One would think, being blind in one eye might be an encumbrance. Renee Kvartek’s Warmblood has never used that as an excuse, and when the gelding has been paired with locally based horseman Gonzalo Garcia, the rider/horse combination has enjoyed great success.

Their talent was showcased Friday evening as they took top honors in the Aiken Spring Classic Finale week $5,000 Welcome Stake at Highfields Event Center.

A total of 15 exhibitors took part in the class, and the course designed by four-time United States Equestrian Federation Walter Cox course designer of the year, Linda Allen, had a first round track featuring 11, 1.35 meter obstacles and 14 jumping efforts. The time allowed was adjusted from 94 to 85 seconds. A total of eight horses would qualify for the jump-off, and several riders would choose the b-option, deciding to stay in the ring. Angel Karolyi and the 8-year-old Zangersheide mare Armani Z would be the first combination to qualify for the jump-off, but would decide to come back after the completion of the first round.

Harold Chopping and Kendra Bullington’s Canadian Warmblood mare Patent Pending would also go clean, but would would have four faults in the jump-off, staying in the ring after stopping the timer in the first round at 82.139.

The second of those to take the b-option was none other than Aiken’s DFG Stables’ Daniel Geitner riding Ann Ritter’s Jumbo Jet, and the combination once again would establish the time to beat completing the course in 42.30.

Mary Meghann Huitt and Honfleur, Victor Segovia and Romeo, Garcia and Harley’s Heaven, Victoria Press and Cayenne 140 and Mario Garcia and Corona Du Domaine would also have fault free first rounds.

However, Harley Heaven’s first round served as a harbinger as Garcia and the Warmblood, who is blind in his left-eye, stopped the timer in 77.401.

The first round course was technical and featured a number of roll backs, with different half-steps and lines, said Garcia.

“He rode wonderful,” said Garcia. “He was really adjustable over the length of the course. He got tired a little bit at the end. I kind of had to push him up to the rest of the fences. He jumped pretty well overall. It was a very nice track.”

But, Gonzalo wasn’t the only Garcia in the jump-off, he was joined by his brother Mario and the mare Corona Du Domaine.

“We have a great relationship,” said Gonzalo. “We grew up jumping in the same division. We help each other a lot. It’s not really a rivalry. It’s more like a team. I know he’s worked very hard to get her there, jumping nice and clean. I’m very pleased he got there.”

Garcia and Harley’s Heaven would go double clear, stopping the timer in 41.135 seconds, and taking the a-option to come back into the ring after the first round, a decision that clearly paid dividends.

“I wanted to let him catch his breath, make a better plan for the jump-off, strategize, and having that extra time makes it better,” said Garcia. “It gives you the opportunity to watch the other exhibitors to see how they’ve gone, and also how fast you need to go.”

Geitner and Jumbo Jet’s fault free effort put additional pressure on the riders as they knew the margin for error was minimal.

“The only way to beat him was to ride a really flowing, tight track, no extra steps,” said Garcia. “I had the game plan of cutting all the angles I could, and keeping the forward motion all the way through.”

There were three other rider/horse combinations going double clear, Karolyi and Armani Z placed third, Press and Cayenne 140, fourth and Huitt and Honfleur were fifth.