This past Monday morning, during a long, straight drive headed due West towards JFK Airport and away from The Hamptons, there was plenty of time to reflect. The past weekend had reminded me that there’s really no better place to be for the unofficial end of summer than The Hampton Classic Horse Show. For the last 41 years, the show has reigned over the East Coast circuit, and returning to it this year, I was reminded exactly why.
There are a few important boxes to check to ensure that a weekend in Bridgehampton is a success, starting with the Sunrise Highway that leads from New York City out to Long Island’s coastal shores. Even though the road is far from the center of the city, I know to time my drive outside of commute hours. That way, the only traffic I’m bound to hit at the beginning of Labor Day weekend is on the last, one-lane stretch of road that marks the entryway into the Hamptons. And by that time it’s ok, because we’re already there.
Next is lodging, which is always rumored to be complicated and expensive. Unless, that is, you happen to get lucky with a conveniently located, quaint Long Island cottage. Thank you, Airbnb, for magically making a two-story, four bedroom house available just when we needed it. Concealed at the end of a secluded driveway less than five minutes away from the front gate of the horse show, the only cause for wariness was a note strongly warning to “STAY OUT of the basement.” Cue the jokes about things one hides in a basement. . .
But this cottage was perfect, because back roads took us straight to the show, and the drive to get there was gorgeous. Shingle style architecture and open fields dot the area, along with very nice barns and long, sweeping drives, at the end of which are certainly more very nice barns. The show’s character blends right into that landscape, with a handpainted sign pointing the way to the main entrance.
With the drive and the lodging taken care of, it was on to enjoy the show. Show management are a tight-knit, dedicated group of people who keep things moving along smoothly. In the past they’ve had to deal with a hurricane (Earl, 2010), and that experience surely helped them keep a cool head while most of the rest of us spent Friday and Saturday wringing our hands in anticipation of Hermaine, the tropical storm that hit Florida earlier that week before powering up the East Coast.
However, Sunday dawned under blue skies and no more weather than a strong breeze – perfect for riding, in fact. It was also perfect for one of the biggest social events in American show jumping. Next box to check for Hamptons success: ensure there is a place for you at one of the coveted, wildly decorated VIP tables. There is really nothing else in North America that compares to the atmosphere of the ringside VIP on Sunday afternoon at The Hampton Classic. The hats came out, the celebrities came out, the catered tables with personal butlers came out. No weather, no problem.
With a strong group of riders and half of the recent, Olympic silver medal-winning team competing, competition was strong throughout the weekend. The sweetest moment of the week was watching young professional Mattias Tromp win the Longines Cup—and then smile from ear to ear all the way around the ring, through the prizegiving ceremony, and to the end of the press conference.
And it was a hometown rider—of sorts—who took top honors in the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix on Sunday. By way of Ireland, the Hamptons-based rider Richie Moloney finally won the feature grand prix after several years of coming close, and he also captured the Longines Rider Challenge for the third time. Moloney is a man of few words and it was certainly a journalist’s challenge to coax some emotion out of him, but there was no doubt he was thrilled to lead the victory gallop of this class.
And that was that. The Hamptons is the kind of show that makes one start immediately counting down for next year. While the bad news is that this year’s show is over, the good news is that we now have 12 whole months to plan table decorations or design an even more outrageous hat. Not to mention that small goal some have of riding through the ingate and competing on either side of the VIP on the Hampton Classic’s grass fields. I already have my 2017 goal in sight: track down and re-train the happily ignorant media who each year turn their attention to this show only to once again declare Mary Kate Olsen a champion steeplechaser. One can dream, right?