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Michael Hughes Takes Consecutive Victories in Jumpers For Final Day of Tampa Bay Classic

RELEASE: April 1, 2013
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: Emily Riden for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International

Micheal Hughes, pictured aboard Zammetje, led the victory gallop in both the NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic and the SJHOF High Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic Sunday in Tampa (Emily Riden)
Micheal Hughes, pictured aboard Zammetje, led the victory gallop in both the NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic and the SJHOF High Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic Sunday in Tampa (Emily Riden)
Tampa, FL
-  Michael Hughes sped to victory in the North American League (NAL) Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic, and he kept right on cruising. Hughes immediately followed up his NAL win Sunday with a blue ribbon in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame High (SJHOF) Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic under the lights of the Covered Arena at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center.

The SJHOF Classic course, designed by Michel Vaillancourt, provided a great test of the horses and riders at the Tampa Bay Classic with only four pairs passing to move on to the jump-off round. The course opened over a single oxer, followed by a turn to the right over another single oxer, then on to a liverpool vertical. Coming off of the liverpool riders were sent around to the left to a single oxer before whipping around a tight right turn to jump a vertical skinny. The second round course concluded over an oxer-vertical in-and-out to a final oxer off the right.

As the first of four to return to the short course, Darby Toben took her turn in the race against the clock. Toben and her mount Virgin Media, owned by Doreen Toben, finished the course in a time of 45.736, under the time allowed of 50 seconds, but a rail down left her susceptible. KC Van Aarem came back next to best Toben's time aboard her own horse, Mastermind, but with two poles hitting the ground, Aarem would finish the day in the third place position.

Michael Hughes and Zammetje, owned by Christina Fried, were the third to return for the final showdown. Their clear round in a time of 44.604 seconds would be the only faultless ride of the jump-off, securing them the guaranteed blue ribbon. Hughes utilized his horse's carefulness to clasp the coveted win. Jenna Friedman followed Hughes aboard Zidoctro, but she was unable to secure a clear round, landing her in the fourth place position for the day.

"Zammetje's really very easy. This is a great ring for him because he's so adjustable and so scopey," Hughes explained. "In the jump-off, he's naturally so fast. He's so quick in the air. I was just really thinking more about going clear and a little bit quick because I knew Jenna [Friedman] still had to go after me."

Hughes' winning partnership with Zammetje is one that has continuously progressed since Hughes first started riding him three years ago.

"He's 9-years-old now, and we brought him up doing the young jumper classes. He's owned by Christina Fried, and I'm so thankful to her for everything that she's done over the years," Hughes commented.

Hughes also has a longstanding partnership with Red Hot, the speedy horse that he piloted to victory in the NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic.

"I've been riding him for about five years now, and he's so much fun. He was a little bit difficult when we first got him, but now since we've had him for so long he's so easy and fun to ride," Hughes shared. "Red Hot's a hot horse, but you still need to keep going. He likes to get almost underneath the jumps a little bit because he's so good in front."

From the opening field of 27, Hughes was among the eight who returned for the jump-off where riders were tested over the same jump-off course utilized in the SJHOF Classic.

Hughes and Red Hot were the very first to reappear for the jump-off, finishing double clear in a time of 40.338 seconds - the time to beat that would remain untouched for the remainder of the jump-off.

Melissa Rudershausen came close, delivering the only other clear round over the eight fence course, but her time of 44.178 seconds would leave her just short of the top honor. Red Hot is a naturally quick mount, giving him a bit of an edge, and Hughes rode a route that further shaved off the seconds.

"From one to two I was really fast. I knew the line to the liverpool after that was a little bit short, so I angled it in, and I went really tight from one to tight. I think that was where we were probably the fastest," Hughes contemplated.

Prior to the NAL class, the adults vied for the top honors in the day's $2,500 Adult Jumper class. Out of a competitive of 15 riders, it was Rebecca Weissbard and Freemantle, owned by Redfield Farm, who rose to the occasion.

One-third of the original 15 riders advanced to the jump-off, and Katherine Willekes was the first to deliver a clear round aboard her horse Miss Kitty. Both Willekes and Weissbard ride and train with Emil Spadone at Redfield Farm, so when Willekes made the jump-off round Weissbard knew what she was up against.

"Miss Kitty is probably one of the best horses in the jump-off at Redfield. She's amazing," Weissbard said. "I knew I had a horse with a big stride so I took advantage of it."

Weissbard took all the tight turns to finish an exhilarating jump-off ride in the time of 40.191 seconds - just tenths of a second off of Willekes' time of 40.317. Nelson Long would claim the third place award with just four faults in the jump-off aboard Merlerault.

In the nearby Main Hunter Ring, the junior hunters competed for the titles of Large Junior Hunter and Small Junior Hunter champion for this week's Tampa Bay Classic. Earning the championship in the Small Junior Hunters were Ashton Alexander and O'Ryan, owned by Meghan Flanagan. The reserve award went to Morgan Ward and Felicci, whom Ward rode this weekend for fellow junior and owner Caroline Kellogg.

"This is my first time showing him. I just rode him for the first time yesterday, but he's a really fun horse. You just loop the reins and go," Ward said of Felicci.

In the Large Junior Hunters, the championship honor was presented to Hannah Holik and Tache Rouge, owned by Czech Mate, LLC., while the reserve award went to Second City, owned by Megan McGovern and shown by Ashton Alexander.

"I've had Tache Rouge for almost four years now. He was one of my first junior hunters. We've done Devon, East Coast, and West Coast all over. He loves it here though. The hunters get to go in the big open field, and they have magnificent jumps and great courses," Holik professed.

Sunday concluded the Tampa Bay Classic and the first week of 'AA' competition at the Tampa Equestrian Series. Top hunter and jumper riders and horses will return to the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center on Tuesday, April 2,to kick-off the Tournament of Champions, the second week in the popular Tampa Equestrian Series.

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