Sunday, July 24, 2016

KAREN'S CUP: Mother-son duo trot to Tevis Cup title

2016 endurance ride proves to be daunting task as 87 of 165 riders finish

By: Steven Wilson, Sports Editor - The Press Tribune

Auburn Journal

A week prior to the start of the Tevis Cup, it appeared a wildland blaze through the American River canyon could have cost fans the enjoyment of one of the most illustrious endurance races of the year.

But the Trailhead fire spurted to a halt and the Tevis Cup 100-mile endurance horse race from Squaw Valley to Auburn went off without a hitch.

A total of 165 riders snaked through the canyon trails on their horse, each seeking to cross the finish line first, but only one lucky competitor could claim top billing.

The Mother-son Donley duo paced the pack through the majority of the second half of the trail. But John Donley, who competed as a junior rider last year, had to withdraw in the final 20 miles, leaving his mother, Karen, alone to claim the title.

Karen Donley mustered all the energy she had left and used a burst through the Lower Quarry river crossing to outlast Garrett and Lisa Ford, who were hot on her trail, to earn first place in the 2016 Tevis Cup with a time of 16 hours and 33 minutes. This was Karen Donley's sixth Tevis Cup endurance ride and her first title.

“This is a great feeling,” Karen exclaimed after stepping off her horse, Royal Patron. “It’s unfortunate John had to go back for a re-check for gut sounds, but I couldn’t be happier with our performance.”

Donley, who is from Mountain Center, California between Temecula and Palm Springs, pulled away from the pack in the final 14 miles as John left her side and her husband Ron, who helped crew the team, cheered her on. She took the lead just past Deadwood before Michigan Bluff and never relinquished it en route to the title. Lisa Ford was a close second behind Donley, while Garrett Ford entered the fairgrounds third.

Loss of partner propels Rusty Toth

The power of love should never be underestimated.

Rusty Toth and his life partner, Kevin Myers, competed in the Tevis Cup for years — it was their way of life. The ate, slept and lived endurance racing until Myers took his life just two short weeks ago.

“It’s an emotional day, obviously because I lost my best friend and partner,” Toth admitted. “But I rode his horse and I’m really happy with how he did.”

Toth registered a top-11 finish in just over 18 hours, but after leading the pack through 36 miles, he was passed up six miles before Michigan Bluff and could not regain the lead.

Carrying Toth to the finish line, 16-year-old Auli Farwa — an Arabian horse who goes by the shortened name Far — has now racked up over 4,000 miles in endurance racing and has finished 100-mile races 65 times in 65 tries. He even won the James Ben Ali Haggin Cup award last year as the best conditioned horse.

“He’s a machine,” acknowledged Toth’s close friend and fellow competitor Jenni Smith, who rode Far last season. “I mean, 65 for 65, he’s a freak of nature. As a rider, it’s can be tough because he can be jarring and he can pull, but he’s an amazing horse.”

Smith took fifth last year in the Tevis Cup, but she had to withdraw from the race this year after hitting the 36-mile marker at Robinson Flat. Her horse, Farrabba (Stoner), suffered a lower leg injury and the crew played it safe and withdrew.

“It’s pretty common, but I actually don’t know how it happened,” Smith admitted after a check-up at Robinson Flat. “He looked great and then he got to the vet and he couldn’t run. Sometimes that just happens. It’s common with this kind of terrain and the speed we go over it at. This is a ride that less than half the competitors finish.”

She was one of 78 riders who could not finish the race.

100 Miles, One Day

Rattlers, steep drop-offs, exhaustion by both horse and rider and 100-degree heat all took their toll on competitors this season.

Even a good start, like the one 75-year-old Redding native Jesse Caswell had through Robinson flat as he held third place, and the one John had through 70-plus miles, can fizzle due to the domineering terrain from Squaw Valley to the Gold Country Fairgrounds.

“I actually like it better when it’s hot like this and a little bit harsher,” admitted John Donley, who was riding five-time Tevis Cup competitor, My Mamselle (Mya). “Because our advantage is in our crew.”

Riding alongside his mom for most of the race, John Donley blew through the first half of the course, coming into Foresthill with Karen 14 minutes ahead of the next closest rider.

“My mom’s always ridden with me, ever since I was young, and she’s always supporting me throughout the ride,” John explained. “My dad’s the head of the crew and we couldn’t do it without them. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

John Donley’s first test on the Western States trail came when he was 12 years old as he rode 29 miles into the race to Red Star before being pulled. He’s also been pulled twice before at Lower Quarry — 94 miles through the race — and finished the trail once as a junior rider. But he had to withdraw just past the river crossing leaving Karen on her own....

Full story and photos, Auburn Journal

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