The pinnacle of show jumping competition called the Alltech Arena home on Saturday, November 4th for the most anticipated event of the week, the $226,000 Longines FEI World Cup ™ Jumping Lexington. 28 of the world’s top horse-and-rider combinations faced off at the 140th National Horse Show for a chance to qualify for the 2024 FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Twelve nations were represented in the field of riders, four of which are in the top 15 Longines ranked riders. Course designer, Alan Wade (IRL) set a proper first-round track consisting of 13 efforts set up to 1.60m. Of the initial 28 pairs, 11 went clear and within the time allowed of 74 seconds, including Alex Matz (USA) and Cashew CR, Beat Mändli (SUI) and Dsarie, Alise Oken (USA) and Gelvera, Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and James Kann Cruz, Nayel Nassar (EGY) and Igor van de Wittenmoere, Andrew Bourns (IRL) and Sea Topblue, Daniel Bluman (ISR) and Gemma W, Margie Goldstein-Engle (USA) and Dicas, Devin Ryan (USA) and Eddie Blue, Brian Moggre (USA) and MTM Vivre le Reve, and Rene Dittmer (GER) and Corsica X.
Alex Matz, winner of Thursday’s $38,700 International Two-Phase, was first to return for the 7-obstacle jump-off. Matz was also the recipient of The M. Michael Meller Style of Riding Award given each year at the National Horse Show to the rider who exhibits the best combination of horsemanship, skill and presentation.
Though 11 pairs made it through to the shortened track in hopes of earning valuable qualifying points for the FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final, two unlucky rails would fall for Matz, leaving the first double clear effort still to be seen.
It was Switzerland’s, Beat Mändli who laid down the first podium-worthy round with a clear second round, tripping the timers in 35.95 seconds and claiming an early lead in the class. Though, he did not hold it for long as the USA’s, Alise Oken and Gelvera swiftly rose the bar posting their own double clear effort, besting Mändli’s time and holding the lead with a time of 35.70.
Coming back as the fourth pair to the jump-off, it was the experienced pair, Sweetnam and Gizmo Partner’s, James Kann Cruz (Kannan x Cruising). The 2013 Irish Sport Horse Gelding showcased his athleticism clearing the 1.60m Longines in and out with a stutter step to the wide oxer at the in. The duo showcased some serious footspeed galloping down the last line and ultimately taking the lead with a time of 33.41, nearly a full second faster than Oken. Sweetnam offered insights into his horse’s performance, stating, “He’s looking, you know, he’s, he’s a very smart horse, so the more he does it the smarter he gets. He looks for the jump like the rollbacks today, he’s looking for the next jump.”
This victory in the $226,000 Longines FEI World Cup ™ Jumping Lexington marked their inaugural grand prix win of the year, and a bucket list item for the accomplished Irish rider who has dreamed of winning the class at the National Horse Show for the better part of 15 years. Following several strong finishes in previous competitions, Sweetnam expressed his excitement, saying, “It’s an unbelievable show. It’s always been one of the main Grand Prix’s that everyone talks about. You see like there’s a huge tradition, 140 years.”
Notably, this outstanding performance has propelled Sweetnam to the second position in the North American League standings, positioning him favorably in the race for a coveted spot at the World Cup finals in Riyadh.
Winner of the 2022 Longines FEI World Cup ™ Jumping Lexington, Daniel Bluman who this year piloted his other top mount, Gemma W (Luidam x Unaniem), the 12-year-old KWPN mare owned by Blue Star Investments and Over The Top Stables LLC, secured the second spot on the podium behind Sweetnam just shy of the pace with a time of 34.14. Their calculated ride to the Longines combination, a formidable obstacle on the course, was a defining moment of their ride. Considered one of the fastest horses in the field, “Gemma” was a favorite for the podium. Though the pair fell just shy of the win having battled with Sweetnam in several grand prixs over the summer, the pair still gained points towards next year’s FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final.
During the post-competition interview, Bluman also took a moment to address a global issue: “I want to send my thoughts and prayers to everyone that is currently affected, by the war [in Israel and Palestine] and what’s going on. It’s a real tragedy and we’re praying for our resolution for the hostages to come back and, and for peace in a better future.”
Rounding out the podium were Devin Ryan and LL Show Jumpers LLC’s, Eddie Blue (VDL Zirocco Blue x Marlon) who clocked in at 34.22 seconds. The long-time pair, though experienced in the highest levels of competition were not the fastest in the field. Demonstrating a calculated approach relying on the 14-year-old KWPN’s stride the pair were able to earn themselves a podium position in the end against two of the top riders in the league. Ryan reflected on his long-time partner, Eddie Blue stating, “He really is quite a fighter. You know, at home in the stables and everything he has a big personality. He’s a bit cheeky and when he goes in the ring, he just loves his job. He puts his ears forward every time he goes in the ring. He likes being on the stage.”
Ryan’s recent accomplishments include a third-place finish in the $450,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Washington President’s Cup Grand Prix at the Washinton International Horse Show. Standing strong in the race to Riyadh, Ryan’s two top finishes in the last two weeks have placed him at the top of the North American League standings.
As the international show jumping competition concluded this evening, all eyes are now on the final day of the 140th National Horse Show, with the highly anticipated ASPCA Maclay taking center stage. The action is set to begin at 7:15 in the morning on November 5. Riders and spectators alike are eagerly awaiting the pinnacle event, poised to witness the ultimate display of equitation as the competition reaches its thrilling conclusion.