Dennis Murphy and his 14-year-old gelding Tuscaloosa won the $7,500 U.S. Tobacco International Jumper Class last night at the opening performance of the Washington International Horse Show. It was the third time Murphy and his horse have won the 10-jump event.

Murphy's victory was assured after Norman Dello Joio, a member of the U.S. equestrian team, was eliminated after falling off his horse Grand Lieu. Dello fell after Grand Lieu pulled over the back part of the last fence.

Until that point it appeared that Dello Joio, of South Salem, N.Y., would beat Murphy's time of 40.86.

Dello Joio said his horse slipped going around the turn. "There was a mud spot right in front of the jump," he said.

The win was especially gratifying for Murphy because Tuscaloosa suffered a collapsed lung after winning the Match Race event in the Washington show last year. Murphy said it was "touch and go whether they would have to put him down, but he's tough, with a big heart."

Murphy said Tuscaloosa -- named for the Alabama city in which Murphy resides -- needed 10 months to recover from the lung problem. Last night's victory came in their first major competition this year.

Murphy was the ninth of 23 riders to enter the ring. As they approached the eighth jump, the reins slipped out of his hands. Most horses would have stopped, but Tuscaloosa went quietly over the jump.

"He's like a Cadillac to drive. If he could read the course, he could do it without me," Murphy said. "A lot of people like to build up and have their horses go good at the end (of the show). If you come in and the horse is going good from the start, you can go for the whole week. If you wait a couple of classes you miss half the horse show. I come to play ball."