$400,000 Weekend of Jumpers and Hunters Draw Big Crowds to WEF

WELLINGTON, FL, Mar. 30-

With more than $400,000 in prize money in 24 hours of jumping and hunter competition, huge crowds packed a celebration of the CN Winter Equestrian Festival presented by Zimmerman Advertising at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

In what was both a family and equestrian festival kicking off at sunset Saturday, several thousand spectators and exhibitors were entertained with everything from street performers to pony rides to a giant barbecue and the final grand prix and its culminating $200,000 FTI Rider Challenge of 12 weeks of WEF.

The big money winner was Olympic team gold medalist Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, NY who pocketed $100,000 for the second time in three years of the FTI Rider Challenge. Canada's Eric Lamaze, the 2007 winner, settled for second place this year and $50,000 while 2008 WEF teenage sensation Hillary Dobbs of Sussex, NJ took time out from her Harvard studies to collect $30,000. Olympic team gold and individual silver medal winner Chris Kappler of Pittstown, NJ won $20,000.

Laura Chapot of Neshanic Station, NJ on Church Road won the $75,000 Penta Water Grand Prix under the lights in the International Arena that was the final Rider Challenge event.

After the lights were turned off and the last of the partygoers straggled out, crews worked through the night to prepare the International Arena for a series of Zimmerman Advertising invitational pony and hunter classics that offered a total of $130,000 in prize money.

Invitational jumper classics and finals of the five, six and 7/8 year old jumpers this coming Sunday provide another $160,000 in total prize money along with the Parade of Champions to close out the $5 million circuit.

Riders named Laura had quite a week at WEF.

Laura Chapot on Church Road won Wednesday's $8,000 1.45m competition and Saturday night's $75,000 Penta Water Grand Prix. Laura Kraut of Wellington claimed Thursday's $8,000 PowerIce 1.45m competition and, riding Le Prestige St. Lois, Friday's $10,000 Wellington Golf Cars Welcome Stake over 57 entries.

Chapot and the 12-year-old Irish-bred gelding joined 10 other entries in a jumpoff from the original 56-horse field that started in the Saturday night Grand Prix. Exhibitors partying in a giant tent and spectators who had poured into the show grounds since before sunset were treated to a thrilling finish over the track set by course designer Anthony D'Ambrosio.

Dobbs and Corlett were the first jump-off challengers to jump double clear, posting a clear round in a time of 42.33 seconds. After that, the race was on.

Canada's Ian Millar had the time with Redefin but a rail down at the last fence would keep him out of top spot. Michael Walton and La Rocco Junior were clear, but their time of 42.63 was not fast enough to catch Dobbs.

When Jeffery Welles and the classy Armani crossed the finish line, the scoreboard flashed 40.50 seconds to move the pair to the top. Chapot was next up and, with a well-deserved reputation for riding at top speed, she did not disappoint with Church Road. The handy bay gelding ate up the lines and, incredibly, cut more than one full second off the time posted by Welles, stopping the clock at 39.35 seconds to wild cheers from the audience.

As the final challenger, it was all up to Katie Monahan-Prudent and Sassicaia II, owned by her Plain Bay Farm. The pair came down the final line with the crowd shouting encouragement, but their time of 39.63 seconds would prove only good enough for second place.

"With so many fast and really good riders, I just had to go as fast as I could and leave the rails up," said Chapot, 35, of her jump-off strategy with Church Road, owned by Sarah Becker and B&B Saddlery. "Jeffery with that horse is so fast, and to know he beat Hillary, I knew I had to go all out."

When asked for her opinion on the course, Chapot smiled and said: "Of course I thought it worked out well. You have horses like Hickstead and Authentic and Chris Kappler's horse, and then you have a lot of young and inexperienced horses. Under the lights is a new thing for a lot of young horses. To end up with 11 clear, I thought it worked out well."

For the first time in the history of WEF the top hunter and pony riders of each amateur division Sunday were given the chance to compete for $130,000 in prize money.

The Zimmerman Advertising Invitational classics started with the small ponies and finished through the Junior/Amateur Owners. The winners were pinned after an accumulation of scores over two rounds. The top three high score totals rode for ribbons and the thrill of a victory gallop in the International Arena.

The $10,000 Small Pony Hunters was won by rider-owner Allison Toffolon, 12, of Bronxville NY and the 14-year-old gray mare, Aspen Spring

Both the $10,000 Medium and Large Pony Hunters were won by Lillie Keenan, 11, of New York. She won the medium on the 12-year-old gray mare, Light Up The Year, owned by Katie Dinan, LLC also of New York, and the large pony class on her family's 10-year-old bay gelding, Vanity Fair.

Sloan Brown of Katonah, NY, and It's A Wrap, a four-year-old chestnut gelding, won the $20,000 Adult Hunter, Phoebe Robinson of Bronxville, NY and Red Dragon, a 12-year-old chestnut gelding, won the $20,000 Children's Hunter, the $30,000 Amateur Owner classic was won by Tracy Scheriff of Ramsey, NJ and the 12-year-old bay gelding, Lavari, while the Junior Hunter classic was won by Alise Oken, 16, of Charlotte, NC and the 14-yerar-old bay gelding Take Away.

 

The 2008 CN Winter Equestrian Festival attracts the best horses and riders from around the world to Wellington and offers more than $5 million in prize money. For more information, visit www.equestriansport.com

 

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