Winter Equestrian Festival Week 1 Wrap-up, January 25-29, 2006,
Nutrena/Western Hay Wellington Classic, CSI-2*

Leslie Howard and Youp sweep Week One with win in $50,000 Farr XTN Grand Prix of Palm Beach

Youp and Leslie Howard win
Grand Prix of Palm Beach.
Photo by Randi Muster

The largest opening Sunday crowd in the thirty-four year history of the Winter Equestrian Festival brought week one, the Nutrena/Western Hay Classic, to a close and watched Leslie Howard of Westport, Connecticut post her second major win in four days as she galloped to victory in the $50,000 Farr XTN Grand Prix of Palm Beach.

The crowd of 8,476 show jumping fans enjoyed a gorgeous, partly cloudy Florida day and were treated to the second largest starting field in the long history of the Grand Prix of Palm Beach. Sixty-one starters went to the post for the 1p.m. main event. The scoring was FEI art. 238.2.2, Time First Jump-off. Canada’s Michel Vaillancourt designed the track for today’s huge class and was up to the challenge.

Of the sixty-one starters, only four competitors completed the first round course fault free. One competitor was clean with a single time fault, while another seventeen competitors finished with a single knockdown, many coming at the final fence on the long and technical route that included seventeen jumping efforts.

Youp and Leslie Howard, winners of the Thursday’s $25,000 WEF Challenge Series Round One, riding out of the fifty-ninth spot on the roster, produced the fourth and final clean round for the jump-off.

In the tiebreaker against the clock, Megan Lamaze returned first and was unfortunately eliminated after coming unseated over the third fence in the jump-off.

Bloomberg and Lancelot returned next. They pulled two rails in the speed phase, coming home with eight faults and clocking in at 43.13 seconds.

Madden and Play On also had two knockdowns, but posted a quicker time than Bloomberg, taking over the top spot with only Howard left to go.

Howard not only produced a second clean effort of the day, but she did it in the fastest time as well, a handy 38.01 seconds for the win.

Jumper Highlights- Tuesday through Friday

The 2006 Winter Equestrian Festival, the thirty fourth edition of the nation’s largest and longest running equestrian series, opened under partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures on Wednesday.

Canada’s Michel Vaillancourt is the opening week Course Designer at the Internationale Arena.

There were thirty five starters for the opening competition, the $8000 1.45m Open Jumpers, scored under USEF Table II, Sec. 2b, Time First Jump-off. Of the thirty-five that went to the post, thirteen produced first round clears, while eleven others had one knockdown in the initial round.

Ian Millar, a nine time Olympian from Canada, took the early lead riding out of the fourth spot in the order. Aboard Redefin, owned by Susan Grange, Millar toured the course without penalty and crossed the finish line in a handy time of 36.932 seconds.

Millar was overtaken three horses later when last year’s winner, Molly Ashe, joined the fray with Vicomte D, the newest entry from Jane Clark. Ashe lopped 1.64 seconds off of Millar’s time, tripping the timers in 36.768 seconds.

McLain Ward and Goldika 559 win on opening day at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Randi Muster

2004 Athens Olympic Team Gold Medalist McLain Ward and Double H Farm’s Goldika 559, winners of the Chesapeake Speed Classic at the National Horse Show here in November, put the class out of reach just a few minutes after Ashe left the ring. Riding out of the eleventh spot in order, Ward put the pedal to the metal and raced across the finish line a full 5.16 seconds faster than Ashe, posting an incredible time of 31.600 seconds for the victory.

“When you’ve got to pay the bills, show Goldika,” laughed Ward following his win. “It was nice. I was getting Sapphire ready for the grand prix, not being competitive really. So it’s nice to have a horse like Goldika that I can win with.”

An afternoon long, area wide power failure could not stop Leslie Howard of Westport, Connecticut from electrifying the Thursday afternoon crowd as she and Youp raced to a stunning victory in Round One of the $25,000 WEF Challenge Series.

The nine week long series of Thursday grand prix events are major money qualifiers for the WEF finale, the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

An exciting new addition at this year’s WEF is the $200,000 FTI Rider Challenge, a rider bonus pool of $200,000.  Riders will accumulate points from their performances in the Thursday and Sunday Grand Prix events.  The rider with the most points on March 12 will be awarded $100,000. Second place will be given $50,000, third place will receive $30,000, and $20,000 will be given to fourth place. FTI Consulting of Annapolis, MD, is sponsoring the $200,000 FTI Rider Challenge.

A hefty field of seventy-two show jumping stars went to the post in the 1 p.m. feature at the Internationale Arena.

Leslie Howard, riding the S’blieft Group’s Youp, was the second challenger in the five horse jump-off. Howard was unbelievably fast and made every possible inside cut en-route to a dazzling clean performance. Her finish time was 35.35 seconds, almost six full seconds faster than Keri Pessoa.

Trezebees, owned and shown by sixteen year-old Addison Phillips of New York City, competed in her first ever Thursday WEF Challenge. She had the final chance to catch Howard. Phillips had the crowd on their feet as she too made all the inside cuts, and appeared on a pace to catch the leader. Phillips raced home in 36.22 seconds, 8/10ths of a second off the winning pace, but fast enough to squeeze out a second place finish just ahead of the veteran Ian Millar. 

Phillips took none of the credit for herself.  “I’ve got a real pro for a horse and I just gave it my best shot out there today,” she said. “I’m so excited. This is my first Thursday Grand Prix and I couldn’t be happier.”

Gabrielle Coumans and Okido.
Photo by Randi Muster

Happy would be an understatement in describing Howard’s mood following Thursday’s stunning victory. When asked about her speedy performance, she said laughing, “I don’t do slow very well.” And she added, “I’m just very thrilled and excited. I have a really nice string of horses again and I’m really looking forward to the circuit and to this coming year.”

On Friday, one hundred competitors turned out for the first of nine events in the Acorn Hill 1.40m Speed Challenge Series offered each week at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Because of the massive turnout, the class was divided into two sections. Holland’s Gabrielle Coumans on Okido topped section one, while Darragh Kerins led the victory gallop in the second section. Laura Chapot finished second in both sections.

For Coumans, it was a rare show ring appearance in the United States. “I’m here in Florida usually one week every year, but I don’t show here often,” he detailed. “I show a lot in Europe, but in the twenty years I’ve been coming here to Wellington, this is maybe my fifth time in the show ring.”

Cloudy skies and an occasional rain shower did not dampen the spirits of the large crowd on hand for the first Saturday action at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Those that were hoping to see Olympic Gold Medalist Rodrigo Pessoa in action, left satisfied as Pessoa walked away with his first victory of the nine week long WEF extravaganza.

Rodrigo Pessoa and Sigane Van De Grudeval at WEF Saturday.
Photo by Randi Muster

Thirty-three starters took the field for $20,000 1.50m Classic, the featured event at the Internationale Arena.

Of the thirty-three, only six managed to negotiate the first round track fault free to qualify for the speed phase.

The jump-off was decided quickly when Pessoa returned first with Sigane Van De Grudeval. The Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time World Cup Champion toured the course in a blazing 38.383 seconds for the victory.

The Brazilian superstar, making his first Winter Equestrian Festival appearance, had nothing but praise for WEF. “It’s great. I’m thrilled to be here,” he said with a smile. “A lot of excellent riders are here. The system here is very well organized, and we’ve been treated very well. The facilities are fantastic, and it’s great to be a part of this.”

Hunter Highlights- Thursday through Sunday

Rio Renoir and Holly Orlando,
Second Year Green champions
Photo by Randi Muster.

Rio Renoir, a Canadian Sporthorse owned by Brad Wolf, came away with the opening week championship in the Second Year Green Working Hunters with rider Holly Orlando of Wellington, Florida. After first, second, and third place ribbons on Wednesday, “Rio” returned Thursday to capture first and second place finishes over fences.

This was Rio’s first time showing at 3’9”, but there seemed to be no difference in his fabulous style. “I think 3’9” is going to show him off even better,” Orlando confessed. “He’s such a good jumper that he doesn’t really have to try that hard, but I think it holds his attention a little bit more. He was great to ride around.” Reserve champion in the division was Mombo, ridden by Jennifer Bauersachs and owned by Maria Takacs.

An older relationship played a big part in the championship for the Regular Working Hunter division. Beyond and owner/rider Scott Stewart have been together for three years now. After a win over fences on the first day, Beyond placed first and second over fences and second under saddle on the second day. Reserve champion in the division was Word for Word and Tim Goguen, who rode for owner Janet Read of Wellington, Florida.

Champion in the Green Conformation Hunters this week was Compliment, ridden by Scott Stewart and owned by Molly Ohrstrom. This was Compliment’s first show in his life, so Ohrstrom was not expecting the amazing results that “Jimmy” achieved. “We named him that because we got him from Jimmy Torano,” Ohrstrom said with a laugh. “But I have to also give a lot of credit to Scott, because he has done a fantastic job with him.” Reserve champion went to Cozzi, ridden by Charlie Weaver and owned by Kelly Klein.

For the second year in a row, the striking bay stallion Popeye K and rider Tommy Serio won the Regular Conformation Hunter championship for owner Elizabeth Spencer. Reserve champion in the division was The Good Life, ridden and owned by Scott Stewart.

The Adult Amateur 3’3” Hunter division happily welcomed back Caroline Clark Morrison today. Morrison just returned to the ring after having her first child nine months ago. “Having a child eases the tension of showing; it makes it seem a lot easier,” she said with a smile.

Morrison and her new horse Milan captured the championship ribbon in the division. Milan placed first and fifth over fences on Wednesday, and finished strong with a first and third place on Thursday to capture the title. Reserve champion went to Wendy Lewis and Forget Paris, a three time WEF circuit champion in this division.

Ken Smith and Whitecap,
Champions in the First Year Green Hunters
Photo by Randi Muster

Ken Smith of Wellington, Florida piloted Whitecap, owned by Far Niente Equine, in the A section of First Year Green Working Hunters. Whitecap was fantastic over two days and captured the tricolor. The eight year old Trakehner placed first and second over fences on Thursday, and returned Friday to place third under saddle and second in both over fences classes. Reserve champion in the division went to Tommy Serio and Southern Style, owned by Kiara Barnett.

Far Niente Equine had a very successful week. Their four year old Pre-Green Hunter was champion as well. In his first show ever, Portofino walked into the ring and immediately won his first two over fences classes. He returned on Thursday and finished second under saddle and third in the remaining class.

Smith has only had the ride on Portofino for a month, but knew he had something special. “He’s a spectacular jumper,” he explained. “He’s very green, but we bought him with the idea of preparing him for one of the owner’s daughters. He was a good boy this week, so we’re very excited.” Smith also picked up the reserve championship in the Pre-Green 3-4 Year Old Hunters on Significant, owned by Jessica S. Coppola.

In Section B of the First Year Hunters, newcomer Tiffany Foster and Pilgrim cemented their fledgling relationship with a championship ribbon. Owned by Stephanie Ingram, Pilgrim finished first and second over fences on Thursday. They added a fifth and two third places to win the tricolor over Shachine Belle and The Infinity Group’s Wrap It Up.

In the A section, a familiar rider graced the winner’s circle. Although Avery Dimmig sold her outstanding horse, Due North, she has found a new mount that will keep her seeing blue. North Country, a five year old gelding by the successful hunter stallion Nairobi, won the tricolor in his fifth show ever. “I bought him from Shane George just over a month ago,” Dimmig explained. “He’s learning very quickly, and he’s very smart.”

North Country and Avery Dimmig, champions in the Amateur-Owner 18-35 Hunters
Photo by Jennifer Wood

North Country won an over fences class on Friday and was first and second over fences on Saturday. While Dimmig of Rougemount, North Carolina did not expect a championship in the first week, she mentioned, “There were parts of me that thought this was possible because he has a good brain, and I knew the jumps wouldn’t be an issue.” She added, “It’s just learning to jump from the in of the line to the out of the line without going left or right. There were baby mistakes here and there, but it was very good.” Reserve champion in Section A was Tribute and owner/rider Krista Weisman.

Keswick, Virginia resident Sheila Motley only travels to Wellington three times to compete, but she makes the most out of her time here. Motley and her typey bay gelding Social Secretary had outstanding results in the B section of the younger Amateur-Owner Hunters. The ten year old Thoroughbred was first and second over fences in their first day of competition, and he improved on that the second day by winning both over fences classes. A sixth place on the flat secured the championship over Krista Weisman and Prove It.

Alexandra Thornton and Tobasco, Children’s 14 & Under Hunter champions.
Photo by Randi Muster

It was a fantastic weekend for Alexandra Thornton in the Children’s 14 and Under Hunters. Thornton showed everyone what champions are made of with a clean sweep and captured the championship ribbon in both sections of the division.

Thornton danced to the top spot aboard For The Music. To secure the championship, she took the blue ribbon over fences on both Saturday and Sunday of this week’s competition. Reserve champion in the first section went to Katherine Arliss on Super Sport.

Thornton then tackled the second division with Tobasco, a new ride for her that really paid off. Thornton won both a blue over fences and was second in the under saddle on Saturday. She returned on Sunday to triumph in both over fences classes and placed second on her brand-new horse, Agincourt. Reserve champion in the second section went to Nicole Bellissimo and Say the Word.

Jumper competition continues in the Gold Coast Jumper Classic, presented by Carlisle, CSI-3* on February 1-5, and hunters and jumpers are featured in the Kilkenny/ICH Internationale, CSI-3* on February 8-12.


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