When Syosset’s Danielle Cooper and Calantus strutted back to the ingate after their Bayer’s Legend $250,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Prix jump-off round, they exuded confidence. “You did your part — you rode great,” said Cooper’s trainer Todd Minikus with a pat to Calantus’ rump.
Cooper was one of six jump-off contenders over a course that tested both horse and rider. Danny Foster presented a true challenge, making each horse and rider work for their hefty checks. Twenty-five combinations qualified from Saturday’s round and six advanced to the jump-off to make a final bid for historic prize money.
Just hours before her trainer took up his throne in the Zoetis Million, Cooper went to the bank with a $75,000 check after the Bayer’s Legend Jumper Prix. The young rider laughed when she admitted the money would go right back to the horses.
“I knew there was a lot on the line and I tried to be as fast as I could without taking unnecessary risk,” said Cooper, who appeared to have mastered the ‘just enough but not too much’ balance in the jump-off. “I took a pull here or there to be sure I left all the jumps up.”
Calantus tried his heart out for the 23-year old.
“The liverpool and skinny zebra plank fences were tough, but I was lucky enough to be on a horse that has seen a lot of tricky jumps before,” said Cooper of her 11-year old Hanoverian gelding. “I have been with him since his seven-year old season, so we have risen through the ranks together.”
While victory was sweet for Cooper, she said it also served as redemption. Sunday, Sept. 7 was the two-year anniversary of a stroke suffered by her grandfather. That news she heard the morning of her first try at the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in 2012.
“I found out right before riding and didn’t get around the course,” said Cooper. “This makes up for some of that — winning a class I have been aiming for all year. I can’t wait to start moving Calantus up to bigger grand prix from here and see where we go.”
Cooper graduated from New York University two years ago and now tutors math and science on the horse show circuit, allowing her to work and ride at the same time. She calculated just right in the jump-off, stealing the lead from the only other clear competitor, Jaclyn Duff aboard her own Pater Noster.
Duff returned first in the jump-off and she gave it all she had.
“I went as fast as I could because I knew we had to put some pressure on,” she said. “I made a mistake from one to two and added a stride, leaving the door wide open.”
But the riders who followed couldn’t find that opening until Cooper returned and bested Duff’s clear, 44.06-second trip with a time of 42.49 seconds.
After showcasing her speed, Cooper wasn’t shy about giving credit where she felt credit was due.
“Todd [Minikus] has tweaked everything about my riding,” she said. “From flatwork to even how I school — I’ve become more aggressive and faster in the ring.”