LEXINGTON, Ky.--In an unusual finish, the ASPCA Maclay National Championship was dominated by two boys, with Canadian Sam Walker winning over Brian Moggre, who had won the Medal Finals just a few weeks earlier.
With so many girls competing in equitation, it's a long stretch between wins by a boy, but perhaps never before have boys placed first and second in a national championship.
Jacob Pope was the last male athlete to claim the top honors in 2012, and prior to that was Brian Walker in 2001.
And in Lexington this year, Walker and Moggre were both on top through the first round, the flat phase, the second round and the final test of the top six, and way ahead of the others, including third placed Paige Matthies, who moved up from sixth to third after the final test.
“It was an honor to judge the Maclay to begin with, but an even greater thrill for both Chance [Arakelian] and I was that there were boys at the head of the class," said judge Walter T. (Timmy) Kees. "The courses separated the class nicely. The two boys were never far apart."
“I think I’m kind of in shock more than anything," said Walker of Ontario, Canada. "I didn’t expect for everything to come so soon and I’m really, really grateful that I got to experience this and ride in this class, let alone come out on top.”
IN THE FIRST round, 175 juniors competed over a course that included fences without standards, skinny jumps, a gate and an airy triple bar with varied distances requiring riders to lengthen or collect quickly within the same series of obstacles.
For the flat phase, which counted 50 percent, riders were called back in order of preference, with Walker, Moggre, Ava Ellis, Emma Kurtz, Catalina Peralta, Paige Matthies, Daisy Farish and Coco Fath getting the top call, after which the top 25 competed over a second course which included almost no fences with standards, a hand gallop, a counter-canter, a trot fence and a long, airy fence that represented the rail at Keeneland, which was jumped in both directions.
"I thought that the second course was amazing," said Walker, who trains with Missy Clark and John Brennan from North Run, where he is a working student. "There were so many different options and numbers, like where you would do your flying change, where you would land the lead. There were so many different options of what you could do in the second round with where the jumps were placed."
Returning in reverse order of the standings for the second over fences phase, Moggre was the top call with Walker, Farish, Fath, Kurtz, Matthies, Ellis and Alexandra Worthington in second through eighth positions.
Following the second round of the top 25, the judges tested the top six, Walker, Moggre, Fath, Kurtz, Matthies and Mimi Gochman, who leapfrogged from 12th place into the work-off, which asked riders to canter fence 7, canter fence 2, counter-canter fence 6a, canter fence 6b, canter fence 4, halt and return to the line.
"The test, for me, I had everything to lose in the test," said Walker. "For me, playing it safe was the best thing I could do to hope to come out on top."
"THE TEST separated them," said Kees. "The two boys were a half of a point apart. It was really exciting for us to judge and, of course, it’s one of those things where you are fortunate enough to be able to judge and, more importantly, you really feel like you did the right thing at the end.”
“Sam was very smart in the final test." said Kees. "Brian had to take a shot and he did, and it was very good. He came back third and then moved up because he took a shot and made it happen. Sam was smart because he didn’t take a shot. He rode it beautifully, did a simple change and got a great result. It was beautifully done. We were pleased with how both of them rode.”
Walker's name now joins the ranks of past winners that include some of the sport's stars such as Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot and George Morris, as well as recent winners Lillie Keenan, Victoria Colvin and Madison Goetzmann.
Previously this year, Walker placed in the top 10 in the Medal Final and the Washington Equitation Final, and he also competes in the upper level jumpers, having won U25 and High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper classes across the United States and Canada,
“I was so pleased with how it turned out," said Clark "We talked to Sam a lot about being a smart horseman, and that test was difficult to land the lead and hold it or even have the time to orchestrate and set up a flying change. We were gambling as he was leading the whole way through. I think at one point, he was in second, but he was definitely ahead at that point. I was hoping he would play his hand like he did. I was so proud that he thought like a horseman. I would have done the same thing if I was sitting on that horse. I was thrilled with that choice.”
“He has been with us for four years (as a working student," said Clark. "Sam is great. He is such a talent. His parents, Scott and Dee Walker, are professionals from Canada, and we connected however many years ago. You couldn’t help but see Sam’s talent, so it’s always fun to work with a kid like Sam. A little anecdotal story is his mom was my former student, so it’s a little disturbing to have her child as my student, but to work with the family is great. They’re such a great family. It’s been a great collaboration. His talent has shone through and he is such a hard worker. He’s a really great student of the sport and disciplined in his riding. It’s wonderful to work with him.”
“I have another junior year," said Moggre, who also competes very successfully in open jumpers, grand prix and hunters. "I would say that the plan is, with my amazing support system of my family, and Mike [McCormick] and Tracy [Fenney], and even Ken and Emily [Smith] and Don [Stewart], who helped this year, to really further my jumper career and get into more ranking classes on the jumpers. I had a great season in the equitation this year, and I was very well-mounted. Everybody was on my side and I’m really excited to see where the future goes. I don’t know what the plan is as of now. We will see. I would like to do the equitation next year, but I would definitely say my main focus is doing more grand prix classes on my jumpers.”
“I’ll be the first one to tell you that his work ethic is what is responsible for his success," said his trainer, McCormick. "He loves horses, he loves to ride, and it shows up. The results are right there for him. It has been a really, really wonderful year.”
2018 ASPCA Maclay National Championship:
Place / Rider / Horse
1. Sam Walker/ Waldo
2. Brian Moggre / Efendi
3. Paige Matthies / Blurred Lines
4. Mimi Gochman / Kaskade
5. Coco Fath / Class Action
6. Emma Kurtz / Cris Van De Helle
7. Elli Yeager / Copperfield 39
8. Farah Rizvi / Jarinka
9. Devin Seek / Startin Monday
10. Sophie Gochman / Contelido