It was a perfect ten for Rich Fellers and Flexible at the $126k Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird Show Park on Sunday.
The pair, partnered for a decade, bested a field of 26 competitors representing the USA, Canada, Venezuela and Mexico. With just three advancing to the jump-off, it was a heart pounding finish for the crowd as the 19-year-old Irish Sport Horse sailed over the final fence with just a second to spare.
Course designer Alan Wade set the sticks high at Thunderbird Show Park, giving international contenders and local favorites a good ride.
“I’m trying to find the best horse rider combination on the day,” Wade said.
“You build to a certain level. You try to take care of some people who might be up to the level, have them get around, enjoy it, feel they had a good day even though they might have had a rail or two down and treat it as a learning experience. But at the end of the day, this is a world cup qualifier and the top combinations will rise.”
The first clear ride of the first round came just past the halfway point when Will Simpson and his 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding, The Dude, lay down a perfect ride, earning cheers from the crowd. Five rounds later, Rich Fellers guaranteed the jump off aboard Flexible. Canada’s Ben Asselin rounded out the trio, with Plume de la Roque, a 12-year-old mare.
“You always have an advantage when you can watch someone else go in and there’s no better rider in the world to watch in a jump off or speed class than Will Simpson — and that’s a pretty hot shot young horse he has there,” Fellers said.
“I just stood at the back gate and watched every stride and every move he made. It gave me a feeling of where I needed to turn and how fast I needed to go to hopefully nip him. I got lucky.”
For Fellers, the win aboard ‘Flexi’ is always sweet.
“It’s similar to any long-term relationship in life. You just have more knowledge, more experience, more details and you can anticipate the outcome better,” he explained. “I don’t really have to do anything differently than I did ten years ago. He’s amazing, that’s all I can say.”
In Friday’s $42K George and Dianne Tidball Legacy Grand Prix , Venezuela’s Andres Rodriguez aboard Verdi took top spot. Simpson was once again relegated to runner-up status.
Rodriguez won silver last month at the Pan American Games.