Babington rises above adversity

Kevin Babington and his horse Mark Q, compete in the first round of Sunday’s grand prix. The team put down two clean rides on the way to topping a field of 41 entries. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — Riding on a difficult course on a sweltering day, Irish Olympic veteran Kevin Babington claimed victory Sunday in the grand prix on the final day of the Lake Placid Horse Show.

The Prevost Richard M. Feldman Grand Prix began with a field of 41 entries, the largest number entered in a grand prix in Lake Placid since 2000, and only three of those horse-and-rider combinations made it through the first round penalty free to reach the jump off. Babington and his horse, Mark Q, then went on to win the jump off in 35.693 seconds to claim the $22,500 winner’s share of the $75,000 purse.

Christine McCrea and Nektarina B also turned in a fault-free ride in the jump off to place second in 37.019 seconds and McKayla Langmeier and her horse Iliano Van D’Abelendreef finished third. Langmeier, the youngest rider in the grand prix field, actually had the quickest jump-off time of 35.676, but knocked down a rail on the final hurdle of the competition to lose her shot at finishing on top.

Competing on a day when temperatures reached into the 90s, the first 26 entries knocked down rails in the opening round. The 18-year-old Langmeier then rode her horse cleanly over the 16-jump course to become the first competitor to move on. Babington and Mark Q then put down a clean effort four spots later to force a jump-off, and McCrea and Nektarina B then got in the mix with a clean ride as the 35th combination to traverse the course.

The layout was designed by Germany’s Olaf Petersen Jr., and Babington said it was fair but tough. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle was the eighth, which included an opening hurdle followed quickly by two close jumps in succession. At one point during the first round, eight riders in a row toppled a rail heading into that three-effort combination. A host of other riders then knocked down a rail on the second part of the jump after getting through the opening hurdle unscathed.

McKayla Langmeier and Iliano Van D’Abelendreef clear a jump in the first round Sunday. The pair finished third in the event. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“I thought the course designer did a good job,” Babington said. “The faults were spread out all over the course so there wasn’t any one spot tripping people up, although the double caught a lot of horses. So many riders did a good job of protecting A and then having a rail of B down. There were rails down everywhere.”

Babington said as usual, Mark Q did a great job riding to victory.

“He’s always good. He’s a trooper. He always gives a 100 percent, and if I ride him correctly, it comes together,” Babington said. “He knows the job. He really knows when he’s in a jump-off, and when you ask him to go into fifth gear, he’s right there. He looks for his jumps and he’s careful.”

Babington said that riders were taking extra care with their horses during Sunday’s heat.

“I think for sure in your warm up you do less with the horses,” he said. “A normal warm up would take 20, 25 minutes just on the flat, so I probably reduced that to 15 minutes, and then shorter approaches to your jumps. For the jump off, I did three or four jumps before I went in. We had water to cool them down — rub on their neck right before you go into the ring.”

The win marked the second time in three years Babington won the Lake Placid Horse Show’s grand prix after claiming victory in 2016 aboard Shorapur. It was also the third grand prix victory in the past five years at the North Elba Show Grounds for Babington, whose first saw show jumping in United States at the site in 1987.

“This is a very prestigious show and when I first came to America this was the first show that I ever came to visit,” Babington said. “I saw all the best riders, and I was like wow ‘Show jumping in America is a lot bigger than I realized.’ It does mean a lot.”

Although they settled for second and third place, respectively, McCrea and Langmeier said they left the grand prix ring satisfied.

“I’m thrilled, I’m thrilled, absolutely. I’m happy with my horse,” said McCrea, who collected $16,500 in second-place prize money. “It’s feels so good to be back, the field feels great, it’s a beautiful setting and it’s a great fun town. I love it here.

“It was very tough. With only three clear, it tells you it was pretty hard,” McCrea continued describing the course. “The horse I showed was way more experienced than my other horse. She’s like been there done that, so for her the course is just putting the pieces together. The size of the jumps was no problem. She stayed careful and I managed to ride her well. I went as fast as I could in the jump off and finished second. I can’t complain.”

For awhile, the way the competition was unfolding, it looked like Langmeier and her horse might be the only combination to have a fault-free opening round until Babington and McCrea ended up with clean performances. After placing third and collection $9,750, Langmeier walked away from the ring wearing a smile. The effort marked the highest grand prix finish for the Connecticut rider since a victory two years ago in Saratoga.

“My horse and me have done some bigger tracks, so I have the utmost confidence in him,” Langmeier said. “I really knew he was really capable of going clear today. I just needed to execute the course, and he let me ride him everywhere perfectly, so I was thanking him for that. To be third in Lake Placid is an incredible honor in itself. It’s a great horse show here. I’m really happy with third.”

Sunday marked the final day of the Lake Placid Horse Show. Action in the I Love New York Horse Show picks up on Tuesday. That event will be highlighted by Saturday’s $100,000 Great American Insurance Group Grand Prix.