There was a surprising finish under the lights for the featured show jumping grand prix in the heart of Manhattan, at one of the most innovative equestrian competitions in the world.
September 24, 2016 -- It's a tradition at Rolex-sponsored shows to have a contest in the press room for journalists to guess who would win the big class. The reward for the best prediction? A bottle of champagne.
But it went unclaimed last night at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show because the smart money was on World Number Two Kent Farrington, World Number Four McLain Ward, Irish speedster Conor Swail (my pick) or sentimental favorite Georgina Bloomberg, who won the debut grand prix in her hometown two years ago.
Jimmy Torano of the U.S. lifts the trophy for the $216,000 Rolex U.S. Open CSI 3-Star Grand Prix as runner-up Sharn Wordley of New Zealand, third-place Conor Swail of Ireland and Rolex Central Park Horse Show founder Mark Bellissimo look on. (Photo copyright 2016 by Lawrence J. Nagy)
No one figured that the top placing in the $216,000 Rolex U.S. Open CSI 3-star feature would go to Jimmy Torano, a 51-year-old Floridian better known at this point for his TV/live stream commentating than his riding.
He was as surprised as anyone else to find his 37.05-second fault-free trip on Daydream in the 10-horse tiebreaker was good enough to take the honors. Jimmy was rewarded by a champagne soaking on the podium with top-drawer Laurent Perrier bubbly from runner-up Sharn Wordley of New Zealand, who had the only other clean round in the jump-off on Barnetta, and third-place Conor, who was fastest with Cita but dropped a rail. I would have rather had a toast with the champagne and sipped it, but the fans enjoyed the moments of mayhem.
The Manhattan skyline offered the perfect backdrop for Jimmy Torano and Daydream on their way to victory. (Photo copyright 2016 by Lawrence J. Nagy)Jimmy, who is never at a loss for words, seemed a bit dazed by the glory of performing a victory gallop before a sold-out house at the Wollman Rink, where the lights of towering skyscrapers made a dazzling but almost surreal backdrop for a horse show.
There is no question that he was a longshot, starting with the fact that he almost didn't get into the show.
Jimmy wasn't on the original list of qualifiers, but hoped someone would drop out, so he asked for permission to jog his mount at the horse inspection. When one spot opened up, though, he gave it to his wife, Danielle, figuring she had a better chance to do well with her 9-year-old Callas III than he did with the less-experienced Daydream, who he bought two years ago as a 6-year-old. Then as his luck would have it (seems like destiny in hindsight) another slot became available and he was in.
But Jimmy wasn't even having a Daydream, so to speak, that he would wind up on top.
$216,000 Rolex U.S. Open Grand Prix winner Jimmy Torano and Daydream. (Photo copyright 2016 by Lawrence J. Nagy)“I didn't think I was going to come in and win the class,” marveled Jimmy, whose wife finished out of the money with 4 faults in the first round.
While he was a longshot, so was the show. For years, people had talked about holding a jumping competition in Central Park, but dismissed the concept as undoable. Most, I think, were looking at staging it on grass, perhaps in the Sheep Meadow section, but Mark Bellissimo had a better idea by putting it in the rink.
Mark, who runs the hugely successful Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., and the Tryon, N.C., International Equestrian Center, believes that the Central Park show can get more people interested in horses and show jumping. The top ticket price is $125, which limits the audience, but admission to tomorrow's exhibitions are free.
Perhaps Jimmy was rewarded for a good deed--he saw a ticketless mother and daughter looking longingly at the show ring from outside the fence, so he made their day by giving them two wristbands that got them in the door. Karma for sure.
Even with nearly a third of the 34 starters making the tie-breaker, it was obvious that the course was quite a test. It snaked around the relatively narrow confines of the odd-shaped rink, used for skating in the winter, and required a horse with power steering rideability.
The last fence, topped with a delicately balanced white plank at the maximum height of 5-feet, 3-inches, drew a moan from the crowd when Peter Wylde had it down with Aimee. Frankly, I thought it would cause more trouble than it did, but faults were scattered around the course.
That's typical of the routes laid out by one of my favorite course designers, Guilherme Jorge, who just returned from doing the floor plans for the Olympics in his native Brazil.
I asked him about the test he set. To watch the video of what he had to say, click on the right-pointing arrow.