Karl Cook (USA) is really finding his rhythm with Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ). After winning the final CSI5* Grand Prix of the 2022 season and being a member of the 2022 winning team, Team Helios, Cook secured another victory Saturday in the $414,300 B&D Builders CSI5* Grand Prix with his top mount, Signe Otsby’s Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet.
It wasn’t an easy win for Cook to walk away with, though. Marina Azevedo (BRA) built a very technical track that only produced five clears, and of the five, Cook was the sole double-clear effort. He was very fast, with Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Kent Farrington (USA) both behind him, but with each pulling a rail, the win went to Cook. Andrew Bourns (IRL) and Sea Topblue took second place, while Kenny claimed third with 9-year-old Hamrah Van Het Exelhof Z, owned by Heathman Farms, LLC.
“When you’ve had a horse for a while, when you get on them to start warming up you have a feeling,” Cook explained of how he reads the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Thunder Van De Zuuthoeve x Flipper d’Elle) he’s produced to the top level. “They just give you a feeling. I had a really great feeling from her, and then the first round was very tough. But she fought so hard in that first round.
“She was with me the whole time and I knew that wasn’t going to change for the second round,” he continued. “So I felt I had a good shot if I didn’t make any errors. She was going to be right there with me.”
Despite two top riders coming after him, Cook had his mind focused more on what happened before he went in the ring, watching Irishmen Andrew Bourns and Darragh Kerins go before him.
“Honestly at the time I was more focused on what had happened before me because I’d seen Andrew and Darragh go, and I saw where the risks were,” he explained of his approach to the jump-off. “I tried to temper those risks as best as I could. Of course I knew Kent was coming up after me, but it’s much better to go clear and maybe a little bit off the pace than to go whole hog and have eight faults and end up fifth. So I was actually looking more at Andrew and Darragh.”
Ultimately, the course played a large role in how the top results panned out. The course was a challenge but the top performers put on a show for the crowd that gathered to watch the first CSI5* Grand Prix of the season in Traverse City.
“Marina did an unbelievable job today,” Cook continued. “It’s been a while since I’ve jumped a course that presented so many challenges, and the time allowed wasn’t that big of a factor, but there were so many challenges where there wasn’t an easy answer. There were rails but no crazy disasters.”
Bourns was thrilled with Sea Topblue’s second-place finish. “This is probably one of his better results in his career,” Bourns said. “He’s won grand prixs up to the four-star level and has placed numerous times in the five-stars. I think I misjudged the double in the jump off; I’m not sure if I would have beaten Karl because he was coming after me, but I would’ve given him a better run for his money if I had just made a slightly better judgment on the double. It certainly wasn’t Sea Topblue’s fault today; he was out for the win.”
Kenny echoed how excited he was by his horse’s performance, knowing he has a winner for the future. “I’m very happy to be honest,” he shared. “I knew going into the jump off that I didn’t really have a chance to beat Karl. My horse is 9 years old; he’s super green. He only just started the five-star level, and he’s jumped clear in every five-star grand prix he’s jumped in so far. He’s a really special horse but he was no match for Karl’s horse today, so I was happy with my week. All of my horses jumped great, and I’m really excited for this horse. I think next year he can be an incredible horse. He’s so talented and keeps getting better every round.”
Cook will attend the next stop on the Major League tour in Greenwich, CT, before he could potentially be named to the team for the Pan American Games. With another up-and-coming top mount in Caracole De La Roque, Cook is certainly one to watch for the individual title as the season continues.
See full results from the $414,300 B&D Builders CSI5* Grand Prix here.
Natalie Dean Rides Full Circle in CSI5* Winning Round and CSI2* Grand Prix
Natalie Dean (USA) won the CSI2* Grand Prix during the first Traverse City MLSJ week in 2022 with Dotcom D’Athuit. This year, she moved up with Dotcom D’Athuit in the $39,000 CSI5* Winning Round and took the win, then went on to take a repeat win in the $76,000 CSI2* Grand Prix with Oasis Van De Bucxtale.
Coming back in good company, Dean was one of 10 returning for the jump-off, all of which were either clear or finished with one time fault. Karl Cook (USA), Eyrnn Ballard (CAN), and Alison Robitaille (USA) were just a few of the quick pairs Dean had to look out for, but she had faith in her partner that she’s developed for several years now.
“I knew Karl [Cook] had a very fast horse and he was coming behind me,” she explained of how she felt going into the jump-off. “She’s so fast naturally, and she tried her heart out so it worked out today. Karl had one down. But I’m thrilled with my horse.”
Later in the day, with Oasis Van De Bucxtale, Dean was in the winner’s circle again. She topped a 15-horse jump-off in the $76,000 CSI2* Cabana Coast Grand Prix, the very class she won last year with Dotcom D’Athuit.
“I took a risk to the last [jump] but she’s an amazing horse,” Dean said of Oasis Van De Bucxtale, a 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Quinn VD Heffinck x Skippy II) “She’s still quite green at this level but every day gets better and I think she’s going to jump everything. I think she’s one of my top grand prix horses for the future.”
Acquired at the beginning of 2023, Oasis Van De Bucxtale is already showing great promise, despite making her first attempts at the higher levels. “She’d never jumped the 1.45m and last week she did her first three-star grand prix,” Dean said. “This week it was nice for her to step down and jump the two-star. She’s just an unbelievable mare. She’s got some sass, but she’s all game.”
Dean has horses competing at all levels on the Major League tour, so she appreciates the variety the tour provides for riders like herself. “It’s been an amazing week,” she reflected. “With Major League, it’s so nice that you’re allowed to do the five-star and the two-star in the same week because there’s not a lot of shows that let you do that. Dotcom, who I won on earlier, won this class last year so now she’s a year older and stepping up into the five-star. Hopefully Oasis will be there next year.”
Dean believes that for her string the Major League events provide the perfect class breakdown for every mount to shine. “I have a big string of horses, and a lot of them are younger horses, so Major League really suits me and my string because I can do the young horses and develop them in the two-star and still jump the five-star,” she shared.
The results have played in Dean’s favor for quite some time, so she enjoys coming back, with the team at Ilan Ferder Stables. “I love Traverse City,” she shared. “We always come here for a couple weeks. The footing was great Thursday when it rained so much; I couldn’t believe they were able to show, and I think the management has done such a good job. AJ [Holmes] who runs the gate has been super. Everyone is so friendly and I’m excited to be here.”
Grace Loughlin Lands Tribute Equine Nutrition Adult Equitation Championship
Grace Louglin piloted an up-and-coming young horse for Ashland Farms to the win in the Tribute Equine Nutrition 3’0” Adult Equitation Saturday. She captured the win in both over-fences classes and the flat Saturday to take championship honors for the weekend.
“My plan was to get over all the jumps because I wasn’t as good yesterday,” she joked. “This is not my horse; it belongs to Ashland Farms and it was given to Don Stewart. He’s young but he’s a very good boy. He’s learning and I’m very glad I’ve gotten the chance to ride him.”
Earlier in the season, 7-year-old Giorgio Armani Z was named champion of the Adult Hunters, showing that he’s going to be a top contender in any ring as he continues to mature.
Training under Stewart, Loughlin is getting plenty of practice, especially on new horses she’s less familiar with. “Don wants us to have more practice and it’s good for the horse to get in the ring too. It was practice for me; I need that,” she explained.
Stewart’s advice was specific: “Get the horse straight on my leg, that’s what Don says a lot.”
Ultimately, the win has made a stellar season even better in Northern Michigan for Loughlin. “I love Traverse City; it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s so pretty and it’s a great show. It’s well organized and they do such a good job.”