Rider gets a jump on the competition

Sports: A Maryland equestrian wins first prize at the annual Columbia Classic Grand Prix.

September 23, 2001|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thousands of spectators crowded the grassy front lawn of Howard Community College in Columbia yesterday to watch a 19-year-old Maryland woman take first prize in the 14th annual Columbia Classic Grand Prix.

Marilyn Little, riding Landman, took home the trophy and top purse of $9,000 by besting a record number of riders in the premier show-jumping event.

Riders from several nations vied for a total of $30,000 in prize money.

The competitive field was heavy with former Olympic equestrians, current members of the U.S. equestrian team, and winners of major international show-jumping championships.

Champion horses and their riders hammered through a demanding show-jumping course, soaring over and sometimes knocking down hefty rail fences and combination jumps.

Earlier in the day, Little took two other wins, riding Polaris and Corrada to first and second place, respectively, in the $7,500 Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic. Little, a resident of Frederick, is a four-time junior winner of the Columbia competition.

Little's mother, Lynne, also competed in the main event.

This year, the number of entrants in the Columbia contest increased unexpectedly: 44 instead of the typical 25 or so. "It's the biggest group we've ever had," said Oliver C. Kennedy, president of Equestrian Sports and Promotion, which organized the competition.

Kennedy said that the event picked up entries because of its growing popularity, and because some riders chose it over a Grand Prix in Ohio this weekend - they preferred not to fly there because of security concerns after last week's terrorist attacks.

"I was going to Ohio," said Jimmy Torano, "and I just didn't want to get on a plane ... I had this [event,] which was very convenient. ... I decided if it's such a nice event, I might as well come here and support it."

Pomp, circumstance, hounds

A "grand prix is ... the highest-level money class" in show jumping, said Kennedy. In the first round, the "object is to try and leave all the fences up - [to] `jump clear'" during an allotted time. Winners from the first round proceed to a "jump off," in which the victor is the fastest horse with fewest number of faults. Faults are assessed for knocking down fence rails, refusing a jump, or exceeding the time limit.

A sellout crowd - nearly 1,000 in the sponsors' tent, and several thousand more in lawn and grandstand seating - watched.

The event began with the sound of horns and a parade of riders, led by a wagon of dignitaries - among them County Executive James N. Robey and Howard Community College officials - pulled by a pair of draft horses. They were followed by a pack of purebred American hunting hounds. The foxhounds circled the ring, under the command of a master huntsman and four red-jacketed huntsmen on horseback.

Spectators, riders and officials rose for a moment of silence before the competition began to honor the victims of the recent terrorist attacks.

Flags were in evidence everywhere - on the tables of the sponsors' tents, and printed on clothing and on the cardboard backrests given out for the lawn seating.

Throughout the day, the crowd purchased funnel cakes, barbecue and ice cream. Bottled water sold out. Concessionaires sold jewelry, artwork and horse gear and equipment. Children's activities included pony rides, face painting and a ring of "mini-Grand Prix jumps."

"The crowd is great," said Kimberly Frey of Virginia, winner of last year's Columbia Classic. She said the community atmosphere and activities make the event "very enjoyable" for the Grand Prix riders. Frey's horse, Samoens, "really enjoys the crowd," she said. "He likes it [here]."

Scott Potts, 8, of Clarksville tried three times to leap over one of five small, red-and-white show-jump look-alikes. His horse, Scott said, "does a much better job."

`College's major fund-raiser'

Proceeds from admission, corporate and individual sponsorships, a Mercedes-Benz raffle and vendor sales will benefit the How- ard Community College Educational Foundation. The annual event "is the college's major fund-raiser," said Missy Mattey, special events director. "Whatever we net ... goes straight into scholarships for students."

Since its inception in 1988, the Grand Prix has raised more than a million dollars for HCC, said Mattey. It brought in about $140,000 in each of the last two years. "We've raised the bar a little," she added, saying that the college hopes to realize $175,000 from this year's event.

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