Lucy Deslauriers is no stranger to victory at the Hampton Classic. She has been collecting blue ribbons at the show since she was a child, starting in the leadline division before winning her first blue ribbon and championship in the short stirrup division.
On Friday, at the young age of just 20, she won the Grand Prix qualifier. But on Sunday afternoon, in the weeklong show’s main event — the 44th annual $300,000 Grand Prix — there was one rider she couldn’t beat: her father.
Canadian rider Mario Deslauriers and his horse, Bardolina 2, were the only pair to go double clear on Michel Vaillancourt’s challenging course, edging his daughter for the top prize.
The father and daughter were joined in the jump-off by American rider Devin Ryan and his horse, Eddie Blue. Ryan rode first and had one rail down for four faults on the seven-obstacle jump-off course, with a time of 42.66 seconds. Mario Deslauriers rode second, keeping all the rails up in a quick time of 42.82 seconds. After that, it was up to Lucy Deslauriers to see if she could knock her father out of the top spot, and she seemed to have it in the bag, but at the final fence, the Longines oxer, her horse, Hester, clipped the top rail, giving her father the victory. She finished with four faults in a time of 39.60 seconds.
Afterward, Mario Deslauriers commented on the mixed feelings of rooting for his daughter but wanting a victory himself.
“Well, she won on Friday, so I figured she’d give me a chance today,” he said, laughing. “I always know that Lucy and Hester make a great pair, and I know they’re quick, so I did what I had to do to put a little pressure on.”
For her part, Lucy said she was gunning for the win, but acknowledged that she felt the pressure as she galloped to the final fence, knowing she had ridden clear so far and had the speed to win.
“I just got anxious,” she said of her approach to the final fence. “I knew my Dad was in the lead, and I just really wanted it, and I just ate up the [nine strides] in that last line. I should have pulled up a bit harder. But my horse is great, and it’s a family win, regardless.”
It’s no surprise that Lucy Deslauriers has emerged as a top notch rider on the Grand Prix circuit. Both her parents — including Lisa Deslauriers, who was on hand for the show and is also chairman of the Hampton Classic Board of Directors — have traveled and competed internationally at the highest level. Lisa Deslauriers has competed in the Grand Prix in previous years as well.
There were plenty of local connections for the horses and riders who finished in the top five on Sunday. The Deslauriers family have been big backers of the Hampton Classic for years, both as competitors, and with Lisa Deslauriers serving for a decade on the board. Lucy rode at Swan Creek Farm in Bridgehampton as a child, and collected that first short stirrup championship aboard a pony named Robin Hood, which was pulled out of retirement and loaned to her for that show by Patsy and Alvin Topping of Swan Creek.
The Deslaurierses have a private barn in Bridgehampton, a stone’s throw from the showgrounds, and are based out of there during the summer months.
Sunday’s fifth-place finisher, Irish rider Jonathan Corrigan, also has roots in the area. He imported the horse, Loughnavatta Indigo, to the area along with Bridgehamtpon-based trainer Kate O’Donnell of Twin Oaks Stables. Corrigan and Loughnavatta rode clear with just one time fault to finish fifth.
The Deslaurierses and the rest of the riders in the field needed to bring all their skills to bear over Vaillaincourt’s design, which posed a stiff challenge on the newly renovated Grand Prix field. The course consisted of 17 obstacles, (one being the open water), with fence heights set at 1.6 meters (roughly 5 feet 3 inches).
Ryan, who rode 16th in the order, was the first clear round, and a jump-off was not assured until Mario Deslauriers and Bardolina, 33rd out of 39 in the order, rode clear.
Lucy and Hester rode in the coveted final spot, which they earned by winning the Grand Prix qualifier. Riding later in the order gives riders a chance to watch the rest of the field negotiate the course and figure out trouble spots and make any necessary adjustments to their plan. Because her time was the fastest of the three clear rounds, she also got to ride last in the jump-off.
Two other riders rode clear, but went over the time allowed, keeping them out of the jump-off. Irish rider David Blake, who rode right before Ryan, finished with just one time fault with his mount, Keoki, as did Corrigan and Loughnavatta Indigo. Blake finished fourth and Corrigan was fifth. Defending champion McLain Ward, who is a record seven-time winner of the Hampton Classic Grand Prix, was sixth with his horse, Noche de Ronda, with four faults.
There were several areas in the original course that gave riders some difficulty, including the triple fence combination, located alongside the VIP tent, and the last two jumps on the course. The second-to-last jump, the Doha Inc. vertical, came down frequently. It came after riders rode over the Liverpool combination and then made a rollback turn to the Doha vertical. Vaillancourt explained that the very slight uphill ride to the vertical, and the fact that it came at the end of a 16-obstacle course when the horses were likely feeling fatigued, may have been the reason it was tricky for the horses and riders.
The fact that only three riders advanced to the jump-off did not bother Vaillaincourt or the riders sitting in the press conference afterward, which included, in addition to Mario and Lucy Deslauriers and Ryan, Irish rider Shane Sweetnam, who won the $30,000 Longines Rider Challenge for the third straight year. The award goes to the rider who has the best finishes in the open jumper classes over the course of the week.
“This is a four-star competition, and it’s a very important event,” Vaillancourt said. “The Hampton Classic is one of the most important events on the circuit in North America. I thought the course was worthy of this particular event. Some people had bad luck, but the cream always rises to the top, and at the end of the day, the best horses and riders will come up.”
It’s likely that Mario and Lucy Deslauriers will find themselves in similar situations again as they both continue to compete. Lucy will be balancing schoolwork as well, having just started her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. She still takes guidance from her father, and also from McLain Ward, but the elder Deslauriers said that as she’s grown older, Lucy has started to handle herself more and more as a professional rider in the mold of her parents.
“In general, we spend a lot of time together,” he said, remarking that they had gone riding together at their barn that morning before arriving at the showgrounds. “But Lucy is getting seasoned, and she can really take care of her own now.”