Washington, D.C. - October 25, 2008 - Friday night brought big crowds to Verizon Center to watch one of the most difficult classes in show jumping--the Puissance or high jump. Although only five riders attempted the great wall, the audience was on the edge of their seats through five rounds of nail-biting action. Cool under pressure, it was 23-year-old Michael Morrissey of Bradenton, FL, riding Scaraberas, who cleared seven feet and one-half inch to win the $25,000 Puissance class. Charlie Jayne, 22, of Elgin, IL, and Thomas Edison tied for second place with Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, FL, with Sleepy P Ranch's Presidente.
McLain Ward, 2008 Olympic gold medalist and a winner of many Puissance classes, provided color commentary shared insider information about the horses and riders.
In the first round, all five riders cleared 5'7" over the solid wall with the green rolltop. The second round progressed to 6'1" and again all five riders were clear. But in round three, where the wall was raised again to 6'7", two riders were foiled--Aaron Vale on Claudia Billups' Aristide 7 and Angel Karolyi and Curioso Z, owned by Ron Krise. This was the first Puissance class both for Vale's Aristide 7 and the 21-year-old Karolyi from Venezuela. They tied for fourth place having cleared 6'1".
Minikus, Jayne and Morrissey were still in the hunt in the fourth round, where the height climbed to 7'1/2". Up first were Minikus and Presidente, but the big gray refused the wall. Minikus then took a practice jump and bowed out, not wanting to risk his mount's confidence in a second attenpt.
It was setting up well for Jayne and Thomas Edison, who made it to the wall and over the top, but blocks rained down when the bay American Thoroughbred could not quite clear the height. Though this was Thomas Edison's first Puissance, Jayne felt his horse was brave enough to try the wall. "He can jump a big jump. It's all about trusting your horse and I trust him, so I figured I would give it a shot and see how it went. There were only five in [the class], so it was a guaranteed check as long as you cleared the first course," said Jayne.
This left the door open for Morrissey, who has been partnered with Scaraberas, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Eugene R. Mische, for five years. The crowd fell silent as Morrissey approached the practice jump. He rounded the corner and slowed to a trot and switched to the outside lead--his horse's more comfortable way of going. He then cantered easily down to the wall and slipped over the top, clearing seven feet one-half inch for the win.
Morrissey attemps North American Record
As soon as Morrissey cleared the wall, the riders at the in-gate blocked his exit with their thumbs up and calling for an attempt at the North American record of 7'71/2", which was set at the WIHS in 1983 by Anthony d'Ambrosio and Sweet N' Low. Morrissey talked it over with his team and decided he would try for the record.
The wall was raised to a staggering 7'8", half an inch higher than the standing record. Hopes were dashed, however, when Scaraberas was unable to clear the top and came down awkwardly. He fell to one knee upon landing and Morrissey was unseated, but both horse and rider walked out of the ring unharmed. Although he did not set a new record, Morrissey was cheered for his efforts and still took home the blue ribbon and top prize money.
"When we were approaching the wall, [Scaraberas] had no hesitation whatsoever. I knew I was in trouble when I hit the top of the jump. I was only halfway over and he was already coming down," said Morrissey. "It was just hard to find a good spot to a jump that big and you have to be pretty spot on to even come close to getting over a jump that big. I might have been a little too far off of it. It is certainly the highest that I have ever attempted, but my horse gave it an unbelievable effort."
Morrissey felt that his horse was ready and willing, no matter what the height of the wall. "I knew that he was going to try because he really, really seemed like he enjoyed doing it. Every time he would take the bit and really charge, so I knew he was going to try," he said. "I actually did think that I had a chance; I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think that I had a chance."
This was Morrissey's second Puissance class with Scaraberas. At the Dublin Horse Show in Ireland, they cleared 6'11" but settled for second place when they could not clear 7'3" in pouring rain. Tonight's win over 7'1/2" is the highest he has ever jumped.
Although he did not set the record tonight, Morrissey said that if his horse feels good next year and he has the opportunity, he would love to give it a try again.
Winning such a historical and unique class like the Puissance at the WIHS "means everything" to Morrissey. "It is great. It really feels good to win anything. As riders, I think we are all competitive and we want to win. Second place is the first loser, so everyone wants to go out there and win. It is great though. It has been awhile since I won a big class, so it feels good," he said.
FINAL RESULTS: $25,000 OPEN JUMPER PUISSANCE
1 SCARABERAS, MICHAEL MORRISSEY
2 THOMAS EDISON, CHARLIE JAYNE
2 PRESIDENTE, TODD MINIKUS
4 CURIOSO Z, ANGEL KAROLYI
4 ARISTIDE 7, AARON VALE