Three seconds is about the time it takes you to sneeze. Or if it’s added to your jumping score in a Major League Show Jumping gold medal round, the time it takes to hand the gold to Team Eye Candy and settle for silver. That’s exactly what happened Friday night at Thunderbird Show Park in the MLSJ Team Competition presented by Premier Equestrian.
Taking place over three rounds, speed and rails determine which teams move on and which ones go back to the barn in rapid succession. Modelled after other major league sports and F1, the MLSJ team event is now in its third year and boasts an impressive roster of top horse and rider talent. The 10-stop tour starts at tbird and spans three countries, offering $11,000,000 in prize money in 2023; $1,000,000 of which will go directly to the Team Final in December.
Round one quickly established who was in it to win it and as Eye Candy anchor rider Amy Millar said, “You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one.”
Teams with eight and 12 faults in the first round didn’t make the cut. The four teams to advance to the second round were the Crusaders (4 faults and combined time of 218.67 seconds); the Roadrunners (1 fault, 232.98); the Trelawny Trailblazers (0 faults, 217.05); and Team Eye Candy (0 faults, 227.03).
The second round over Olaf Petersen’s shortened course established who would ultimately be riding for medals. The bronze medal was battled out between the Trailblazers and Roadrunners, leaving gold medal match to be fought by Crusaders and Eye Candy in the third and final round.
Going head to head for the bronze were Kaitlin Campbell and Diacco-Blue for the Roadrunners and world no. 10 Conor Swail and Theo 160 for the Trailblazers. Campbell pulled the penultimate fence adding a 3-second penalty to her time leaving the door open for Swail to post a (somewhat) conservative clear and take the bronze.
In the gold medal round, Eye Candy’s anchor rider and Canadian Olympian Amy Millar wound right up with Christiano. With his huge stride and a bit of a lucky rub at the second fence, they posted a clear round in a time of 34.11 seconds. As soon as the Crusaders Grant Seger and Freida pulled the rail at the tbird oxer, it was all over.
At the post-event press conference, team Eye Candy had the opportunity to talk about their strategy, their team relationships and their chosen charity, the Kevin Babington Foundation.
Of her longtime partner Christiano, with whom she has a 49% clean round rate in 91 starts (Jumpr App), Millar remarked “It’s well proven that he loves this class and it makes him feel important. He loves going out there and having everyone cheer for him! When you ride for [owner/manager] Erica Hatfield you bring your best. I love riding on the Canadian team and I love riding on team Eye Candy.”
Teammate Jessica Mendoza coaches Caroline Mawhinney and both had an exceptional debut to the Major League series Friday evening. Named to the team in 2022, Mendoza suffered a broken shoulder and was unable to compete; Mawhinney is just 17 and tbird was also her CSI5* jumping debut.
The advice she got from Mendoza: “Don’t think about the pressure. Just go in and try to do your best,” shared Mawhinney. “I know she’s set me up in the best way possible to be prepared for these classes. So it’s really riding the best that I can. I was really nervous but I know she was supporting me the whole way.”
This year MLSJ has introduced a charity element to the mix with each team riding for their chosen charity and donating a portion of their winnings each show. Team manager Erica Hatfield chose the Kevin Babington Foundation at the beginning of the year, not realizing how connected it would become to the Team.
Amy Millar’s brother, Jonathan, suffered a traumatic spinal injury in Florida earlier this year, and is now one of the many riders benefitting from the support of the Kevin Babington Foundation while receiving intensive rehabilitation therapy at the prestigious Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“Having the opportunity to be there and receive treatment will totally change the trajectory of Jonathan’s recovery,” said Millar.
Major League Show Jumping continues at Thunderbird Show Park with the $414,300 CSI5* Grand Prix taking place Saturday afternoon.
For tickets, schedule and additional information visit www.tbird.ca.