By Nancy Jaffer/For The Star-Ledger
Top riders headed four divisions yesterday at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, but the 13-year-old competition itself was the big winner at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
There wasn't room for another car to park at the facility in Allentown, as several thousand came to watch the cross-country phase and tailgate around the jumps. That was the result of a major initiative to upgrade both the event and the park, with a campaign to raise money for improved footing at the facility and a determined outreach for Jersey Fresh.
The course, designed by John Williams and built by Morgan Rowsell, covered some different areas of the park than in the past. It developed into an open, galloping route, featuring 36 new fences, including a grouping in the main arena for the first time, with a good vantagepoint from a new VIP tent in the top end of the ring.
"We're really trying and we hope it shows," said Allyson Jeffery, a park trustee who is heading the footing effort.
"I'm absolutely thrilled. I think the course is really shining this year and tailgating has never been better," observed Jeffery.
"We've got a firm foundation here. Part of this was (increasing) awareness and part of it has been fundraising. I'm grateful for everyone who has passed the word along."
One of the biggest boosts came from Brendan Furlong, a former U.S. eventing team veterinarian, who became the presenting sponsor with a $25,000 check. That inspired a good deal of what has happened on the good side at the facility, which is hosting this weekend's final selection trials for the U.S. team that will go to the Pan American Games in Canada this summer. The U.S. needs a top performance there to clinch a spot in the Olympics for an American eventing squad.
Hundreds of tailgaters ringed the area around the signature Jersey Shore water complex, where they cheered their favorites, with special recognition given to Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM.
Tailgating crowds lined the area around the Jersey Shore complex at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event.Nancy Jaffer|For NJ Advance Media
The U.S. Eventing Association's biggest point-earner in history, Reggie, as the Irish-bred gelding is known, picked up the lead in the featured CCI 3-star with a 41.6-penalty dressage score and held it through a fault-free cross-country trip. The title will be decided today as the event concludes with show jumping.
Davidson loved the crowd's enthusiasm, but noted it was distracting.
"I had to make sure I paid attention a little bit," he said with a grin.
Commenting on the push to improve the park, he said, "I think this event has possibilities for bigger and better. The whole sport has raised its level. There are so many options and so many places to go. We're very fortunate the sport is going the way it's going and the events are stepping up."
Carl Segal of Pottersville, who owns Reggie with his wife, Cassie, knows the day is coming soon when the horse, now 15, will be coming home to retire at their farm.
"It's winding down, but we're not quite there yet," he said, noting, "it's one event at a time."
"He'll tell us," said Davidson about how to know when the horse is ready to hang up his bridle.
Reggie was re-routed to Jersey Fresh from the 4-star Rolex Kentucky last month, after a refusal early on course there that Davidson blamed on himself.
Segal, who served as a volunteer at Jersey, was understandably enthusiastic about the horse's performance as the gelding put his heart into challenges that he handled with ease.
"Reggie was fantastic," Segal said.
"He always gives it his best. He had a tough go at Rolex, but he came right back today. It was phenomenal."
The prize check isn't going to Davidson quite yet, however. He is only 0.4 penalties ahead of Lauren Kieffer on Meadowbrook's Scarlett. With a knockdown counting 4 penalties in the stadium jumping, he has no breathing room.
Davidson did, however, clinch first place in the CIC-2-star, which wrapped up yesterday, over a shorter course than the CCI. He was aboard Copper Beech, owned by the Segals with Sherry and Randy Martin. Sean, as the horse is known, added 7.2 time penalties to his dressage score of 40.2 penalties.
Copper Beech won the CIC 3-star at Jersey Fresh in 2014, but he dropped down a notch this year because the 9-year-old rising star is heading for Ireland's 3-star CCI Tattersall's event in a few weeks and used this as a prep.
Leading the 2-star CCI with 36.9 penalties going into today's show jumping is Cyrano, ridden by Michael Pollard, a former winner at Jersey Fresh. The 3-star CIC went to Kieffer on Landmark's Monte Carlo, with 8 time penalties for a total of 54.40. Her horse was homebred by Jacqueline Mars, a longtime patron of the sport.
Kieffer, who rode in all four divisions, was happy with the changes at the event and the park.
"I think Jersey is doing the right thing, trying to up the game," said Kieffer, who also noticed the changes.
A local favorite, Holly Payne of Gladstone, stands seventh in the CCI 3-star on Santino, known as Sonny (real name Santino) after the eldest son in the movie "The Godfather."
A 12-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred, Sonny is a hard-luck horse. He's been through cellulitis, was in a trailer accident last spring, had a freak fall at the first fence at the Fair Hill International last October.
Holly Payne and Sonny soar over a skinny wooden mushroom jump on the Jersey Fresh course.Nancy Jaffer|For NJ Advance Media
"I'm just happy that he's back and going like his old self. I'm trying to get him healthy and happy," said Payne, a professional based in Chester.
She had 6 time penalties on cross-country, but explained, "I wanted to play it conservative and have a good round. He's a really good horse who's had so much bad luck you just want it all to go well. It's better not to put pressure on him right now," she said.
During the morning, Pan American Games gold medalist Jessica Phoenix, a Canadian rider who was second on course, hit the turf hard when her horse, Exultation, chested a log obstacle that was the sixth fence in the CCI 2-star competition. Although it was a rotational fall, Phoenix and her mount went in different directions, rather than having the horse land on the rider, as is too often the case in that type of accident.
While Phoenix avoided that life-threatening scenario and the possibility of head injuries, she suffered three broken ribs, a broken clavicle and a broken sacrum. She was operated on for liver damage at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin, two pillars of the U.S. team at international competitions, each had a fall near the end of the course from one of their multiple mounts, but they were uninjured. So was Davidson, who took a tumble from Be Mine in the CCI 2-star and blamed his own "very bad riding."
ON THE RAIL -- Auditors are welcome at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation May 19-24 for the George Morris Gladstone Program at Hamilton Farm off Pottersville Road in Gladstone.
Mounted sessions with the former U.S. Show jumping coach presiding run from 8 a.m.-noon May 20-24. On May 19, the 8 a.m. session will feature a lecture with Gerd Heuschmann, an expert in the biomechanics of the horse and how it relates to the training and overall well-being of the horse. Space for this lecture is limited and available to auditors on a first-come, first-served basis.
The audit fee is $75/day or $375 for all six sessions. To register,call Trish Millon at (908) 234-1251...
Equine Time, a new program for breast cancer survivors and women who have been involved in other medical situations, begins Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in Bedminster.
The six-week, non-riding program is an introduction to horses and their care, designed to give people who have been through difficult times a new perspective through working with the animals. There is no charge for the initial program, but those who are interested must RSVP to email@example.com...
Darby Mazzarisi of Chesterfield last week was the grand adult amateur hunter champion on Gemology at the Old Salem Farm show in Westchester County, N.Y.
The 7-year-old mare by Popeye K was given to Mazzarisi by her husband as a 6-month old. A thoroughbred cross, Gemology was bred in Medford by Susan Cordell and has been brought along by Mazzarisi, a mother of three who trains with Stacia Madden at Beacon Hill in Colts Neck.
Mazzarisi said of her mare, "She has a thoroughbred heart. They either want it or they don't, and from the start, she has wanted it"...
The Gladstone driving combined test and horse trials, originally scheduled to run next weekend, has been cancelled. The competition did not fill, with many horses not ready for a May event after a hard winter. Organizers are pondering holding clinics or another event later in the year if there is interest.
Link to original article: http://www.nj.com/sports/njsports/index.ssf/2015/05/horse_park_shines_during_jersey_fresh_three-day_ev.html