Kyle King and Dustin 254 take the inside track to $5,000 Kubota Welcome victory

Kyle King (USA) & Dustin 254 win the $5,000 Kubota Welcome 1.45m at the Fort Festival. Photo by Totem Photographics/tbird

Langley, BC — Aug. 21, 2020

Through a swift-falling rain, Kyle King (USA) emerged victorious in the $5,000 Kubota Welcome 1.45m, besting a competitive seven-horse jump-off aboard Dustin 254 at Thunderbird Show Park’s Fort Festival. Earlier in the day, Emily Ward (GBR) dominated the $5,000 U25 1.40m, securing a win aboard her own Millioninmind. 

The Fort Festival is an Equestrian Canada Gold rated show, featuring $75,000 in prize money. Highlights of the week include Friday’s $5,000 U25 1.40m and $5,000 Kubota Welcome 1.45m along with Sunday’s $40,000 VOLVO CANADA Cup.

King and Garland Stables’ Dustin 254 capitalized on a new strategy, slowing down their overall pace and focusing on swift turns to secure a double-clear performance that had been eluding them. In the process, they earned the biggest victory of their still-new partnership, crossing the timers of Joey Rycroft’s (CAN) shortened course in 36.97 seconds. Langley native Brian Morton (CAN), now a stable rider for Spruce Meadows in Calgary, finished second and third aboard Cadillac and Crusador Z, respectively.

“He’s very nice to ride. He’s just sweetheart of a guy, but he’s a worrier,” King said of Dustin 254. “He’s got a lot of ability, and I know I’ll get him [confident]. Today, I tried to slow it down, and his stride got bigger. I think I learned something!”

tbird COO Chris Pack with winner Kyle King and his team. Photo by Totem Photographics/tbird

Rycroft’s first round track showed hints of difficulty early, but the accomplished field soon proved to crack the code to a clear round, with nine of the 15 combinations keeping all the fences up. 

When it came time for the shortened course, King and Stuart Belkin (of Garland Stables) contemplated not jumping off at all. 

“Dustin is a fairly new ride for me,” King explained. “We’ve been having some issues in the jump-off, having some rails. I always like to kind of max it out [in the jump-off], but we figured out [Dustin 254] doesn’t think quite that fast. [Stuart] told me not to even do the jump-off, but I said I was going to go slow and easy to get to know him.”

King had time to watch several combinations take on the short course and made his plan accordingly. Unlike several other combinations, he elected to add a stride between fences across the middle of the arena, which allowed him to turn more swiftly on the backside of the line. The move proved to be the key to victory.

“I thought I might be up [on the time at that point], and then I let him kind of go at the end,” King said. “It was fun to get a double-clear on him and win something!”

$5,000 Kubota Welcome 1.45m
Place / Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time 

1. Dustin 254 / Kyle King / USA / Garland Stables / 0/0 36.97
2. Cadillac / Brian Morton / CAN / Spruce Meadows Ltd / 0/0 37.95
3. Crusador Z / Brian Morton / CAN / Spruce Meadows Ltd / 0/038.91
4. Galino / Tiffany Foster / CAN / Artisan Farms / 0/0/ 38.92
5. Castros / Meredith Ellis / CAN / Meredith Ellis / 0/0 44.01
6. Cyber Lady Z / Stephanie Valdes / Wendy Valdes / 0/0 48.03
7. Coffee to Go / Kyle King / USA / Spruce Meadows Ltd / 0/4 35.95
8. Northern Light / Tiffany Foster / CAN / Artisan Farms / 0/NS
9. Luikan Q / Ben Asselin / CAN / Attache Stables / 1 86.01
10. EZ Ace / Justin Prather / CAN / Bradon Equestrian Ltd / 4 74.99

Emily Ward (GBR) and Millioninmind were best in the $5,000 U25 1.40m. Photo by Totem Photographics/tbird

Emily Ward dominates the $5,000 U25 1.40m

Last to go in a six-horse jump-off, Emily Ward (GBR) had only herself to beat in Friday afternoon’s $5,000 U25 1.40m, and she got the job done. Aboard longtime mount Millioninmind, Ward shot straight to the top of the leaderboard, securing herself the class’s top two placings. 

She finished second aboard Kent Farrington’s Evita, with third-place honors going to Makayla Barta (CAN) and Cohinoor 4.

“I trust him so much,” said Ward, 21, of Millioninmind, whom she has owned for the better part of the last decade. “We have such a good connection that I know when he goes in the ring, he’s super confident and will do anything I ask him to do. It works really well.”

The combination, paired in the show ring for the last four seasons, put the strength of their partnership on full display in the Thunderbird Jumper Arena, where competition was relocated due to inclement weather. Immediately setting off for Joey Rycroft’s (CAN) shortened course with a forward, purposeful rhythm, Ward and the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding never let up on the gas, coasting to a comfortable victory that bested her pathfinding ride aboard Evita by several seconds.

“Luckily, I had two horses in [the jump-off],” Ward explained. “With my first horse, I kind of measured out the jump-off a little bit. She was actually really fast. She’s quite inexperienced, so I was really happy with her round. I then obviously knew how the lines rode and which turns were a little more tricky, so I could ride it better with Millioninmind to win it. It paid off!”

Ward, a stable rider for hometown favourite Tiffany Foster (CAN), has been getting well acquainted with tbird, having been based with Foster at the venue since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down competition worldwide in March.

“The show has been fantastic,” she said. “It’s obviously been our home for nearly two months now. I couldn’t criticize it. It’s absolutely beautiful to have such amazing rings to ride in. The grass is fantastic, and we have been riding on it for the last week. To also have a big sand arena to ride in for back-up is perfect.”

tbird COO Chris Pack (CAN) with groom Carley Alixsa and Emily Ward (GBR). Photo by Totem Photographics/tbird

$5,000 U25 1.40m
Place / Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time 

1. Millioninmind / Emily Ward / GBR / Emily Ward / 0/0 42.03
2. Evita / Emily Ward / GBR /  Kent Farrington / 0/0 45.95
3. Cohinoor 4 / Makayla Barta / CAN / Makayla Barta / 0/0 46.02
4. Dento / Carly Stevens / CAN / Grant & Susie Stevens / 0/4 45.74
5. E-Lady / Nyah Chernoff / CAN / Stump Lake Ranch and Cattle Co Ltd / 0/4 46.96
6. Caesar A / Emily Fitzgerald / CAN / Emily Fitzgerald 0/4 49.26

Show jumping continues at Thunderbird Show Park through Sunday at the Fort Festival. Tune in daily for wall-to-wall livestream coverage on tbird TV, highlighted by the $40,000 VOLVO CANADA Cup on August 23, 2020 at 2:00pm PT.