The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair is one of the most iconic horse shows we have in the United States. For 118 years Devon has been drawing competitors from around the country to showcase their horses in a variety of disciplines: Hunters, jumpers, Saddlebreds, Hackney horses and ponies, Sidesaddle, Coaching and Breeding classes. To qualify for Devon is a big deal; hopeful competitors track qualification points obsessively, hoping that they might qualify for their division, and if dreams come true, win a coveted white and blue championship cooler. There’s a sense of history at Devon, almost as if you can feel the ghosts of past champions like Harry Gill’s great jumper Idle Dice, or the sublime 2006 Chronicle of the Horse Overall and Show Hunter Horse of the Year, Gray Slipper.
The spires over the Devon-blue grandstands evoke another fabled institution, the spired grandstands of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. In fact, that’s not the only comparison that can be made between the two events. Walk around the grounds of Devon and you’ll see women in elaborate hats and men in plaid pants, pastel sport coats, and bow ties. (Think Kentucky Derby meets Vinyard Vines.)
Other highlights of Devon include the appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales ( 8 tons of Champions!), famed Australian horseman Guy McLean, singles and pairs carriage racing, and the adorable ponies and jockeys competing in the first leg of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase series.
This past Thursday night the Dixon Oval hosted the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon, an event dominated in recent years by Olympian McLain Ward. In fact, there were four Olympians in the lineup that night: Ward, Peter Wylde, Lisa Jaquin, and Ireland’s Kevin Babington. Other familiar names on the Order of Go were Margie Engle, Candice King, Todd Minikus, Laura Chapot, and Victoria Colvin. All in all, 32 riders, one of the largest fields in a decade, were slated to compete over Olaf Petersen’s course of 13 elements with 16 jumping efforts.
Georgina Bloomberg led us off with a 4 fault round, and our first clear of the night was Laura Chapot on Mary Chapot’s ISHD Dual Star. There were 9 clears from a total of 5 riders: Chapot, Ward, Paul O’Shea, Babington, and Minikus. In fact, of the 5 riders who went clear, 4 had 2 horses in the jump off: Ward, Chapot, O’Shea, and Babington.
There was no doubt the winning time would be fast, as Ward is known for his ability ride at speed and Laura Chapot has never been known to go anything slower than Mach 1 around a course. Four rounds into the jump off Ward and Rothchild stopped the clock at 40.798. Two rounds later, Devon first-timer Paul O’Shea clocked a blazing 38.951 on Michael Hayden’s Belgian Warmblood gelding, Primo de Revel. Todd Minikus was in next on the Quality Group’s Quality Girl, his mount for the 2013 Zoetis $1 Million, and he gave O’Shea a scare but stopped the timer just short at 39.633.
For O’Shea, an Irish transplant who moved to the States 4 years ago, the win was the icing on the cake at what was his first trip to Devon. He placed 5th on his other horse, River Dance de Semilly.
Anyone wanna bet that O’Shea will be back at Devon in 2015?