: USA’s Todd Minikus and Babalou top an 18-horse jump off to claim victory in the final leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016/2017 North American League. (FEI/Debra Jamroz)
By Esther Hahn
As the final pair to enter the turf field at Live Oak International, the USA’s Todd Minikus and Babalou delivered a commanding, double clear performance to win the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Ocala, the closing leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016/2017 North American League season.
Until Minikus crossed the timers at 47.77 seconds, Germany’s Andre Thieme and Conthendrix held the lead as the seventh pair to ride in the 18-horse jump off. Thieme stopped the clock at 49.39 seconds with zero faults across the shortened track. France’s Alexandra Paillot rounded out the international podium with a third-place, double clear finish aboard Polias de Blondel. Their round clocked in at 51.68 seconds.
“I could have the reputation of going maybe a little too fast, once in a while,” said Minikus. “I was basically not trying to turn too tight or make a silly mistake by going too fast. And Andre was pretty quick. It was a great event and I’m very excited to be back. The two times I’ve been here, I’ve ended up winning so I’m all about Live Oak.”
From a starting number of 38 entries, nearly half of the field went clear in the first round over a fair, yet testing, course built by Bob Ellis (GBR). The first round featured 13 obstacles and 16 jumping attempts, with triple and double combinations. Ellis also utilized the field’s slope to test adjustability, scope, and carefulness at strategically placed verticals and wide oxers.
“My plan was to provide some good sport, which we had,” said Ellis. “We had a few clear rounds; more than I had expected, I have to say. But a great jump off. These guys made it very, very exciting.”
It was the final round that highlighted the day’s top combinations when only five pairs jumped double clear. Galloping lines and rollback turns asked multiple, difficult questions that caused rails to drop throughout the course, particularly at a careful vertical that followed on a bending line from the Longines oxer.
After a streak of faults in the riding order, the odds looked to be against Minikus to ride clear. But proving that the best had yet to come, he seamlessly and efficiently rode through tight turns to find the correct distances and came away with the coveted win.
Noticeably missing in the jump off were 2016 Rio Olympics pairs Ben Maher (GBR) and Tic Tac and Scott Keach (AUS) and Fedor, with four and five faults, respectively. And the winner of last year’s event, Marilyn Little (USA), also narrowly missed advancing with an unlucky rail in the first round.
Following today’s event, the rankings have decided which 14 riders have earned bids to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Omaha, Nebraska (March 29—April 2). The top seven athletes from the East Coast (USA), top three from the West Coast (USA), and the two best-placed athletes from Canada and Mexico have qualified through the Longines FEI World Cup™ North American League. Find the full standings below.
Result: 1, Babalou (Todd Minikus) USA 0/0 47.77; 2, Conthendrix (Andre Thieme) GER 0/0 49.39; 3, Polias de Blondel (Alexandra Paillot) FRA 0/0 51.68; 4, Taloubet (Paulo Sergio Matteo Santana Filho) ESA 0/0 52.47; 5, Falco van Spieveld (Nicole Walker) CAN 0/0 53.81; 6, Codarco (Chloe Reid) USA 0/4 48.88; 7, Dougie Douglas (Katherine A. Dinan) USA 0/4 50.09; 8, The Kingdom (Christina Kelly) IRL 0/4 50.23.