USA’s Jim Koford & Pharaoh Win Tiny Wellington World Cup Freestyle
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WELLINGTON, Florida, Feb. 4–James Koford rode Pharaoh, a horse owned by his employee that he is competing to give it experience, to win the $50,000 Wellington Dressage World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle Saturday, moving him into second place in the North American League rankings and in contention for an invitation to the Final in mid-April.
Only four combinations started the freestyle in the World Cup event that was the seventh of 12 qualifying competitions for the Final, as most of the 15 starters in the Grand Prix opted for the Olympic Grand Prix Special that is a requirement for the U.S. selection trials for the Olympics in London this summer.
The score of 73.300 per cent for James, who describes his life as “gypsy” like with no place to call home, was a personal best for him and the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Ferro x Heureka VH Rampelhof x Carneval). The pair have competed in only four shows since their first CDI in June last year. The result was enough to elevate them to second place behind Adrienne Lyle and Wizard in the NAL which receives at least two places in the Final, the only annual global championship which will be held in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, April 18-22.
Shawna Harding of Aiken, South Carolina, and her 2011 World Cup Final mount, Come On III were second on 70.575 per cent with Canada’s Jacqueline Brooks and D Niro third on 68.625 per cent and the Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muñiz and Liebling II fourth on 66.625 per cent.
Janet Foy of the U.S., president of the ground jury, said the International Equestrian Federation may need to review qualifying criteria because combinations are not required to perform the Freestyle which is an issue in an Olympic year. And few North American riders have more than one horse to give them the option of aiming one for the World Cup and one for the Olympics.
Nevertheless, she described the quality as good and described Jim’s ride as “very energetic, very exciting, lots of activity” and especially enjoyable because every time they performed a movement well “he had a big smile.”
“It was wonderful to see someone enjoying themselves so much,” she said. “You don’t see that sort of smile in top international riders because everyone is so concentrated.”
Jim admitted “we just have so much fun” with the ‘Mask of Zorro’ music that allows him to use the physicality of Pharaoh to “go in there and be so Spanish. I can just let it go. In the Grand Prix we have to put a lid on it. Here I can say ‘go, go, go.’ It’s such a kick in the pants. The horse will go back to the stall a happy horse. I’m glad the judges rewarded it.”
He said that he and Pharaoh’s owner, Hannah Shook, agreed the horse belonged in the Grand Prix ring so he was riding it to provide more experience, but the goal is to prepare it for Hannah to compete in the Under-25 level.
Asked if the pair are invited will he go to the World Cup Final, he said, “If I get a chance to do it, yeah, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”
Shawna Harding could only shake her head at what she described as the “flying change disaster” at this competition.
Come On III, a 13-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Come Back II x Canna x Lantaan), whom she rode in the 2011 World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany, was feeling stronger but she said they need to get more serious in the ring.
“You never know what horse you’re going to get when you go in the ring,” she said. He is a special horse with a huge heart who always tries for me.”
World Cup representation from the NAL is wide open this year as Steffen Peters of the United States and Ashley Holzer of Canada who would be considered prime prospects have both declared their intentions not to compete but to focus on the London Games.
The next World Cup event is in Wellington Feb. 16-19.
NAL standings, which are based on the average of the top two scores, are:
1. Adrienne Lyle USA
2. Jim Koford USA
3. Shawna Harding USA
Results of the Grand Prix Freestyle: