Chris Kappler and his 12-year-old German-bred stallion beat a field of 61 international competitors Sunday to win the $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa and take home $22,500.
The jump-off featured the five riders and horses who completed the difficult course fault-free: Wellington-based Kappler and Rafiki; Loxahatchee's Todd Minikus and 11-year-old Belgian-bred stallion Oh Star; Alison Firestone of Upperville, Va., and 12-year-old Swedish-bred gelding Casanova; Wellington's Lauren Hough and 10-year-old German-bred gelding Windy City; and Kate Levy of Kalonah, N.Y., and 15-year-old German-bred gelding Lagretto 5.
Kappler and Rafiki beat Todd Minikus and Oh Star by two seconds, finishing in 42.87. Minikus received $16,500.
Hough finished third with four faults in 44 seconds and won $9,750. Fourth and $6,000 went to Firestone with four faults in 45. Levy took fifth and $4,500 with 12 faults in 49.57.
There were early eliminations and withdrawals as competitors had problems negotiating the technically tricky course designed by Mexico's Javier Fernandez.
Kappler was 54th to compete.
"It gave me time study the course," he said.
Kappler said Rafiki, who sometimes loses his concentration, was "very rideable.
"He's actually one of the most talented horses I have, but sometimes he's little loafy," he said. "He went fabulously today."
Kappler said the series of obstacles that gave many riders trouble, a triple combination, "looked like a monster to me, big and tough.".
Minikus agreed: "It looked ominous; my eyes got big when I saw it." But his horse also jumped it clean.
"He was brilliant today, he jumped outrageous," Minikus said.
In the jump-off, Minikus said he thought he had it won.
"I didn't think there was a chance in hell that Chris' old loafy could catch Oh Star's medium pace," he said. "It was an impressive ride by Mr. Kappler."
Kappler and Minikus will compete in Saturday's $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium.
Kappler will compete with the horse he rode to second place in last year's Invitational, Royal Kaliber, a 10-year-old Dutch-bred stallion.
Minikus will ride Oh Star.