishing under the 85-second allowed time. After another handful of riders failed, including six-time champion McLain Ward, it wasn’t until Moloney cleared his round that a jump-off was guaranteed.
Bloomberg followed Moloney with a perfect first round, then Farrington, then Brianne Goutal, the final rider in the competition.
Guilherme Jorge, the Hampton Classic course designer, said he wanted to make the course somewhat difficult, but even he was a little nervous when the first handful of riders couldn’t complete the course successfully.
“It’s a very important event, good prize money, and it’s always been a difficult course, so I wanted to bring it up to the standards of the show,” he explained. “I knew a lot of good [riders] were coming up so I was hoping it would work out. I was very happy that it did.”