Even though his horse McGuinness is returning from a two-year layoff due to injury, Rich Fellers had plenty of confidence in his trusty mount heading into yesterday's BP Cup.
After 11 years together, the American rider says he knows exactly what McGuinness is capable of and the horse repaid that confidence with a big win, covering the course in 79.574 seconds to earn Fellers an $18,750 payday.
"I knew I was in contention, but I also knew with that particular horse ... he's just coming back now, and I think he's good, but I didn't want to put too much pressure on him speed-wise," Fellers said of the 14-year-old McGuinness, who injured a flexor tendon in 2007.
Knowing his horse so well allowed Fellers to push him as close to the edge as possible, without going over it.
"It's a huge advantage," Fellers said. "In any sport, there's no replacement for experience. And I know him so well and he knows me so well, it reduces the chance for error, for sure."
But the run wasn't without its challenges for Fellers.
"Starting with the first fence, that type of course you're under pressure from the git-go because you've got to be fast.
"And when we're pushing for speed, we're losing some ridability."
Known as Little Skinny, the seventh jump turned out to be a tough one for most of yesterday's field.
"That's notoriously a very, very difficult jump to jump clean. If you touch it, the rail is so short it's obviously much lighter than the others," Fellers said. "The course designers always put it in a spot where if you touch it with a toe, it rolls out.
"And it's very unimpressive to the horses ... there's no wall or no panel. It's just dark brown rails, so they don't look at it, and they're not intimidated by it. Therefore, they take it a little bit casually so a lot of them catch it."
But McGuinness was able to handle it.
"I did take my foot off the gas a bit and let the horse slow down and look a little at it and measure it rather than going at it like one of the other jumps."
Fellers also finished in eighth place on Kilkenny Rindo.
Costly faults kept two riders from a chance at top spot.
Cameron Hanley from Ireland finished the course in a blistering 77.291 seconds, which would have been good enough for the win, but his mount, VDL Rocksina, caught the second-to-last fence, meaning a four-second penalty that moved him into third, still good enough for $11,250.
Similarly, American Beezie Madden made her way around the course in 77.865, but her mount, Exclusive, also knocked down a rail for a four-second penalty, which moved her into fifth.
Calgarian Carla Diewert was the top Canadian, finishing her round cleanly in 82.383, good enough for sixth place and a $4,500 payday.