Sep 20, 2017

The Race to Le Lion: Twilightslastgleam Will Represent United States at FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Jennie Brannigan and Twilightslastgleam in the Plantation Field International CIC2*. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

In 2012, the USEA Young Event Horse Program (YEH) introduced the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d’Angers Prize and Grant to encourage the development of future U.S. team horses in eventing by providing them with increased international exposure and opportunity as young horses. This grant, funded by Dr. Timothy and Cheryl Holekamp and Christine Turner, is awarded to the highest scoring horse from the USEA Young Event Horse 5-year-old East and West Championships combined that is qualified as a 7-year-old and willing to compete in the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses. In the interest in promoting domestic breeding, North American-bred winners of the Grant are awarded with a cash prize of $17,500 to offset the expenses of traveling to Le Lion d’Angers in France for the Championships, while imported horses are awarded $8,000.

In order to be qualified to compete in the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships 7-year-old CH-2* division, horses must have completed one CCI* and one CIC2* with no cross-country jumping penalties and no more than one rail in show jumping.

“It showcases our horses to the rest of the world,” said Marilyn Payne, co-chair of the YEH Committee. “People think you need to go to Europe to get a good horse, and we’re trying to develop our breeding program to produce top quality horses so that our riders don’t need to go to Europe to buy. This is a great way to show that we do breed top quality horses that can stand up to the rest of the world in competition.”

“It’s part of a pathway,” explained Dr. Holekamp, who also co-chairs the YEH Program. “We’re interested in stimulating the production of top quality eventing horses here in North America – especially the United States.”

The recipient of the 2017 Holekamp/Turner grant will be Nina Gardner’s Twilightslastgleam (National Anthem x Royal Child), a 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. Bred and owned by Gardner and ridden by Jennie Brannigan, “Comic,” as he’s known in the barn, is the second North American-bred horse to receive the grant.

Jennie Brannigan and Twilightslastgleam competing in the 2015 Young Event Horse 5-year-old Championships. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Comic is like family to Gardner, as his bloodlines have been in Gardner’s barn since the early eighties. Comic’s great-grand-dam, Dancing Duchess, was the first thoroughbred mare that Gardner bought as a broodmare and her daughter, Cloistered Duchess, competed in eventing first with Gardner and then with Phillip Dutton before becoming a broodmare herself.

Gardner bred Cloistered Duchess to a sire by the name of Northern Baby, who sired two winners of the Maryland Hunt Cup among many other excellent steeplechase horses. The resulting offspring was Royal Child, Comic’s dam. Comic’s sire, National Anthem, was owned by Bruce Duchossois and raced from the time he was two until he was 11 and retired sound, not a common feat for a multiple-stakes winning horse. Gardner evaluated him and, even though he had never jumped in his racing life, found him to be a natural jumper and a very correct mover.

When Comic was first broken he was sent to the track, like all of Gardner’s Thoroughbreds. “Usually [they go as] three-year-olds,” explained Gardner, “and [we let them give it] a try and if they seem to take to it that’s great, but if they don’t then that’s the time for them to come home and look for other careers.” That’s exactly what happened with Comic, who bucked off every exercise rider at the track until Gardner’s trainer, Elizabeth Merryman, called her up to say, “Nina, this horse does not want to be a racehorse.”

Comic went from the track to Phillip Dutton’s farm, where Waylon Robert and Willie McCarthy were involved in his early under-saddle training before Brannigan took over the rider. “From the start, I knew he was a special jumper,” said Brannigan. “He’s just brilliant across the country. It’s been very cool to produce him.”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

As a 4-year-old, Comic was the 2014 Young Event Horse East Coast 4-year-old Reserve Champion and ranked third in the overall 4-year-old standings, but scored the highest jumping score of any horse on either coast, a 42.1. The following year, Comic placed seventh at the 2015 Young Event Horse East Coast 5-year-old Championships and was ranked 13th overall.

“I truly believe [the Young Event Horse Program] is a way for them to get experience without taxing them or pushing them,” commented Gardner, who is a member of the YEH Committee. “I think it’s a wonderful beginning for them. Obviously, it was encouraging to me to have others see what I saw in him. That made it even more rewarding to continue his career and watch him move up.”

From there, Comic progressed to the Preliminary/one-star level, earning his first qualifier for the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships at the Virginia CCI* in May of 2016, where he added just one rail to his dressage score to finish in fourth place. He also completed the Ocala CCI* in November.

This year, Comic stepped up to the Intermediate/two-star level, winning his first Intermediate level outing and gaining his second qualifier for the Championships in the CIC2* at Carolina International in March, where he placed 11th. He also placed fifth in the CIC2* Fair Hill and finished third in CCI2* at Jersey Fresh in May. Most recently, Brannigan and Comic were 2nd in the Intermediate division at the USEA American Eventing Championships and placed third in the CIC2* at Plantation Field on their dressage score. To date, Comic does not have a single cross-country jumping fault on his record.

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“You can feel the enthusiasm just watching him, it’s amazing,” said Gardner. “To my eye, he can look at a combination, figure out what it is, and if you just sit quietly and let him go he’ll do it. [Jennie] has developed a wonderful bond with him. It's been very rewarding for me to see how much he enjoys his job now.”

“We are just thrilled with the opportunity to get to go,” said Brannigan of receiving the Holekamp/Turner Grant. “I love the horse. I love that, knock on wood, the past couple of events he’s been very good in the show jumping, and he laid down his best test [at Plantation Field]. For being a Thoroughbred, he’s a nice mover and he’s seven [years old] so the strength of the dressage is hard but he’s getting there.”

“It’s very exciting to us, and very meaningful” said Gardner. “Most of our Thoroughbreds in the past were sold to be racehorses, but I have always tried to breed an all-purpose Thoroughbred that would have a life beyond racing and could possibly do something other than racing, so this means a great deal to me.”

“We all feel very grateful and honored to receive [the Grant] . . . We are horse breeders, we want our horses to have a chance to compete against everybody and receive some recognition and this recognition has meant a great deal, especially since Comic is a Thoroughbred.”

Twilightslastgleam will travel to Le Lion d'Angers, which is southeast of Paris in France, to compete in the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships on October 19-22, 2017.

About the USEA Young Event Horse Series

The USEA Young Event Horse Series (YEH) is best described as an eventing talent search. The goal is to identify young horses that possesses the talent and disposition that, with proper training, can excel in the uppermost levels of eventing. While the ultimate aim is to identify the future four-star horses, many fine event horses who will excel at the lower levels will also be showcased.

The Series gives owners and breeders the opportunity to showcase the potential of their four- and five-year-old horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top-level event horses for the future. Classes focus on education and preparation of the event horse in a correct and progressive manner. Youngsters are asked to complete three sections: Conformation/Type, Dressage, and Jumping Test/Gallop/General Impression.

About the Holekamp/Turner Le Lion d'Angers Prize and Grant

The Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Lion d’Angers Prize and Grant will award the highest scorer of the USEA Young Event Horse 5-year-old Championships, both East and West Coast Championships combined, with a cash prize that will enable them to travel to the FEI World Young Horse Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in France for the 7-year-old two-star Championships. Winners who are North American bred will be awarded with $17,500 to travel to Le Lion d’Angers. If the winner is an imported horse he will be awarded $8,000. Click here for more information about the Grant, and click here to view the FEI qualification criteria for Le Lion d'Angers.

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