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NYC woman wins Grand Prix horse competition as Hampton Classic winds down

Karen Polle, 23, of Manhattan, who won the

Karen Polle, 23, of Manhattan, who won the Grand Prix of the 40th annual Hampton Classic horse show in Bridgehampton on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. Photo Credit: John Roca

The Hampton Classic wrapped up Sunday as VIPs sipped drinks in tents and Olympic-champion equestrians -- and their million-dollar steeds -- competed in the show's final contest.

About 55,000 people attended the 40th horse show, which ran for eight days in Bridgehampton. Close to 15,000 came Sunday to watch the Grand Prix, a show-jumping competition that includes $250,000 in prizes.

Karen Polle, 23, of Manhattan, won Sunday's Grand Prix and $75,000 top prize. Polle, who holds dual citizenship with Japan and hopes to compete for that country in the 2016 Olympics, rode with her 12-year-old horse, With Wings.

"I'm a little bit in shock right now," said Polle, who begins her senior year at Yale in several days. She called it "the biggest win in my career," and described the grass-ring course as "big and tricky."

The Hampton Classic is almost as famous for the people-watching and fashion. Celebrities, including Brooke Shields, Matt Lauer and James Lipton, made their way into a VIP tent with sponsored tables and bottles of sparkling wine.

For many, the Grand Prix, like the White Party on Labor Day, is a reminder that summer is nearly over. "I love the horse side of it," said Lauer, who owns a horse farm in Water Mill. But "it also means the end of summer for me."

Martha Stewart was there, as were former New York City Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, who came to watch his daughter Georgina compete in the Grand Prix, said he has been attending the event for about 20 years.

"My kids have grown up here," Bloomberg said. "Anybody can enter" and "get a chance to show off."

Top equestrians from 10 countries competed in the Grand Prix.

Irish competitor Shane Sweetnam, 34, who lives in Wellington, Florida, won the most points in the weeklong competition and received a $30,000 check. Several winners received watches from Longines, the luxury watchmaker that was a top sponsor.

Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, members of past U.S. gold-medal teams, were among the top competitors, as was Kevin Babington of Ireland, who won the Grand Prix in 2014.

The event also featured high-end shopping, with 70 boutique shops. A Land Rover was for sale.

The Classic, once a much smaller show, is "as big a show-jumping Grand Prix as anywhere in the country," said Marty Bauman, chief spokesman for the event.

For "Inside the Actors Studio" host Lipton, who has attended since the first show, the Classic has grown up. It's "better and better and bigger and bigger."


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