February 2, 2014--Week four of the 2014 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) concluded with the exciting $50,000 Ariat® Grand Prix CSI 2* on Sunday afternoon held on the grass derby field at The Stadium at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). An exciting eight-horse jump-off finished with a win for Hardin Towell (USA) and Man in Black, with Andres Rodriguez (VEN) and Caballito in second and Lauren Hough (USA) aboard Ohlala finishing third.
The FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival will continue with its fifth week of competition, sponsored by Rolex, on February 5-9, 2014. The FTI WEF, held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL, features 12 weeks of world-class competition through March 30, awarding $8 million in prize money.
Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela was the course designer for week four's finale event. There were 45 competitors on the beautiful grass derby field with eight clear trips in round one to advance to the tie-breaking jump-off. In the second round, four entries cleared the short course without fault.
Lauren Hough set the pace with her clear round in the jump-off aboard The Ohlala Group's Ohlala in 43.24 seconds to eventually finish third. Andres Rodriguez and Arao Enterprises LLC's Caballito upped the ante with their time of 42.94 seconds to end up in second place. Roosje Brouwer (NED) and Stal Heijligers and A. Vogels' SRI Aladdin also completed a clear round over the short course in a slower time of 49.56 seconds to earn fourth place honors. Last to go in the second round, Hardin Towell and Jennifer Gates' Man in Black got the winning edge, completing the course in 42.47 seconds.
Man in Black is a 12-year-old KWPN gelding by Gentleman x Calvados that Towell has been riding for one year. Gates showed the gelding in the Junior Jumpers last year and then handed him over to compete at the higher level with Towell. Sunday's win was the biggest of Towell's career - his second grand prix victory, and his first major win at the FTI WEF. The rider is 26 years old and from Camden, South Carolina.
"With him in the past year, probably starting last year in Thunderbird, I was really close in a lot of classes and I would go too fast," Towell said of his partnership with Man in Black. "On Thursday I was quite close to winning and I knew I should slow down, and I just kept running down the last line. I'm just glad I beat Andres, because in L.A. in November I was winning the World Cup class and was really fast, and everybody was like 'Congratulations you won!' and I said, 'No, Andres still has to go,' and he beat me by about one-tenth of a second. I think today was really close again, so I'm glad I could repay him the favor!"
"It feels very good (to win), and especially since I just started showing him," Towell noted. "He's a little bit strong. I have had a lot of trouble the last six months finding the right bit. I have changed a lot of bits and probably made a lot of mistakes using the wrong bits, but I think we have kind of figured it out. He's a really sweet horse. He is very brave, very scopey, and this is a great venue out in this grass field. He is always good at places like that. He is so brave that he is a little bit impressed out here sometimes, so today he jumped unbelievably. I could not ask for any more; he was fantastic."
Commenting on his winning round in the jump-off, Towell detailed, "I thought in the jump-off I was a little bit smarter. I thought about running and being crazy, and then I remembered, 'You know what, let's just try to be clean,' and I thought I was close enough. I landed and I actually saw a leave out to the last jump, which maybe six months ago or Thursday I would have done and knocked it down, but I decided to try to cut it close and win by just a little bit."
Towell got to compete at some different venues around North America this past year and explained that the experience has helped him grow as a rider.
"It helps a lot," he stated. "I went to different places and competed against different people. My whole life I have kind of stayed in the Southeast. I have never had that opportunity, so I met a lot of new people, and it was nice showing at Spruce Meadows and everywhere we went. I have had a great last year; it has been very lucky. Jennifer has been great the whole year and I want to thank Chris, my barn manager, and my mom and dad, and my sister. We just have a very good team."
Andres Rodriguez was happy for Towell's success this week and had a great round with his horse, Caballito. He acknowledged the beautiful venue at The Stadium at PBIEC, which has hosted classes throughout the week.
"I really enjoy this venue," Rodriguez stated. "The ring where they had the young riders grand prix the other day and this open field are a great change from the main stage. I think the horses appreciate the change and not jumping the same jumps in the same ring all the time. Leopoldo had a great course out there and I think with the time allowed, we had the right amount of people in the jump-off."
"When we went to the jump-off there were a lot of really fast horses," Rodriguez pointed out. "I think five horses in the jump-off have won international classes, so I knew it was going to be fast. It started with the first two having two jumps down, so that started to make me think, but then Lauren went and had a fast round so I went back to the first plan. From Hardin I knew he was going to get back at me at some point. I was hoping it wasn't going to be today, but it was! I only saw the last line of his round. I thought he was going to take the six strides, which I was kind of hoping he would, and he didn't. It was his turn to win, and I am happy for him. He's been too close too many times, and this was his day."
Third place finisher, Lauren Hough, had a great week with Ohlala, including a win in Friday's $34,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round 4. Hough was very happy with Sunday's conclusion to the week and in addition to the third place prize, was named the Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider for week four. The award is sponsored by Martha Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties in memory of Dale Lawler.
Commenting on her jump-off round with Ohlala, Hough explained, "I have to stick to my plan with that mare. She doesn't have a huge stride, but she jumped fantastic and I think Leopoldo did a super job today. He had just the right amount of clear, the time was short but not impossible, and I knew the first two had two jumps down, but I went with what I could do. This is a huge field, so I just had to hope that maybe I would get a little lucky today, but unfortunately these two young men with big horses and big canters went just a little bit faster than me."
"I went as fast as I thought I could go," Hough acknowledged. "I don't know if I could have gotten them, to be honest. She is who she is, and she wins a lot of classes, but they got me today. She was fantastic the whole week and one of her owners is here today, so I'm thrilled that she was able to see her."
Final Results: $50,000 Ariat® Grand Prix CSI 2*
1. MAN IN BLACK: 2002 KWPN gelding by Gentleman x Calvados
JACK HARDIN TOWELL (USA), Jennifer Gates: 0/0/42.47
2. CABALLITO: 2002 Holsteiner gelding by Contendro x Argentinus
ANDRES RODRIGUEZ (VEN), Arao Enterprises LLC: 0/0/42.94
3. OHLALA: 2003 Swedish Warmblood mare by Orlando x Cardento
LAUREN HOUGH (USA), The Ohlala Group: 0/0/43.24
4. SRI ALADDIN: 2005 KWPN gelding, Quasimodo Z x Burggraaf
ROOSJE BROUWER (NED), Stal Heijligers & A. Vogels: 0/0/49.56
5. CAPALL ZIDANE: 2004 KWPN gelding by Concorde x Baloubet du Rouet
RONAN MCGUIGAN (IRL), Ronan McGuigan: 0/4/44.50
6. Z CANTA: 2004 KWPN mare by Casantos x Abantos
CATHERINE PASMORE (USA), Pasmore Stables LLC: 0/4/45.07
7. LAGRAN: 1999 Oldenburg gelding by Lancer II x Grannus
MARK BLUMAN (COL), Mark Bluman: 0/8/42.89
8. SOLERINA: 1999 Irish Sport Horse mare by Cruising x Diamond Lad
SHANE SWEETNAM (IRL), Sweet Oak & Spy Coast Farms: 0/8/43.94
9. G&C FLASH: 2002 Hanoverian gelding by Forrester x Grannus
LUIS LARRAZABAL (VEN), Gustavo Mirabal: 1/86.17
10. NEVER SAY NEVER: 2001 KWPN gelding by Heartbreaker x Jus de Pomme
THOMAS DRESLER (DEN), Thomas Dresler: 1/86.71
11. LISONA: 2001 Irish Sporthorse mare OBOS Quality 004 x Porsch LAURA KRAUT (USA), Stone Hill Farm: 1/88.42
12. CONTINO 14: 1997 Holsteiner gelding by Contender x Calypso I
JONATHON MILLAR (CAN), Millar Brooke Farm: 1/88.99