It’s the final qualifying event of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League for the 2017 season, and all eyes will be on Sin City this weekend for Saturday’s $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas CSI4*-W. Among the potential hopefuls: last year’s victor Christian Heineking, Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Del Mar CSI5*-W champ Andy Kocher, and top-standing 2017 FEI World Cup™ Jumping riders Richard Spooner, Jamie Barge, and Jack Towell, among others.

In other words: anything could happen this year and there’s little doubt that all of North America’s top contenders will be looking to close their seasons out strong. But just what—besides a little luck—does it take to conquer Las Vegas? We’re taking a look back at the event’s most recent champions to find out.

2016: Christian Heineking & Aje Cluny

Germany’s Christian Heineking and Aje Cluny winners of the 2016 $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas. Ph FEI/Julia Borysewicz

Christian Heineking and his mount Aje Cluny proved age is just a number when they rose to the occasion to win the 2016 $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas, narrowly inching out Brazil’s Guilherme Jorge. The class marked the 12-year-old gelding’s first major career win, and—like a fine wine—Heineking credited maturity for helping to develop “Cluny” from a nice prospect into a competitive, world-class horse.

Lessons Learned: 

  • It’s never too late for your first big break. “[Cluny] had a late start, he’s a little bit older. He’s just getting there,” noted Heineking. “He keeps going better and better.”
  • Expect the unexpected. “On the way from the combination to the wall, my horse was bucking a little bit, so that can be 1/100th of a second right there,” said Heineking of his track. Thankfully, Cluny settled down, and Heineking still managed to eek out Jorge by—yes—a mere 1/100th of a second!

 2015: Peter Lutz & Robin du Ponthual

Peter Lutz riding Robin du Pontual in 2015. Ph. McCool Photography

They say the harder your work, the luckier you get, which also applies to Peter Lutz’s winning round in the 2015 $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League qualifier at the CSI3* Las Vegas National. Aboard the 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding, Robin du Ponthual, Lutz marked his first-ever World Cup qualifier victory in Sin City.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Take more risks. “I started to take a few more risks and to go a little bit faster,” said Lutz. “We did that a few times to get into the same rhythm and the same speed. I felt like it was [a] perfect combo of calm and fast for it all to come together.”
  • Beat your students (if you must). Lutz’s main jump-off competition turned out to be his former student, Audrey Coulter aboard Domino, who’s time he ultimately beat by less than 1 second. “I spent a lot of years bringing along young horses and young riders, including Audrey, who I worked with for many years,” Lutz said after his win. “I’m really proud of them; many have gone to be great riders.”
  • Use the crowd. “As soon as [“Robin”] steps into the ring, he really excels and is energized by the crowd. And there was such a great crowd here. It distracted him a little bit at first, but by the time he got into the jump-off, he was really focused.”

-Photo credits: FEI/Julia Borysewicz; McCool Photography; Erin Gilmore; Flickr.com/Daryl_Mitchell.