By Esther Hahn
Under the desert sun, Egypt’s Nayel Nassar showcased his close partnership with longtime mount Lordan to win in the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Thermal CSI3*-W. In the seventh and final event on the West Coast, the 25-year-old rider guided the 12-year-old, Hanoverian gelding (Lordanos x Landor) to a double clear that bested a field of 20.
Competing over a sprawling course designed by Germany’s Martin Otto, the riders tested their skills and their horses’ scope against the demanding double and triple combinations, short distances, wide oxers, and problematic shadows. From walking the course, competitors noted that the course would jump with difficulties, which ultimately proved true when only three pairs finished the first round without faults.
“Today was the final World Cup qualifier on the West Coast so I designed the course to be more like one in an indoor because the Final is in an indoor,” said Otto. “We had top level riders and horses so I was really fine with the outcome of three in the jump off.”
France’s Eric Navet and Catypso (Catoki x Calypso II) and the United States’ Jamie Barge and Luebbo (Lord Pezi x Stakkato) joined Nassar and Lordan in the final round. First to go, Navet had an uncharacteristic misjudgment of strides in the course’s first line, and the 9-year-old, Hanoverian gelding forced a rail down.
“All three of us were fighters, and I was lucky enough to go last, and Eric had to go first and he had to take a big risk,” said Nassar.
“I’ve ridden Catypso since he was 6,” said Navet. “He’s come a long way. It took a good time to get him to understand (jumping clear). He has unbelievable, with easy scope, and I feel like I can jump anything; he just needed to figure it out and improve his technique.
“I’m very proud of him and very satisfied to have such a great finish in a challenging course. I really feel like he did that easily (today) which makes me optimistic for the rest of the year and the rest of his career.”
Winner Nayel Nassar (EGY) riding Lordan. Photo: Sophie St. Clair
On the rise
Next in the jump-off order, Barge continued to build her consistency in delivering clear rounds, leaving all the rails standing aboard her 11-year-old, Oldenburg gelding. A long gallop to the final Longines oxer also helped her take seconds off the clock to finish in 49.64 seconds, but a more conservative track left the door open.
“I worked with him a lot on his flatwork and his rideability in the summer,” said Barge about her partner for the last two years. “If I can get the rideability, he’s got the scope and the heart to do it. I’m excited that it’s come together.”
In November, the 29-year-old rider finished second to McLain Ward (USA) in the $100,000 Coachella Valley Classic at HITS Sunshine Series II CSI5*, also held at the HITS Desert Horse Park.
“My horse is a really good horse,” she added. “He’s a little bit spunky and has some attitude but that’s what I love about him. This was his first World Cup qualifier class, and it was the biggest class that I’ve seen here in three or four years that I’ve been coming (to Thermal).”
Second-placed Jamie Barge (USA) riding Luebbo. Photo: Bret St. Clair
Back with a bang
But it was Nassar with his deceptively fast gelding that managed to stop the timers at 48.19 seconds, despite adding an extra stride in the second line. An inside turn and a faster gallop proved strategy enough to steal the lead and seal the victory.
“I only kind of saw Jamie go, but people said that she didn’t go inside the Longines oxer, going away from the gate, so I knew if I slipped inside there, I didn’t have to go crazy to catch her,” Nassar said. “I did six strides in the first line, eight in the second line; my horse has small stride. But then it was just a matter of jumping the last two jumps clean.”
So as the palm trees dotted the skyline and the California temperatures soared, he returned to the winter circuit showgrounds of his formative, junior years by making a big mark, after a year spent developing young horses and bringing Lordan back from an injury.
“I graduated Stanford in 2013, and I’ve been based in San Diego with my own horse business,” he said. “I’m mostly a horse trainer, with one client that I teach; I like to work with horses more than people. I’ve been lucky so far, with a great group of horses that I’ve been able to produce to the top level.
“We bought Lordan at the end of his 6-year-old year and started him as a 7-year-old. He’s coming off an injury. He was off almost all of last year. I’ve basically been without my best horse for an entire year, but I was able to build up the string behind him. Now he’s back, and Thermal is just his second show. I took him to the World Cup qualifier in Mexico, and he was in great form. I was just rusty, and we had one down. He’s missed the sport just as much as I missed him.”
Although Nassar and Lordan have had a late start to the World Cup season, the pair still hope to qualify for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, for Egypt. “I’ve gone twice already to the World Cup Final, and I hope to go again,” he said. “I really love Gothenburg. Lordan’s jumped there before, and it was unbelievable there.”
Third-placed Eric Navet (FRA) riding Catypso. Photo: Bret St. Clair/FEI
West Coast growth
The top three finishers are frequent visitors to the HITS Desert Horse Park, and President and Chief Executive Officer of HITS, Inc., Tom Struzzieri voiced his excitement for the area’s growth in the sport.
“It was super to have Longines here for the World Cup qualifier,” he said. “I was excited to have Longines here because the presence of sponsorship raises the bar, it raises our game. It was an afternoon class, but it had an electric, almost evening atmosphere. Hats off to Longines for being involved in the sport. It’s really exceptional. Great sponsors make for a great class.”
Struzzieri also expressed his high expectations for the coming years of the newly launched North American League and its stop in Thermal. “Especially next year, with the World Cup Final being in the United States and later in the season, that’s going to make for great sport here,” he added. “Those particulars are going to make next year very cool for us.”
1. Lordan (Nayel Nassar), EGY, 0 faults/48.19 seconds (JO);
2. Luebbo (Jamie Barge), USA, 0/49.64 (JO);
3. Catypso (Eric Navet), FRA, 4/81.59 (JO);
4. Flexible (Rich Fellers), USA, 4/76.31;
5. Tembla (Karl Cook), USA, 4/77.27;
6. Chacna (Enrique Gonzalez), MEX, 4/80.80;
7. NKH Quanto (Christian Heineking), GER, 8/76.86;
8. Cat Balou (Tamie Phillips), CAN, 8/78.67.
Full results: bit.ly/1PKH53w
Facts and Figures
In the first round, 3 horses went clear, 3 had 4 faults, 4 had 8 faults, 5 had 12 faults, 1 had 13 faults, 1 had 17 faults, 1 was eliminated, and 1 retired.
The course designer was Martin Otto (GER).
The first round was contested over 13 obstacles with 16 jumping efforts. The jump-off round had 8 obstacles with 9 efforts. The maximum height was set at 1.60 meters.
Six nations were represented in the class: Canada (7 riders), Egypt (1 rider), France (1 rider), Germany (1 rider), Mexico (1 rider), and the United States (9 riders).
About HITS Thermal Desert Circuit
HITS Desert Circuit features eight weeks of USEF premier-rated hunters and jumpers with total prizes of nearly $3 million. Spanning nine weeks (with one off-week) in late January through mid-March, the circuit draws thousands of equestrians to the premier Southern California show grounds. The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping in Thermal and the annual AIG $1 Million Grand Prix highlight this circuit, and in 2016 HITS will debut a $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Week VIII.
HITS Desert Horse Park is located just 45 minutes from Palm Springs. After setting roots in Indio, California, in the mid-1990s, the shows moved to the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal in 2007. In 2013, HITS held its first AIG $1 Million Grand Prix, a tradition that continues today.
Official fan site – www.feiworldcup.com/NAL
The FEI has developed an official fan microsite for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League, enabling fans to find all the latest information for this brand new series under one digital umbrella.
Fans can keep close tabs on the athletes competing in this exciting series as they do their utmost to qualify for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 23-26 March 2016.
Tickets can be purchased through the fan site, with event-specific information uploaded regularly by the organisers of the events in this series for fan enjoyment.
Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League
A total of 14 athletes from the new North American League will qualify for the prestigious Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final.
The top seven athletes from the East Coast US, top three from West Coast US and the two best-placed athletes from Canada and Mexico will qualify for the Final, alongside winners of the 13 other leagues from around the world.
The North American League boasts a minimum of US $2.4 million prize money across the series, and offers the best Jumping athletes from North America and around the world the chance to qualify for the jackpot of more than US $1.4 million (€1.3 million) on offer annually at the Final.
The new league was launched by Beezie Madden, the most decorated US female equestrian athlete of all time, American Gold Cup winner and FEI Solidarity Ambassador Jessica Springsteen, and Hannah Selleck, team and individual gold medalist at young rider level and one of the sport’s up-and-coming stars. Full launch release here: https://goo.gl/kCIsyW