February 7, 2016 -- Building a show from scratch to host a competition as important as the $200,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Wellington is no easy task, but the CP Wellington Masters presented by Sovaro drew rave reviews from the top riders in the business.
The idea of holding a horse show on a private estate is at once both old-fashioned and innovative, but done right--as this one was--it makes for four days of sport to remember.
The Jacobs family opened their 300 acre-plus Deeridge Farm for a boutique show with wonderful footing, fabulous hospitality and an atmosphere that many of those attending said harked back to "the old days" of show jumping.
The competition, however, was as up-to-date as it could be, featuring top riders of this era, as well as cutting-edge timing and technology from Longines.
"I think this facility is amazing," said Kent Farrington, who won the featured class--part of the Longines FEI World Cup™ North American League--on his brilliant and reliable Uceko.
Calling the Masters "a beautiful event," he noted, "it's really exciting for our sport and for show jumping in Florida."
The thoughts of Kent, who topped a 14-horse jump-off, were echoed by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of Germany, second on her Olympic prospect, Fibonacci.
"I agree with Kent completely. We're excited about coming back next year...I think all the riders think the same."
Even those who didn't compete enjoyed the experience of attending the show. Mark Leone, a grand prix veteran who is now focusing on training horses and helping the riders in his family, looked around the facility and commented longingly, "Get me a horse."
Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what else he had to say.
When it appeared that Wellington could lose the opportunity to host the Longines FEI World Cup™ North American League qualifier, the Jacobs family stepped in. With three generations of riders and Charlie Jacobs currently active on the circuit, they offered their facility, which had hosted only a few very small shows in the past.
To learn about the family's thoughts on the subject, click on this video of Louis and Joan Jacobs.
The featured class originally was supposed to go on a lush and lovely grass field. In fact, Kent picked Uceko from his string to contest the Masters because he's particularly good on grass.
The groundskeeper of the Fenway Park ballfield in Boston had worked to mow in sponsor logos at Deeridge. The footing was fine for Thursday's Welcome class. But Palm Beach County has been coping with torrential rains over the last few weeks, and another downpour yesterday meant the grass arena couldn't be used.
No worries, though. An all-weather ring had been set up a few steps away, and it was state-of-the art. As McLain Ward noted, it was quite appropriate because the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals always is held indoors on all-weather footing, and often in fairly tight arenas.
Event Director Michael Morrissey; his son, Matthew, the technical coordinator, and their team have been working for weeks to produce the show. The VIP area was a two-story affair with spectacular food catered by the International Polo Club and furnished with comfortable chairs and couches. It overlooked the rings and the warm-up area. Covered seating for spectators and a variety of little shops completed the scene.
I asked Michael about putting the show together. Click on this video to hear what he had to say.
Michael also mentioned that like the Jacobs, three generations of his family are deeply involved with horse sports. He is carrying on the tradition of his uncle, the late Gene Mische, who brought horse shows to Wellington, and he hopes his son in turn will continue the legacy the way he did.
A field of 40 contested the featured class, over a course produced by popular Irish designer Alan Wade. The class was a mixture of veterans and up-and-coming riders, so Alan made the distances straightforward. One of the latter, Paris Sellon, was the first to go fault free in the initial round, setting a standard with the Dutchbred mare Adare. but the others among the 14 who qualified for the jump-off were less of a surprise to fans.
While Kent was a little worried that the all-weather arena didn't play to Uceko's strengths, the rider pointed out, "he proved me wrong." His time of 40.30 seconds was the product of excellent turns that were particularly interesting, because the horse hadn't been shown since November.
"He's better the less he shows," asserted Kent, noting "he doesn't really need the practice in the ring. He's been around the world a couple of times."
With a long stride and slow canter, Uceko wasn't particularly speedy when Kent got him.
"He's learned to be a fast horse. As I've gotten to know him really well, he's learned to turn really short to the fences and leave out strides, where other horses can't," Kent revealed.
"Usually, if I don't make a big error, he pulls it off."
McLain Ward, who had won both the Welcome and qualifying classes with the reliable HH Carlos Z, was in the mix and a favorite to make it three in a row with the feature. But at the fifth of nine jump-off fences, the airy CP vertical topped with a black rail and set on the way to the ingate, Carlos clipped that top pole and despite a clocking of 41.75 seconds that would have been the second-fastest time in the tiebreaker, he wound up eighth.
The Master of Faster, Richard Spooner, was showing a new mount, Big Red. The California star has only had him a few weeks, but he let it rip to finish in 42.89 seconds. That would be good enough for third, ahead of Paris (43.50). Richard's horse was familiar to those who attended last year's $1 million class at HITS Saugerties, where he finished second with another rider.
Looking ahead to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals in Gothenberg, Sweden, this spring, Richard said he would like to try it because of his unfamiliarity with the horse--he believes it would help him get to know the Westfalian gelding better. And while he'd be a longshot for the Olympics because the relationship has been brief, "that would be my dream," he said and a trip to Sweden could help him realize it.
Although Kent was clocked in 40.30 seconds, he wasn't counting on winning after his trip because the brilliant Meredith had the advantage of being last to go. She just couldn't quite pull it off, however, finishing in 42.83 seconds.
Kent's victory put him in the lead with 63 points in the Longines FEI World Cup™ North American East Coast League, ahead of Hardin Towell (50 points) who did not compete at the Masters. Callan Solem, sixth today on VDL Wizard, stands third with 47 points, followed by McLain with 46.
After the class, Alan discussed his course with me. Click on the right pointing arrow to hear what he had to say.
It was such fun going to this show. When I think how remarkable it was in its first year, I wonder what they can do for an encore. I can't wait until next year to find out.
Check back tomorrow for another postcard.