Here is a priceless look back at some archival footage filmed by Gordon Wright & narrated by George Morris of Mason Phelps’ the American Jumping Derby. This challenging and rugged derby brought the grit of European show jumping to the U.S. courtesy of Mr. Phelps. Held at his stunning family estate in Rhode Island, the Derby was truly a gem of the show jumping circuit from 1976 through 1988.
The American Thoroughbred dominated the hunter/jumper horse show scene for many decades. One must simply look back at the record books to see that, with a few exceptions, the hunters and jumpers that made history were all of thoroughbred lineage. While warm bloods appear to have replaced them as the most predominant breed in the show ring over the last 15 years or so, the last several years have given rise to a strong effort to bring back the Thoroughbred show horse.
These horses were incredible athletes that accomplished remarkable feats, and they deserve to be remembered and celebrated as such. In this post I will highlight a number of names that are synonymous with greatness in equestrian history, with a marvelous hunter named ‘Showdown.’
Born and bred in 1963 by Mr. and Mrs. W.O. Moss of Southern Pines, NC, the 16.2 hand bay Thoroughbred gelding (by Battlewick out of By Accident) that came to be known as ‘Showdown,’ spent his formative years with several legendary horsemen and women, the first of which was Bobby Burke. At the age of three, Showdown was purchased by Sallie Busch Wheeler as a Christmas gift for her husband, Kenny, where the horse quickly became one of the many successful hunters to hail out of Cismont Manor Farm. The big bay racked up one championship after another, in both the Green and Regular Conformation Hunter divisions, during his time with the Wheelers, including multiple AHSA Horse of the Year titles in both 1967 and 1968. In fact, after a particularly impressive performance at The Devon Horse Show in 1968, amateur-owner, and New York City restaurateur, Marvin van Rapoport, purchased the horse though he would remain at Cismont Manor until after the National Horse Show that fall.
Showdown continued his winning ways with new owner van Rapoport and trainer Junie Kulp of All Around Farm from 1969-1971, during which time he was also shown by a host of brilliant riders including Terry Rudd and Joey Darby. The horse showed under the name ‘Spindletop Showdown’ during these years, as all of van Rapoport’s horses took on this prefix, a nod to the owner’s popular New York City restaurant, The Spindletop. From Devon to Ox Ridge, to the National Horse Show, this great Thoroughbred hunter continued his domination of the show ring, at one point winning forty-three consecutive classes. By the end of 1971, the horse had earned his fourth straight AHSA Horse of the Year title in the Regular Conformation Hunters.
In 1972, the great bay hunter went west to new owners Mr. & Mrs. Paul Davies Jr., and trainer and hunter rider extraordinaire, Linda Hough of California. The ‘Spindletop’ prefix was dropped, and the horse returned to competition as ‘Showdown,’ but the blue ribbons kept coming. At the National Horse Show that year, the horse earned his fourth consecutive championship in the Regular Conformation Hunters. Just as he had for his previous owners, Showdown continued to perform brilliantly, which as some would say, is the mark of a truly great horse. He retired undefeated and was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame in 1998.