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Kappler lands 2nd Invitational

Chris Kappler, aboard Royal Kaliber, completes two fault-free rounds, wins jumpoff for second title in eight years.

By CHRISTINA K. COSDON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003

TAMPA -- Relaxed, confident and in sync with his horse, Chris Kappler rode to victory for the second time in the $200,000 American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium. He also won eight years ago.

Kappler, 36, of Pittstown, N.J., bested a field of eight Saturday night in the jumpoff and was the only one to complete two fault-free rounds with his Dutch-bred Royal Kaliber. For those perfect rides, he took home $60,000.

"This morning I woke up and knew I was dying to win this class," Kappler said. "My horse is in great form. ... He's a huge, incredible jumper. He jumped amazing tonight." Kappler said winning the Invitational "was like winning it all over again for the first time."

American-born Meredith Beerbaum, 33, who is married to German rider Markus Beerbaum and rides for Germany, placed second with German-bred Shutterfly, earning $44,000.

"This is the best class in America," she said. "It's almost like going to the Olympic Games. This class is special. It give me chills to think about it."

Anne Kursinski, 43, of Frenchtown, N.J., and Eros placed third for $26,000. She praised the 16-year-old Australian thoroughbred she has ridden 10 years. "I want to say he's better than ever," she said. "Mentally he really knows the game -- he's just fabulous."

Defending champion Molly Ashe withdrew when her German-bred stallion Concerto refused to complete the third element of a triple jump. It was Concerto's first competition in a stadium and Ashe said before the show she was unsure how he would react. The 1998 Invitational winner McLain Ward also withdrew when Viktor, one of the winning horses of the 10-week Winter Equestrian Festival, refused the same fence.

A trouble spot, more than a third of the field brought down the second element of the triple combination. Beerbaum said the combination was "very impressive and tricky distance-wise. A lot of horses backed off from it."

The evening's events included the induction of Gem Twist and Calypso, two Olympic champions, into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.

Legendary Gem Twist received a standing ovation when he was led on the field by his Hall of Famer breeder Frank Chapot andowner Michael Golden. The white horse, who is 24, thrilled fans around the world with his powerful and exuberant jumping style and was named best show jumper in the world at a World Cup competition years ago in Sweden. He won the Invitational in 1989 with rider Greg Best.

Another showjumping great, Calypso, was inducted posthumously. He won numerous national and international championships with rider Melanie Smith Taylor, and the pair won the Invitational in 1982. He retired in 1988 to Taylor's farm in Tennessee where he lived until his death in December 2002.

Other inductees were Harry R. Gill, a longtime supporter of show jumping's leading riders and owner of many of the country's most famous horses, including Hall of Famer Idle Dice. With McLain Ward, Gill owns Viktor, one of this season's top money winners on the grand-prix circuit. The final inductee was 99-year-old Clarence L. "Honey" Craven, 25-year manager of the 120-year-old National Horse Show.

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