January 30, 2014--Although the clouds hung dauntingly overhead, a field of 38 competitors warmed up for the fourth week of the Ridge at Wellington's Turf Tour. Held at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, the 1.30m-1.35m Jumpers saw top international riders contend for the top spot in today's two classes. Ireland's Darragh Kerins rode to the pinnacle of the ranks during the first class, while Ali Wolff took the victory in the second class of the day.
Jeffery Welles claimed the early lead as the first rider of the day. He navigated Pierre Jolicouer's course with finesse aboard Bilion, riding to a double clear effort in 40.870 seconds. Ireland's Kevin Babington and Baloucat soon bested the pair with a faultless jump off in 39.051 seconds. The speed only continued as each consecutive rider outdid the next.
Kerins entered the ring and set a time that none could catch.
Decia Van Het Molenhof is a new mare for Kerins, but that did not put a hinge in his plans. He took the inside turn between fences 1 and 2 to shave the seconds, and then used her quick pace across the ground slide into the lead in a time of 34.267 seconds. The 11-year-old mare kept her focus inside the arena, and tackled the track with ease.
"We have only had her for about three weeks, so I am just trying to get to know her," Kerins explained. "I competed last year at The Ridge events, and I know it is difficult to make a plan when you haven't necessarily seen the other people go, but I was just trying to get to know her, so I gave it a good shot. I think from 1 to 2 in the jump off was where I shaved the most time. I gave that inside turn a go, and it went great."
Last week's winner, Samuel Parot, took the second place position, but was still three seconds shy of Kerins speedy round. Jeffery Welles and Antaris S captured the third place in 38.132 seconds.
Kerins continued, "I heard about IPC from the last time it was held there, and it got great reviews, so I wanted to put her into a new environment and know what she was like. She is quite sensitive, and that is another reason why I wanted to see what she was like on the grass. She can sometimes be spooky, but she handled the venue well. Nona [Garson], George [D'Ambrosio] and The Ridge do a great job, and I hope to see it grow."
Molly Ashe Cawley and Cocq A Doodle were the first to tackle the second track of the day. They took an early lead in the class with a double clear effort in 37.134 seconds. Parot returned to the ring aboard Option D'auge to set the pace at 36.041 seconds to take over the lead. Speed was the name of the game as riders traversed the turf, with seven of the 11 horse and rider combinations going quick and fast. Babington and Baloucat took over the lead in 33.536 seconds, but Ali Wolff had her sights set on the win.
Wolff piloted Brianda, her most recent mount, to the top of the leader board with an untouchable time of 32.949 seconds. The 9-year-old mare was able to turn with nimbleness as they navigated the serpentine of the jump off.
"Brianda is the newest member of our family, and funny enough, I sat on her about a year and a half ago, but she was too much horse for me at that time," Wolff laughed. "This time around she was a great match, and this was our third or fourth class with her so far. She bruised her foot a little bit early on, so this is her first real class, everything else has been schooling classes."
Wolff continued, "She is fast in terms of her strides and turning, and she has so much scope that I know I can turn back and she will make it over, no matter how much striding or pace I have behind me. I tried to go for a fast clear with tight turns, but not racing. I also wanted to test out her rideability, and how we will fare in the future. I think we are really going to get along. She has such natural ability."
Babington and Baloucat were awarded the second place, while he also guided Cord 11 to the third place finish. Jonathan McCrea and Brugal VDL rode to the fourth place, and Sarah Wayda and Spargel captured fifth. Parot and Option D'auge rounded out the top six.
"I came out last year for the Friday classes," Wolff concluded. "The venues are always so nice, and the atmosphere is so pleasant-everyone is happy. It gets so repetitive for 12 weeks in a row at the horse show. It is a great change for both the horses and the riders. I love having the opportunity to go on the grass. We just changed our schedule, so we will be returning on Friday, as well. We love the series so much that we are definitely going to return."
The stakes are increasing each week as top riders, amateur and professional, vie for their invitation to the $24,750 1.40m Invitational Grand Prix Series Finale on Saturday, March 22, 2014, as well as the coveted Leading Rider Bonus. The Wellington Turf Tour will return to the Schuyler Riley's Wolfstone Stables next week for the Wednesday and Friday events, but will return to the International Polo Club Palm Beach on a date to be announced soon.