The St. Louis National Charity Horse Show has been a piece of Missouri history since 1856, offering spectacular hunter/jumper and Saddlebred competition for two weeks out of the year. In 1995 the first Grand Prix was added to the show schedule drawing a whole new level of competitors to the showgrounds at the National Equestrian Center. This year’s $50,000 Grand Prix, designed by Scott Starnes, proved to be challenging for many of those who chose to contest it. Despite a hair-raising fall on an earlier mount, Hardin Towell of South Carolina was victorious aboard Ann Thompson’s entry, Carlo.
Riders faced 12 elements in the first round including three combinations and a liverpool. There were plenty of opportunities for riders to slice between fences to shave off some time, but it required careful execution to be successful. There were 16 entries in the class with several riders entering more than one mount with the hopes of securing a spot in the jump-off. Returning two-time champion, Hunter Holloway, was back with four of those entries and determined to defend her title.
Holloway kicked off the order-of-go and set the tone for the day by delivering the first clear round with Cassevel. St. Louis native Isabella Bleu Baxter followed with an unfortunate three rails to knock her out of the running for the jump-off. Next up was Towell with his first of three mounts, Daranka. The duo started the course off nicely, but the crowd gasped in shock as the horse slid to a stop and fell at the second element of the first combination. Thankfully, both got up and walked away safely.
Another five horses entered the ring, each having rails throughout the course. The combinations were claiming their fair share of victims as the day went on. Caroline McLeese of Omaha, Nebraska would finally break the combination curse riding her own mount, Caprisio.
Towell returned to the ring with his second mount of the afternoon, Corona 93, but his luck had yet to turn around. Corona had a hard stop at the music fence, and Towell chose to retire the horse after popping over another fence for a confidence boost.
Shannon Hicks became the third rider to go clear for the jump-off riding Helen Gilbert’s entry Emir D. Another handful of riders gave the course a go, but unfortunately received jumping penalties, leaving them out of the running for the finale.
Second-to-last to go, Towell entered the ring for a third time hoping for a better outcome with his final mount, Carlo, who is no stranger to the winners circle. Recently the pair has brought home a third in the KHJA Grand Prix, a second in the Tryon $70,000 CSI2* Grand Prix and a first in the Blue Grass Festival 1.40m class. Thankfully, he and the bay gelding executed a stunning clear round, qualifying them for the jump-off.
The heat was on, quite literally, as the Missouri sun bore down on the competitors and spectators on this humid afternoon. Holloway made her way into the ring with Cassevel determined to add her name to the trophy for a third year. A gut-wrenching rail meant this duo would have to be the fastest pair to go and each following rider would have to incur jumping penalties to keep Holloway in the lead.
McLeese and Caprisio had rails down as well, leaving the field wide open for Hicks and Towell to steal the lead. Hicks and Emir D were flawless in the jump-off, setting the tone for Towell as he aimed to overcome the obstacles he encountered earlier in the day.
“There was only one other double-clear and it wasn’t too fast. With this horse the faster I go and the more pressure I put on, usually the better he is,” Towell shared with JN regarding his plan for the jump-off.
Carlo sailed around the course with ease as Towell focused on maintaining a steady canter throughout the ride. That decision paid off with the duo coming in just a hair faster than the former leader.
“I know [Carlo] very well, and I thought he was my top chance to win the class,” Towell said after his exciting win. “I am just happy that it turned out that way! He’s just a really nice horse, and you can always count on him. I am so thankful to his owner, Ann Thompson, for allowing me the ride on this special horse.”
Hicks’ clear round would guarantee them the second place prize. Holloway rouned up the top three with the yellow ribbon and McLeese came in a very respectable fourth.