The year of the jumpers

A spectacular open event in New York tops a season of excellent performances around the country by American and foreign horses
November 20, 1961

Horse show officials can take off the rose-colored glasses they usually wear. Their world looks unaccustomedly healthy even to the naked eye. Last week at New York's National, for example, scalpers were at work ($15 a ticket) for the first time since World War II, and similar spectator interest has been evident all year around the country. Fifty thousand paid their way into Madison Square Garden over the weekend alone; it was the most profitable National in a decade. The American Royal in Kansas City traditionally packs its arena, and did so again this year, while both the floundering Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania National shows had far better gates than in 1960.

To the New York audience, the National offered the best open jumping seen at the Garden in two decades. It completely outclassed the international jumping, always the feature event. The international puissance class, for example, was a fizzle. It was won by Canada's Tom Gayford on his durable Blue Beau, the only horse to clear a 5-foot 6-inch wall.

So the officials restyled the course for the open jumping event later in the week. Among other things, they moved one of the big fences away from railside distractions and isolated it in the ring's center.

Eleven horses were faultless on the first go-round, and the fences were raised and widened. The tougher but shorter course eliminated only three competitors, and again the obstacles were enlarged, the wall put at just under 6 feet. The eight remaining horses all cleared the course successfully, and again the fences were raised—the wall to 6 feet 3 inches, with the spread fence at 6 feet wide and 5 feet 9 inches high. But this demanding test eliminated only one more horse, and again the obstacles were increased by three inches. The spread fence and not the 6-foot 6-inch wall finally weeded out a number of contenders. All but two were eliminated at that obstacle, and Windsor Castle, who later won the stake class, first refused but then sailed cleanly over to clinch third place.

So up once more went the wall, to a formidable 6 feet 9 inches, and the spread was set at 6 feet. The contest was now between Riviera Wonder, four times the jumper champion at the Garden, and Gray Aero, who had been one of the two open horses to qualify for The President's Cup at the Washington show. Interestingly, both gray geldings were by the same sire, a Thoroughbred named Bonne Nuit, noted for getting high-jumping horses.

Riviera Wonder, under Al Fiore, who has ridden him in all his Garden triumphs, came first into the ring and cleared both the spread and the wall. It was up to Grey Aero to match this performance, but the spread fence stopped him. He rapped a pole, it rattled in its socket and fell to the ground, and Grey Aero lost his first puissance of the year. But he won the final victory as the show's open jumper champion, taking the title from Riviera Wonder. Sonny Brooks, a 36-year-old professional, has been riding Grey Aero for only the last three weeks—since his owner, Frank Imperatore Jr., returned to school. Brooks pointed out that the horse has missed only one weekend of showing since April and has been champion or reserve at every show in which he has competed, save one.

Rich prize to Argentina

The international jumping was almost completely dominated by the Argentinians, who appeared in the U.S. with a strong team for the first time. Young Carlos Damm Jr., hero of the Washington show, won the International jumping stake with his horse Sheriff. This stake, sponsored by the United States Lines, is the world's richest ($7,500) for international riders, and since the Argentine team had paid its own expenses to this country, the money as well as the honor was welcome. Teammate Dr. Hugo Arrambide, a 33-year-old lawyer from Buenos Aires, won the high-point individual honors, and the Argentine team completed its triumph by winning both the high-point championship, previously held by the U.S., and The Nations Cup.

The U.S. team, composed of oldtimers Bill Steinkraus and Frank Chapot plus newcomers Bill Robertson and Kathy Kusner, was far from brilliant. The group started off the week by getting itself disqualified from the low-score competition through entering it incorrectly. Since the team has shown in this event for years and the conditions are explained in English, the mistake seems hard to understand.

Then, in the last international event, The Nations Cup, the U.S. goofed again. This class is a two-part affair over the same course—once in the afternoon and again in the evening—with the total scores of all three riders deciding the winner. At the end of the afternoon the U.S. was in third place. But Kathy Kusner, who had already ridden the course once and walked it twice, lost her way on the second go-round and was eliminated. The U.S. team then withdrew from the competition. Kathy, incidentally, had won the first blue for the U.S. the day before. Frank Chapot captured the second with San Lucas, the gangly Thoroughbred who was such a success at Washington.

The capital had its best show to date, although it was still an uneven one. The unappealing armory in which the event is held was beautifully decorated in blue bunting (thriftily purchased from a home-furnishing show held there the week before), with the boxes ornamented by sprays of magnolia leaves. It looked for the first time as though something of consequence was about to happen—and indeed it did. The presence of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy and Attorney General and Mrs. Robert Kennedy gave the show an enormous cachet and, not at all surprisingly, a superb gate. As a matter of fact, the crowd was so large that box holders who had never been known to arrive on time were there early, in full dress, to protect their seats from interlopers. Those that came saw, besides the Kennedys, some very fine jumping in The President of the United States Cup competition, a new event this year. In the normal U.S. show competition, the international riders are segregated from the professional and amateur riders in special classes, but the Washington event was open to all riders who could qualify. Some of the stuffier show officials had opposed this idea on the grounds that the "wrong" type might win. They were fortunately overruled, and Washington was able to present the year's most interesting jumping competition. It was ultimately won by Argentina's Damm, who outjumped 37 others in the preliminary and final to capture the Tiffany vermeil trophy awarded by the First Lady. Earlier in the week the cool-headed young horseman had won the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Trophy (donated by the Robert Kennedys) on his other horse, Swing. But the final honor, as the show's best individual rider (based on points won throughout the week), went to U.S. rider Frank Chapot, who edged out Damm by one point. Chapot's horse, San Lucas, owned by Mrs. John A.T. Galvin, was the show's champion international jumper. This horse, by the way, stands an incredible 17.3 hands tall and looks as leggy as Wilt the Stilt. A newcomer this year to the show ring, the California-bred San Lucas began his career on the racetrack. After 10 starts and total winnings of only $450, it was apparent that San Lucas was in the wrong line of work, and he ended up on the Galvin ranch. One day last winter the horse jumped over a paddock fence that was almost 7 feet high. Mr. Galvin immediately phoned the coach of the USET about his new jumping prospect, and San Lucas was on his way in the show world.

PHOTOMONEY RIDER from Argentina, Carlos Damm Jr., wins International Stake on Sheriff.