February 8, 2016--Yesterday was my gray day, for want of a better name. First, I went to the Jacobs family's Deeridge Farm, where I saw Uceko win the $200,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Wellington, with Kent Farrington up, while second place went to Fibonacci and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. Both horses are gray.
Then I went less than a mile to catch what I could of the $216,000 Ariat CSI 4-Star Grand Prix at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. There was a five-horse jump-off. Three of the horses were gray. Guess who won?
In addition to being gray, Check Picobello Z had something else on his side and on his back, Eric Lamaze. He has been winning like crazy down here, and he made the dirt fly as he turned tightly around the twisting tie-breaker course, designed by one of my favorites, Guilherme Jorge. He is Brazilian and will be the designer for the Rio Olympics this summer.
So Eric was timed in 43.65 seconds, ahead of Nick Skelton with the relatively inexperienced Untouched (45.52). Another gray, Corona 93, finished third with Marilyn Little in 46.20. Not enough grays for you? Margie Engle's gray stallion, Indigo, was fourth with a rail, while Georgina Bloomberg finished fifth on Lilli in 45.55.
Eric said the class was "a big step up" for his mount, who "is not the easiest to maneuver" though he makes up for that with quite the jumping abiilty.
He and Nick both liked the Sunday afternoon grand prix, noting that the usual Saturday night grand prix (replaced this weekend by the Great Charity Challenge, but more about that later) is difficult for the horses who have less mileage, and can become a big race if fences are scaled down to counteract the effect of jumping under the lights.
Interestingly, Marilyn is best known as an eventer these days, though she started out in show jumping. She competed in Saturday's eventing competition over at The Stadium grounds, home of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, a half-mile from PBIEC.
Coming to Wellington for the eventing provided Marilyn with a show jumping opportunity as well.
"I have not jumped in a grand prix in quite a few years," she said, explaining she has been concentrating on eventing. It paid off with double gold medals at last summer's Pan American Games.
She still gets a thrill from show jumping, she said, but won't be basing herself in Wellington. She spends the winters in Ocala, where, as she pointed out, it is less expensive to keep a horse.
This weekend left no doubt that Wellington is definitely the destination for winter equestrian activities. The Jacobs' show is a new wrinkle, because PBIEC's Rolex sponsorship wasn't going to work for the Longines-sponsored World Cup qualifiers. There has been long-standing tension between the Jacobs and Mark Bellissimo, who developed PBIEC and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
So I was wondering what Mark thought about having another international show down the road at Deeridge, and at the same time, we discussed Wellington as an ever-expanding equestrian hub.
Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he had to say.
I found going to two show jumping competitions on the same day to be quite tiring, even if they were only a five-minute drive apart. Then I thought how difficult it would be to compete in both. A number of riders did, including Kent and Meredith, with different horses, of course.
Another who did that was Georgina. I had talked to her yesterday morning, asking what it was like to be involved with riding in the morning at Deeridge and then jumping again in the afternoon at PBIEC.
"Ask me again after I've done it," she said, so I did.
Here is what she had to say.
Click on the right-pointing arrow for Georgina's soundbyte.
Saturday's no-let-up schedule involved the Great Charity Challenge at PBIEC after the eventing down the road. The theme was fairy tales, so teams of professional, amateur and junior riders dressed up as their favorite characters to jump and compete for a designated charity in a relay. Pouring rain (it has been quite prevalent down here this season) dampened the proceedings, but not the spirits of those participating.
Check out my photo of the Gingerbread Man in the GCC. You'll never guess who it is.
The Challenge has done great things for the community for seven years. It awarded more than $1.65 million this year, with money distributed to 50 Palm Beach County charities. Since its inception, it has paid out $9.2 million to good causes.
Mark, who founded the Challenge with his daughter, Paige, said, "We truly saw the dedication of everyone involved in this event tonight. The weather was not on our side, but the horses, riders, grooms, trainers, sponsors, charity representatives, spectators, and staff braved some incredible weather conditions for this special event.
"We can't thank them enough. We know how much of an impact the GCC has for Palm Beach County charities, and for everyone to stick through it means so much."
GCC Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin called the class "a true demonstration of sportsmanship and philanthropy. Even with some of strongest rains we've experienced this winter, the teams and riders did not back down. Their dedication to these organizations was nothing short of stoic. We can't thank them enough for braving the weather, all in the name of helping."
With all the prize money that goes to show jumping, it's nice to see these riders doing something meaningful for others in need. It's a proud moment for the sport.
I'm going to take a little rest, but I'll be back with you later this week to bring you news of the 5-star dressage show at Global. It has an outstanding line-up, including Steffen Peters, who is bringing Legolas and Rosamunde from California.