Andy Kocher Leads the Way on Opening Day of the Silver Oak Tournament‏

By Kenneth Kraus for Phelps Media Group.

Halifax, MA – August 12, 2015 – It was déjà vu all over again in Halifax as the 2015 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament was about to get underway, only this year, instead of on opening day, the torrential rains came the day before the show was scheduled to begin. The monsoon terrorized the New England area all day on Tuesday, causing flight delays and nightmarish traffic jams, but Wednesday couldn’t have been more beautiful for the start of the 2015 Silver Oak Jumper Tournament.

With the early morning 1.20m Jumpers moved to the CMJ Sport Horse Jumper Annex, activities in the Unicorn Landing Grand Prix lifted off at noon in order to give the grass field a chance to recover, although in reality, with the superb drainage system and world-class footing, the field would have been able to handle the early start anyway. Regardless, a lighter Wednesday schedule allowed for the change and made for a pleasant day as the sold out tournament officially got underway.

Olaf Petersen, Jr. of Germany is designing the courses for this week’s tournament.

The $2000 1.30m Jumpers were first up for a high noon showdown on the grass field with a huge starting field of 81 horse and rider combinations going head to head in a one round speed class. With the big numbers, the horse show utilized the California split. A brief explanation, that system awards first place to the fastest and then another first place to the second fastest. The third fastest time becomes second in the first section and the fourth fastest is second in the second section and so on down the line. The prize money in the class was doubled to accommodate the split.

Split or no split, the day belonged to Andrew Kocher, who impressively took four of the top six places in the 81 horse field. Racing home on Prof De La Roque, owned by the Postage Stamp Farm, Kocher took the top spot in a blazing time of 62.167 seconds, over one and a half seconds faster than his second place mount, Bull Run’s Faithful, owned by Kocher. He tripped the timers in 63.854 seconds on Faithful.

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Andrew Kocher and Prof de la Roque. Photo by Andrew Ryback.

But he wasn’t finished yet. After taking the top two places in each section, he had the third fastest time as well, this time on Kathleen Caya’s Sly, who broke the beams in 64.435 seconds for the top second place award.

“I was first, second and third and fifth so we had a good start,” Kocher laughed. “We jumped eight or nine in the class, but they were all pretty good. I just went about as fast as I could on all of them hoping one of them would win, but I got lucky. They’re all fast moving horses.”

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Andrew Kocher and Bull Run’s Faithful. Photo by Andrew Ryback.

Spoiling Kocher’s completely clean sweep was Michael Hughes piloting Christina Fried’s Zammetje. Hughes crossed the finish line in 64.979 seconds, five tenths slower than Kocher on Sly to finish second in the second section.

Then it was back to Kocher rounding out his sensational opening day as he wound up third in the first section with his own mount, Le Conte. His finish time there was 66.256 seconds.

Was the plan to just go all out with all of them? “Yep, every time. I’ve learned a lot from Dennis Murphy. He would always say, ‘Why would you enter a class if you weren’t going to try to win?’ A lot of guys train them in the classes, I don’t know why,” Kocher said.

Other top finishers included Devin Ryan who was third in the second section with Liratus (69.184) and fourth in the first section with Didam who tripped the timers in 69.335 seconds. Fourth place in section two went to Michael Hughes and Fortuna, owned by Christina Fried, crossing the finish line in 71.136 seconds.

Jenny Jones and Castello was fifth in section one and Peter Leone was fifth in section two with Bibi Sijgje. Their times were 72.063 seconds and 72.217 seconds respectively.

For Kocher, the trip to Halifax was a complicated affair. “It’s my first time here. We were at Sussex County (NJ) last week and we drove half the horses up from there and got on a plane and drove the other half from Chicago over here, so we drove all night to get here. It’s really nice, but we’re going to do a little sleeping tonight and try again tomorrow, but I really like this show so far. The footing is good in the field and the schooling area is nice.”

“For the few places we’ve jumped on grass this year, we’ve jumped in California at the Showpark in Del Mar and it can be a little slick, and one other place I can’t remember, but this was the best I’ve ridden on. I didn’t slide and my horses jumped really well out of it; it was soft and wasn’t too hard and I thought it was a really nice field,” Kocher said of the Unicorn Landing Grand Prix field.

Believe it or not, Kocher’s sensational opening day wasn’t done yet.

The final class of the day, the 1.40m Jumpers, saw 20 horses go to the post in a Time First Round class and it was Kocher again coming out on top. Riding Ciana, owned by the Eagle Valley Partners, Kocher ripped around the Petersen track in 61.343 seconds to seal his third win of the day in dominating fashion.

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Andrew Kocher and Ciana. Photo by Andrew Ryback.

How fast was he?

How about 6.3 seconds faster than second place finisher Chris Kappler aboard Jennifer Rowland’s Cecotto’s AS? Kappler galloped home in 67.656 seconds.

“Yeah, this year I’ve been lucky and got a handful of nice horses,” smiled Kocher. “The last few years previous I kind of rode on my own or maybe a few other dealers’ horses, but this year some people were really good to me and let me pick out a few. We got together in a little group and bought a couple of horses. Just by hanging out at the shows and watching, I found a couple of horses that I liked and I asked them and they said yes,” he said. “I had one really good horse that I’ve had for the last three years, his name’s Le Conte, he might’ve jumped fifth in that first class. He kind of helped me get some people thinking that I could actually do it.”

Le Conte’s return to the ring is a story in itself.

“He was hurt in Florida,” explained Kocher. “He was probably out close to six months. He had a dislocated pastern and they said it was a 50/50 chance whether he’d ever do any jumping again. We put him in a stall for 90 days and turned him out for 90 days at my friend Karen Cobb’s place in Louisiana, and here he is back in action, better than ever. I’ve had a good season though; hopefully I haven’t used up all my luck this year or today!” he laughed.

Rounding out the top four in the 1.40m Jumpers were Jeffery Welles and Kevin Babington. Welles piloted Broken Heart, owned by Herb Sambol to third place honors in 70.638 seconds while Babington, just back in the States after a second place finish in the Grand Prix at the Dublin Horse Show, was fourth with Cariatide, owned by Cariatide, LLC. Babington crossed the finish line in 74.400 seconds.

In the 1.20m Open Jumpers, held earlier in the CMJ Sporthorse All Weather Annex Ring, Colin Syquia started his week off with a win, coming out on top aboard Dior B in the first class of the week – taking advantage of the all weather surface in order to give his young mare some practice with tight turns.

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Colin Syquia and Dior B. Photo by Andrew Ryback.

“She went really nicely,” Syquia said. “There was a lot of inside options today and she’s been getting a little more seasoned going fast so I took all the inside turns from 3 to 4, from 6 to 7 and 8 to 9; she did all of that really well. I feel like that’s where I made up most of my time to win the class,” he said. “A lot of people use it as a schooling class and I took every inside option.”

Following behind Syquia was Michael Hughes on Winchester with Alan Griffin and Tricolors Charlie Brown in third.

Regarding the change in footing, Syquia commented, “It affected my plans a little bit. Obviously it’s more friendly, the grass can be a little more daunting the first day so if I had been on the grass I probably would’ve went around everywhere. So this gave me the chance to practice going fast with her. She’s only seven so she’s just starting to learn how to do those speed classes.”

Syquia will be competing Dior B later on in the Speed Derby as well as other horses in the Welcome, Grand Prix, Speed Derby and the 1.35m $15,000 D & G Ventures Mini Prix on Sunday.

A full day on Thursday begins at 8 a.m. and is highlighted by the $10,000 Welcome Stake tomorrow afternoon with 39 entries on the list.

For full results, go to www.horseshowing.com.

Photos by Andrew Ryback Photography www.andrewryback.com.