Nobody knew who would win the third annual $50,000 Oaks Grandprix jumping competition Sunday in San Juan Capistrano, but few were betting that Susan Hutchinson and Livius would repeat their winning performance of last year. Not to doubt the accomplished rider's abilities, but it is difficult enough to win on the demanding Oaks course once--never mind twice.
Unless you are Susan Hutchinson, that is. In a timed jump-off among seven riders who completed the first round without faults, she won with a clean round in a mad-dash 39.8 seconds.
"I'm really, really happy. This doesn't generally happen twice in a row on a grandprix course like the Oaks, but Livius rose to the occasion," said Hutchinson, a seasoned U.S. Equestrian Team veteran from Flintridge who trains with Jimmy Williams.
Livius, a 16.1-hand chestnut Trakehner gelding, competed in the World Cup finals two years ago and was 1987 Trakehner of the Year. "He's a powerful jumper," Hutchinson said. "The bigger (the fence), the better for him."
Her closest challenger was Cece Jungherr of Malibu, who has won at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. She finished a close second aboard Young Fleet with no errors and 40.7 seconds in the jump-off.
Third place was every bit as amazing as Hutchinson's back-to-back win, but it was a bittersweet victory of sorts for rider Will Simpson. He was called in to catch-ride in the jump-off for Hap Hansen, who was taken to the hospital after he was injured in the first round.
Simpson, a National Horse Show winner who set the puissance (high jump) record at 7 feet, 9 inches, demonstrated his prowess as a rider aboard Hansen's horse, Zadoc. He went clean in 42.28 seconds in the jump-off, although he had never ridden the European horse. The big gray stallion, feisty and confused over the sudden change in riders, threw a strong buck after each of several fences. But Simpson rode him through it, eventually getting the horse to settle down and sail through the course.
In the first round, Hansen's ride aboard Zadoc had gone like clockwork, but he had difficulty with his second mount, Juniperus, aboard whom he had won Saturday's $7,000 Open Jumper Welcome Stake. Juniperus had an uneven landing from a fence in the middle of the grandprix course and veered sideways on the approach to the next fence, throwing Hansen off balance. As Hansen fell to the ground, his foot caught in the stirrup and twisted at what appeared to be a brutally sharp angle.
There were no other casualties, however, on the 13-fence first-round course designed by Linda Allen. It was a demanding, technical course that twisted through the myriad oak trees (from which the stable, the Oaks, draws its name). With many jumps at close to the maximum allowed height of 5 feet, 6 inches, just seven of the 41 starters went without faults.
For some, the bugaboo was the time factor rather than fences. A handful of riders jumped all the first-round fences flawlessly but were knocked from the running because they exceeded the allowed time of 92 seconds.
Among them was Bernie Traurig of San Marcos, a versatile rider who has competed for the U.S. Equestrian Team in show jumping and this year is also a candidate for the Olympic dressage team. Traurig cleared all the obstacles in the first round handily aboard Corsair--and lost his hat in the process--but was kept from competing in the jump-off because he had one-quarter of a time penalty on the course.
"The course was great. It was difficult but fair," said an obviously disappointed Traurig as he watched the "lucky seven" riders compete in the jump-off. "But the timing was too tight. After the first horse went, they should have left him in the running and adjusted the timing."
He was referring to Cheer, a stallion who went clean in the first round but whose time of 97.2 seconds gave him 1 1/2 time penalties. Like Corsair (Traurig's horse), Cheer was not allowed in the jump-off. In the final standings, however, both horses were in the money: Corsair placed eighth and Cheer ninth.
Also among the top finishers were: Rich Fellers on El Mirasol in fourth place; Jenny Iverson on Olisco, fifth; Rob Gage (national rider of the year) on Kodiak, sixth, and Jennifer Newell on Guenour, a French national champion.
Although the first-round faults were fairly evenly spread out, some riders had particular difficulty in the middle of the course with a triple combination, which was a tight two-stride into a normal one-stride. Among them was Hutchinson on another entry, Flying Chicken, and Larry Hollahan of Newport Farms in Costa Mesa aboard the promising young Dutch horse, Rigoletto.
Fatigue near the end of the challenging course no doubt accounted for the trouble many riders had with the 13th and final fence. A water jump with a large cross-rail, it was dubbed by some riders "unlucky fence number 13." Several strong contenders, including Alain Vaillancourt on two horses entered by the Oaks (Hermes and Kontiki), had gone clean and were assured a place in the jump-off until they pulled a rail there.
In the closing ceremonies, Oaks owner Joan Irvine Smith, assisted by her mother, Athalie Clarke, pinned ribbons on the horses' bridles and handed checks to their riders--from $15,000 for the winner to $1,250 for 10th place. And after a spirited victory gallop to the tune of "The Heat Is On," it was all over but the celebrating.