Same venue. Same players. Same ending.
The script for the individual final Grand Prix of the 2023 Major League Show Jumping season read strikingly similar to the 2022 showing. But there were a few key plot twists along the way.
To start, defending champion Karl Cook was riding injured. The longtime rescue advocate was bit by a dog on Tuesday and required stitches to his left hand.
“Tuesday wasn’t a great day. Tuesday afternoon, specifically,” said Cook. “But I got on a horse at 8:00 on Wednesday when [the doctors] obviously said I shouldn’t and I felt okay. From then it was just managing the symptoms—keeping things wraps, being smart, taking the antibiotics on time.
“[Saturday] is one of the first times I’ve had the hand unwrapped. But, I was always going to ride. It was just how bad it was going to hurt.”
As the MLSJ individual standings leader, he had a million reasons to try. The prize money in the CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix doubled this season, jumping from $500k in 2022 to $1 million in 2023. For Cook, there was also the $100,000 individual champion bonus on the line.
Thirty-five starters came forward to contest Alan Wade’s 1.60m track. Cook and long-time partner Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet were first to find a clear path around the long galloping track. Six more pairs joined the start list for the short course: Mark Bluman (Ubiluc), Mario Deslauriers (Bardolina 2), Callie Schott (Garant), Adrienne Sternlicht (Faquitol-S), Roberto Teran (BP Wakita), and Kent Farrington (Landon).
First to return for the jump off, Cook set a speedy standard, posting a double-clear effort and time of 44.99 seconds.
“I had a great feeling in the warm up and in the first round, of course. And so the goal was just to apply a lot of pressure on the people to come,” said the 2023 Pan American Games team gold medalist.
“I knew when I completed the course that I didn’t shut the door. Sometimes when you do a jump off, you’re like, yeah, door’s shut. But I knew there was some extra time to be made. I added a couple of places.”
Then it was a waiting game began.
Bluman missed the turn to the second fence and put paid to his hopes. Deslauriers delivered a double clear but was nearly two seconds slower through the timers in 46.86. Schott dropped a pair of poles and Sternlicht one mid-course. Teran had the time, but faulted at the final double.
In a repeat of 2022, it came down to Cook and Farrington.
In last year’s final, Farrington set the time to beat with Orafina only to have Cook and Kalinka eclipse it by half a second. On Saturday, it was Farrington chasing Cook’s time and, if you were to bet on the two horses, the odds were slightly in Landon’s favor and certainly in that of Farrington’s, the current world no. 3.
Both horses are only in their second season at the height. Landon has finished top 10 in 79% of his 29 starts at 1.60m. Kalinka, in 76% of 20 (Jumpr App). Landon and Farrington jump clear 45% of the time at 1.60m. Kalinka and Cook, 40%. Landon has won six 1.60m classes this year. Kalinka, two.
“He’s stepping up to that level,” said Farrington. “He’s still very inexperienced. The major focus [this year] was to qualify the U.S. for the Paris [Olympic] Games, which he did in [at the Pan American Games] in Chile. And this is is his next show from there.”
Farrington picked up a gallop to the first and dropped a stride down the first line. He was up on the clock, but a sliced turn to the final double cost him a rail at ‘A’ element, handing the win to Cook. Deslauriers took second as the only other double clear and Farrington, third in 43.75.
“Karl’s horse is very fast. My horse is not the fastest against the clock,” said Farrington. “I was a bit up against it, so I had to take all the risk and unfortunately didn’t pay off, but I’m still happy with third.”
The turn that ultimately cost Farrington the win is the same spot Cook knew he could take a risk with Kalinka.
“That’s a strength of hers that on a jump off course like today really helps,” said Cook. “I can come flying in on an angle with an in-and-out right on the rail and I know she’s coming off the ground.”
The win caps an incredible season for Cook, who won three of the eight 5* Major League Show Jumping Grands Prix this year—two with Kalinka.
“I don’t know what’s in her but she’s just amazing,” Cook reflected.
“She just brings passion and when you ride her you can feel that passion. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming when she’s leaping in the air. But she just has such drive and such desire to do the job well, and she loves doing the job. It then inspires you as a rider and as anyone who’s around her. She inspires them and lifts everyone up.”