NWSS $10,000 Gambler’s Choice Open Jumping Event
Cattle was the driving force behind the beginning of the National Western Stock Show, but folks back then loved horse shows as much as they do today. The first horse show to be held in Denver at the National Western Stock Show was in 1907. The shows were an instant hit with the audiences and Denver’s appreciation of horse shows has continued through to the 106th annual Stock Show which was held in 2012.
In 1995 the National Western opened the $30 million, state-of-the-art Events Center and moved the National Western Stock Show to the forefront of the nation’s horse show arenas. The new Events Center was 240,000-square-feet in size, had seating for over 5,000, and 354 stalls. From opening day right through to the last day of the National Western there are horse shows and they lead up to the $10, 000 Gambler’s Choice Open Jumper and culminate with the $40,000 Jack Daniels Grand Prix.
The Gambler’s Choice is a crowd favorite because of the action, unpredictability, and the ‘go for broke’ attitude that a rider must have. There are no style points in this event – clear the fence and get the points, so that it is easy for the audience to follow along and cheer the riders on.
The course and jumps were designed again this year by renowned, certified designer Ken Krome, from Westminster, Maryland. Ken has been designing top level courses for over 15 years. Ken said of his philosophy of course design, “The most important is, obviously, safety. My job description is to design a test for the horses, so I’ve got to come up with an appropriate test for the class and for the level of horse and the level of the rider. Every year we change everything around just to keep giving the riders and horses fresh challenges and something different to look at.”
Krome continued, “That’s the basic parameters that I’m working with. Here at the National Western, we have a great audience, so I’m always trying to make sure it will be exciting for the crowd and make sure we have some good stuff – some good sport, and we have a good and fair competition for everybody.”
As for every competition, there are a couple of rules, but they are very straight forward for the Gambler’s Choice. Each gate is assigned a point value depending on its degree of difficulty. The course will have between 10 and 15 jumps. Riders can jump any fence, from any direction, a maximum of two times. Knocking a fence down or having a horse refuse a jump does not result in any penalties, but that fence can not be used to add to the rider’s total points. The goal is to accumulate the most points in the allowed 60 seconds.
The fences are not the tallest or broadest that the riders will see at other open events at the Stock Show, but, because the riders are trying to make the time between jumps short in order to clear as many fences as possible, the horses will come at the jumps from strange angles with sometimes unpredictable results. The 100 and 120 point fences are 4-1/2-feet tall.
The Joker fence is the most challenging fence on the course. It is over 5-feet high and its six rails are placed very close together presenting a formidable obstacle to both rider and horse. It is not used during the rider’s 60 second run. Once the run is complete, the rider has to decide if their tired horse is up to jumping the biggest and most difficult jump on the course. The Joker fence is worth 200 points and can really move a rider up in the standings. It can also move a rider down and out of contention, as it is the only fence which carries a penalty for failure to clear or for refusal by the horse. Having 200 points deducted from your score can have a major impact on placing.
“We may have some younger, less experienced riders and horses that opt not to do it, but if you are really going for the win, you are going to have to jump it and jump it clean.” said course designer Krome. All the riders and horses attempted the Joker fence, but, as Krome had predicted, it proved a challenge for many of the riders and the loss of 200 points dashed their hopes of winning the $10,000 first place money.
The Gambler’s Choice Open Jumper at the National Western is a top level event attracting some of the best riders and horses in the country. “We have top riders from Canada, top riders from Germany, and top riders from the states. We certainly have Olympic level riders here as well as former Olympians. We have quite a good quality here and we have young up-and-comers mixed in.” said Krome.
Cristian Heineking of Germany rode to victory in the 2012 NWSS $10,000 Gamblers Choice Open Jumper event aboard NTEC Selena, who is owned by Kai Handt of Wylie, Texas. “It’s an exciting win for me, especially on this horse. It’s a young horse. It’s 7-years-old. It’s her first really big class, so I’m really proud of her.” said Heineking. Cristian has competed at the Stock Show a number of times and said, “It’s a nice show with the crowd. It is special organizing and is very well done. I really enjoy to come here.”
Anyone who has spent any time around jumper events knows the name “Cudmore.” Blair Cudmore of Nebraska produces some great jumping horses and his wife Karen and their daughter Brooke have ridden to many wins at the Stock Show. Karen had an off night at the Gamblers Choice, but 18-year-old Brooke rode to second place on Ocelot. That placing thrilled her mother Karen, “I was struggling a little bit tonight but I was really happy with my daughter. She rode brilliantly and took second tonight. That’s as good as me doing something great. Super happy about that.” Karen Cudmore regained her winning form at Sunday’s $40,000 Jack Daniels Grand Prix where she took second on Ceonto. Brooke finished a respectable fourth on Ocelot.
All the ticketed jumping events at the National Western Stock Show feature world class horses and riders. It is a great way to spend an evening, so be sure to put it on your ‘to do list’ for the Stock Show next year.
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