April 2, 2016 - Grand prix action at the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) concluded with an exciting international showdown Saturday night as Great Britain's Ben Maher and Jane Clark's Sarena jumped to victory in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*. The finale grand prix for the winter circuit, Maher and Sarena topped a seven-horse jump-off, with McLain Ward (USA) and HH Azur in second, and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) and Fibonacci 17 third.
Forty of the circuit's best horses and riders representing 13 different countries jumped for the winter's top prize competing under the lights in front of a packed house at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL. The star-studded competition concluded a fantastic 12-week circuit for the international show jumpers. The circuit wraps up on Sunday, April 3, with the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on the grass derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC.
The $130,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Series Final was also held on Saturday with a win for McLain Ward (USA) and HH Carlos Z in an 18-horse jump-off, presented by SOVARO®. Ireland's Shane Sweetnam earned the leading rider award for the 12-week series overall.
Anthony D'Ambrosio (USA) set the courses in the International Ring at PBIEC for the final week of WEF competition. With 40 starters in the grand prix, D'Ambrosio's first round course yielded seven clear for the jump-off, and only one clear over the short course for the win.
Chloe Reid (USA) and Codarco were the first combination to clear the course in round one, but opted not to continue on to the jump-off to automatically finish seventh. Yann Candele (CAN) and the Watermark Group's First Choice 15 were then the first pair to jump the short course, finishing with 12 faults in 52.31 seconds to place sixth. Jessica Springsteen (USA) and Stone Hill Farm's Cynar Va jumped next, with eight faults in 48.69 seconds to finish fifth.
McLain Ward and HH Azur, owned by Double H Farm and Francois Mathy, jumped off next, finishing with a fast time in 46.10 seconds, but added an unfortunate four faults that left the pair in second place. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum aimed for a safe clear round aboard Artemis Equestrian Farm's Fibonacci 17, but also dropped a rail along the way, finishing third overall with her time of 51.41 seconds. Maher and Sarena followed, completing the only clear round over the second course for the win with a steady round in 53.72 seconds. Last to go, Todd Minikus (USA) and Two Swans Farm's Babalou 41 had one rail down as well, finishing fourth with their time of 52.63.
Speaking of his winning mount, a ten-year-old Selle Francais mare (Calvaro Z x Damoiseau d'Or), Maher stated, "I have had Serena for just over a year now, and it has been a tough ride.
She was a horse that was bought to jump these big classes, but she was young when we got her, and it really took a year to get to know her and for her to get to know me. It has been a lot of hard work and patience from Jane Clark, who supported me the whole way through last year, because I had a lot of disappointing rounds. I told her to stick with me, and we worked hard with the whole team at home. This is the first class she has won, but she picked the right time and I hope there will be many more."
Maher spoke further about how he has gotten to know Sarena more over the last 12 weeks at WEF and really used the circuit to develop their partnership.
"We had a careful plan," he explained. "She did not jump much since November and became pretty consistent over the last few grand prix. The worst she has had is one down since November. I found in the jump-offs, when I try to go quick, she starts to run backwards a little bit and it is not always a nice feeling. She has to get confident and get used to running and jumping.
"The course tonight, I thought she jumped the first round excellent," Maher continued. "It was the first time under the lights for her, and she did not seem to be affected by that. It was a tough course, but the jump-off really played into my hands. Had McLain's turn pulled off, and had Meredith left the jumps up, I do not know if I could have actually been quick enough to beat them, so I decided to play it a little safe and leave the jumps up. That is not my nature normally, but I think I played a smart game tonight and put the pressure on Todd. Fortunately for me, it worked out. It could have gone either way."
The cards did not play in Ward's favor this time around, but the rider was happy for Maher, and felt that HH Azur jumped two great rounds. The ten-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui) took a big win in week seven's $380,000 Suncast® Grand Prix CSI 5*. Ward gave it everything in this week's jump-off hoping for another victory, but one unlucky rail came down.
"We have been building up towards this trying to get her fit," Ward noted. "Our plan was to try to not totally peak her, but pretty much peak her at this point and then drop back a little, have a little rest, and then aim for Rio. She felt another gear tonight and to be honest, with these guys coming behind me, I was not trying to leave anything on the table. I was kind of trying to put the knife in them. I think her pole was a little bit unlucky to be honest. I do not think she hit it very hard. I maybe started to press to the last line a touch early. The horse performed great, I was happy with the riding, and you have a great winner. Ben is a super, top, world-class rider, one of the best in the world. It is always nice to win, but you can live with being beat by a guy like this."
Michaels-Beerbaum also thought Fibonacci 17 jumped great and just had an unlucky rail in the jump-off. The 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (For Feeling x Corland) finished the night in third place, and his rider was happy to be in the top three alongside Maher and Ward.
"Fibonacci was in great form tonight; he felt amazing, and he jumped two beautiful rounds," Michaels-Beerbaum stated. "I did not actually expect to knock one down in the jump-off because he was jumping so well, so maybe I took that jump a little casually or underestimated it perhaps. I was delighted with him. I am very pleased to be in the top three. That is always where a rider would like to end up, and with these two in front of me, my Chef d'Equipe Otto Becker will read their names in Germany and know the class was really hard and good, so it works for me."
Maher spoke of the night's first round track, stating, "I thought it was a great course. For my horse in particular, it started a little bit bold. I knew the water to the double verticals was going to be a difficult ride. It did not feel so comfortable how I got that done, but I got it done. The last line, the horses were tired and it was a big oxer coming out. The Rolex oxer was wide at the end, and for sure a lot of hopes were dashed there. I thought there would be more clears actually. They all jumped well, but it is hard to jump double-clear in these grand prix."
Ward added his thoughts on the course, stating, "I thought Anthony did a great job. He had the right number of clear, faults all over the place, and it was a very smooth course to ride. The water line was a little tricky, but I thought it gave the riders a fair chance, and was an excellent course."
Commenting on the end to a fantastic evening, Equestrian Sport Productions' CEO Mark Bellissimo added his final thoughts, stating, "I want to commend this group. It is such an international crowd with USA, Great Britain, and Germany represented with all world-class riders. It is exciting to see such great sport here and to end on a very high note. I am pleased that everyone was so spectacular in their performances this evening. I would also like to thank Rolex. This festival took a big transition a number of years ago when Rolex came on board, and it was a transition to four five-star [shows]. It was nice to finish this year on a great five-star and a great class."
Along with the winner's share of $165,000, Maher was presented the Dennis D. Dammerman Perpetual Trophy. The trophy was created to honor the contributions to equestrian sport of Dennis D. Dammerman, a longtime owner of horses and founding member of the Wellington Equestrian Partners.
Sarena's groom, Tracey Edge, received the Groom's Initiative Award presented by Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners, to reward her dedication and hard work as an integral member of the winning team.
In addition to the grand prix, several other awards were presented Saturday evening for the final week of competition in Wellington. Equinimity LLC, owners of Carrabis Z, were presented the Simba Run Perpetual Trophy as the owner of the open jumper who has earned the most prize money in classes held at 1.45m or more during the 2016 WEF. Carrabis Z's grooms, Hector Paz and Rodrigo Pimentel, were presented with the Oliver O'Toole Perpetual Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the groom of the horse who has earned the most money in the grand prix jumper classes.
Artisan Farms was presented with The Harrison Cup Perpetual Trophy, which is awarded to the owner whose horses won the most jumper money in all of the open jumper classes held throughout the circuit.
Other awards included the Overall Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider for the 2016 circuit, which was presented to Canada's Tiffany Foster on behalf of Martha Jolicoeur of Douglas Elliman. Ireland's Shane Sweetnam and owner Lisa Lourie accepted the Overall Champion Equine Insurance Jumper Style Award for Spy Coast Farm's Cyklon 1083, as the jumper whose style best exemplifies a show jumper based on scope, rideability, technique and competitive spirit.
Jessica Springsteen (USA) earned the Hermès Talented Young Rider Award as the young jumper rider between the ages of 16-25 that has earned the most points in all WEF FEI rated jumper competition. Lillie Keenan (USA) was the recipient of the USET Foundation's 2016 Maxine Beard Award, an honor based on a rider's competitive record and potential to represent the United States in international competition.
McLain Ward and HH Carlos Z Capture $130,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Series Final; Shane Sweetnam Leads 2016 Series Overall
The $130,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Series Final concluded on Saturday with a win for McLain Ward (USA) and HH Carlos Z. The competition had 62 entries over Anthony D'Ambrosio's (USA) first round course during the day, with 18 clear rounds to advance to the jump-off in the evening, presented by SOVARO®.
Out of 18 in the jump-off, only seven were able to clear the short course without fault. Ward and Double H Farm's HH Carlos Z won in the fastest time of 43.92 seconds. Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Artisan Farms and Torrey Pines Stable's Rosana du Park finished second in 44.96 seconds.
Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) guided Citizenguard Cadjanine Z, owned by Pessoa and Alain van Campenhoudt, to third place honors in a time of 45.46 seconds. Jessica Springsteen (USA) and Stone Hill Farm's Tiger Lily placed fourth in 45.74 seconds. Pessoa also took fifth place honors aboard his own and Caroline Lloyd's Sans Soucis Z in 48.24 seconds. USA's Beezie Madden and Abigail Wexner's Quister finished sixth in 49.43 seconds, and Germany's Meredith Michaels-Berrbaum jumped the final clear round in 50.59 seconds aboard Artemis Equestrian Farm's Apsara to take the seventh place prize.
HH Carlos Z has been an incredibly successful mount for Ward, even winning last year's $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*, among many top accolades. Once again, the 14-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Chellano Z x Voltaire) did not disappoint with his victory in the 1.50m final.
"For Double H Farm, and myself, he is an ATM machine," Ward stated. "He can do any class at this show, as everyone has seen. He has been in great form, so we are thrilled with him. He is a super careful horse. He fights and digs his way to win some very big classes."
Speaking of the track and the unique format of the class, Ward remarked, "I was very surprised by the first round. I thought the course walked very difficult. The lines were very tricky. He (D'Ambrosio) has a height limit in that class, so the verticals can go up to 1.55m, but it is tough. It is the end of the circuit, and you have a lot of horses in form. With only 40 in the grand prix, people were trying to get some gas money to go home. It is a pretty competitive class always, and it is an interesting test. You have the afternoon round early in the day. It was very hot today, and I think that was a factor. Then the horses are put away and come back at night, and I think you saw some problems up the first line, and to me that was a lot to do with that."
Ward detailed the second round further, stating, "I lost my footing a little bit rolling back on the wall, but he was good to me. Then everything showed up so well that I decided to take the around option. I knew I was fast. I left a little room, but luckily the rest made mistakes."
Following the completion of the final class, Suncast® once again presented the leading rider of the 1.50m Series a fantastic prize. As the most consitent competitor in the 2016 series overall, Ireland's Shane Sweetnam received a pre-paid one-year lease on a beautiful new 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport, as well as a SOVARO® Cooler. In 2016, the series offered a total purse of $699,000 with 10 FEI world ranking classes. Sweetnam won week four's $35,000 1.50m class aboard The Blue Buckle Group's Buckle Up and also had top ribbons with four other mounts throughout the series.
On winning the award, Sweetnam stated, "It is fantastic. It shows consistency over the whole circuit. It is not just one horse. Between my oldest horse and my youngest horse, they all played a part in it.
"I had an eight-year-old named Main Road that was placed twice, and they were his first 1.50m classes," Sweetnam detailed. "Cyklon 1083, who is 15 years old, was placed in two of the $84,000 classes. It is great to see the range of my old guys coming through and then the younger guys coming up. Buckle Up is only ten years old, and he jumped an important clear today to finalize it, and he won one also."
In total, Sweetnam had five different horses competing in the series throughout the 12-week circuit. Along with Main Road, Buckle Up, and Cyklon 1083, he also had consistent finishes aboard his experienced mount Eregast van't Kiezelhof, as well as Cobolt, a ten-year-old gelding sired by Cyklon.
Speaking of the special prize, a pre-paid one-year lease on a 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport, Sweetnam acknowledged, "It is brilliant. It is a reward for all of your hard work as a rider, and it is a great thing to be getting. I am very happy."
Also competing in the International Ring on Saturday, Bretton Chad and Stone Ridge Farms' Cornishman won the $15,000 MAYBACH - ICONS OF LUXURY SJHOF High Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic.
Russell Frey and Kodachrome Lead Round One of $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
The first round of the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby was held in the E.R. Mische Grand Hunter Ring on Saturday. Round one's standings determined the top 25 competitors that will then continue on to round two, to be held Sunday afternoon on the derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC beginning at 1 p.m.
Russell Frey and Nina Koloseike Moore's Kodachrome lead the standings heading into Sunday's final round with the high score of 185 in round one. Samantha Schaefer and her own Classified sit second with a score of 184. Callie Seaman and Carrico finished third in round one with a score of 182. Jennifer Hannan and Reilly Cookingham's All Time head into Sunday's round with the fourth place score of 179.5. Jane Gaston and Because finished the first round in fifth place with a score of 178.5, and Jennifer Bauersachs and Spring Hill Farm's For Love ended the day with a score of 176.5 to return for Sunday's final round sitting in sixth place overall.
The 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival concludes with the final round of the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on the derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC on Sunday. For more information and full results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.