March 19, 2016 - It was a day of firsts for Italy's Lorenzo de Luca as the 28-year-old rider guided Ensor de Litrange LXII to victory in the $130,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 3* on Saturday during week ten of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). It was the rider's first grand prix win at the Winter Equestrian Festival on a new horse that he was competing in its very first FEI competition. It was also only the pair's second jump-off together, as they topped a seven-horse tiebreaker, with Emily Short (USA) and Coco II finishing second, and Sharn Wordley (NZL) and Barnetta placing third.
WEF 10, sponsored by Horseware Ireland, concludes on Sunday, March 20, featuring the $35,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic. The 12-week WEF circuit continues through April 3 offering more than $9 million in prize money.
Michel Vaillancourt (CAN) set the grand prix course for 45 starters competing in the International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, with seven clear rounds to proceed to the jump-off, and five double clears.
Emily Short and her own Coco II were first to advance to the jump-off, setting the pace with a clear round in 42.75 seconds. Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) and Starlight Farms' Helios jumped next with one rail down in 42.57 seconds to eventually finish seventh. Blythe Marano and Riverview Farms' Quabelle followed with a clear round in 44.18 seconds to earn fourth place honors. Vanessa Mannix (CAN) and her own Rubens LS La Silla also cleared the short course in 45.31 seconds to place fifth.
Lorenzo de Luca and Ensor de Litrange LXII jumped next, clocking the winning round in 40.61 seconds. Sharn Wordley followed with the third place time of 43.85 seconds aboard the Sky Group's Barnetta. Last to go, Eric Lamaze had the time in 40.00 seconds, but dropped one rail with his brand new mount Chacco Kid, owned by the Chacco Kid Group, to finish sixth.
Ensor de Litrange LXII is a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Nabab de Reve x Mr. Blue) owned in partnership by Stephex Stables, Stal Lansink, and Lorenzo de Luca. The gelding was previously ridden by Belgium's Jos Lansink and moved to de Luca in November.
"It is a new horse for me," de Luca explained. "I started doing some small classes with him, and then in WEF 6 I started to do just national classes with him. This is the first FEI class that he has jumped with me, so I am really happy about that.
"He is a fantastic horse. He is very scopey and really careful," de Luca continued. "He has a little bit of special technique in front, but you know that he really wants to do a good job. He has very good balance. I did not think that I could be fast in the jump-off because I did one jump-off in a national 1.45m class with him and that is it. This is my second jump-off with him, but he has a big stride, and the jump-off suited me and the horse really well, so everything worked."
Saturday's victory was de Luca's first grand prix win at WEF, and it worked to the rider's favor that the class was held in the morning instead of at night due to incoming weather.
"Finally!" de Luca said of getting the win. "I have to be honest, this is the first time that I rode the horse in FEI, so he has not done a night class with me. When I walked the course during the WEF (Challenge Cup), they said they moved the grand prix and I said that if he jumped well on Thursday then I would do the grand prix during the day, so it was good for me."
Commenting on the track set by Vaillancourt, de Luca stated, "When I walked the course I really liked it. The height was good; there were really big verticals, and the oxers were wide enough.
The triple combination was really delicate with the vertical in between two oxers. I liked the five-stride after the triple combination. There were a few options, and it was really technical at the end with the double of verticals that we have not had in the grand prixs for a long time. I thought it was a fair course, and I think the course designer did a very good job."
The course also suited 23-year-old American rider Emily Short and her mount, Coco II, an 11-year-old AES gelding (La Poco x Calato). Short began training with Ireland's Cian O'Connor at the end of 2014 and just bought Coco II in October, bringing the gelding to Wellington in January after competing in a few shows in Ireland and Belgium.
"I have had a really good season here with him," Short detailed. "I started jumping some of the 1.40 and 1.45m classes here, and then I jumped on the grass field in the Artisan Farms Under 25 class and was fourth. Then I went up to Live Oak and had a really good weekend there. Then coming back to Wellington after not being here for five or six weeks, he was fresh, and like a new horse again jumping in the International Ring. He jumped really well today, so I was very happy with him."
Short competed at WEF last winter and part of the winter before, and prior to that had shown in Ocala, FL, during the winter. Saturday's second place grand prix prize was her top finish at the Winter Equestrian Festival to date, and she completed a great jump-off on the way to that result.
"Going first in the first round, and then in the jump-off, this horse Coco was probably the best horse for that," Short explained. "He has a monster stride, so when there is an option to leave a stride out, I am always going to leave it out pretty much. In the jump-off, I just had a really good plan going in, and rode it like I planned and just hoped nobody would catch me. Unfortunately Lorenzo did, but I am still happy with second."
New Zealand's Sharn Wordley was thrilled with his third place finish in the grand prix for the second week in a row. He also finished third in week nine's $380,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix CSI 5* with the Sky Group's Casper. This week's prize came aboard Barnetta, a 12-year-old Westphalian gelding (Baloubet du Rouet x Polydor) also owned by the Sky Group. Commenting on two great finishes with two different horses, Wordley smiled, "I am having the best week of my life!"
The rider also had a second place finish with Barnetta in the $212,000 U.S. Open Rolex Grand Prix CSI 3* at the 2015 Rolex Central Park Horse Show in New York City this fall.
"I got him just over a year ago," Wordley said of his mount. "I did one small grand prix with him in Wellington last year and then he popped a splint, so I did not get to ride him or show again until the summer. I have only been competing him for just over six months, so I am still just getting to know him really, but he has been a really good horse for me. He has been really consistent. He is not the fastest, but he is always there and around about in the prizes, so he is a very nice horse."
Tom MacGuinness of Horseware Ireland was on hand for Saturday's grand prix and spoke of the long relationship that his company has had with the Winter Equestrian Festival, dating all the way back to 1980 with their brand, Triple Crown.
"The first time I came here was in 1989, and all that was here was a grass mound, and a grass field, and a tent," MacGuinness noted. "Six years ago, Jessica Newman told me to come to Wellington for her gala for Just World International, and I came down and could not believe the changes that had been made here. I met Michael Stone, and Mark Bellissimo, and the whole crew here, and I said that this has really grown to be the place in the world for all equestrian activities. Nothing compares to Wellington in the whole world; no one even comes close. I have my polo team here, I have my jumper here, and to me, Wellington is my second home. It is a fantastic location, and I love it here."
De Luca agreed with MacGuinness, adding, "There is no better place to be for the winter. This is the best show. You can improve your riding, and the horses get ready for the season. You can show everything from young horses up to the Nations' Cup, and all of the facilities are very good, so it is fantastic to be here."
Ensor de Litrange LXII's groom, Heidi Barrett, 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.
Emily Short also earned the Leading Lady Rider Award for week ten, presented by Martha Jolicoeur of Douglas Elliman in memory of Dale Lawler.
Also competing in the International Ring on Saturday, Vanessa Mannix and Carolien v/h Scheefkasteel were victorious in the $15,000 MAYBACH - ICONS OF LUXURY SJHOF High Amateur-Owner Classic. The $1,500 Animo USA Medium Amateur-Owner Jumper speed class concluded the day with a win for Kelly Tropin and Libertas Farm LLC's Adorose.
Lilly Higgins and Shannon Eckel Are Champions in Alessandro Albanese Equitation 15-17
The Alessandro Albanese Equitation 15-17 division was split this week, and two champions were named. The first championship was awarded to Shannon Eckel on Quantum Chanel, an eight-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Robert McNeel. They won both over fences classes.
Eckel is 17 years old and hails from Rockaway, NJ. She trains with Frank Madden at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, NY, and has only been riding Quantum Chanel, known as "Charlie" around the barn, for three weeks. Their relationship has come together quickly.
"He's helped me a learn a lot. I've think we have both taught each other quite a bit. I know when I go in the ring he'll have my back," Eckel said.
Eckel had a good start with a solid trip in the first class, but was faced with a challenge when she returned for her second round.
"The first round, I was really happy with. I knew I did fairly well, (and) I read the lines well. The second round, it started to completely downpour, so that was a little interesting!" she recalled. "I don't know Charlie too well, so I was a little unsure how he would handle the rain. He was really good, and it meant nothing to him. I love the rain; I always do my best in the rain. I guess that held true today!"
This is the first year that Eckel has competed at the Winter Equestrian Festival, and this was her first championship. "It's really cool, considering this is my first WEF ever. When we started, I said that I [would] be happy if I got a few ribbons. To walk away with a champion made the whole circuit. It definitely made me really happy and gave me some confidence. I want to say thank you to everybody, Frank, Jen, Stella, and Robert for letting me ride Charlie. They believe in me."
Lilly Higgins and Common Sense, a ten-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding by Contendro owned by Woodacres Stables LLC, won the second section championship. They placed first in both over fences classes and were fourth in the under saddle.
Higgins, 17, from Summit, NJ, has been riding Common Sense since December of 2015. Coming from a jumper background and recently gelded, he was sent to Beacon Hill and trainer Stacia Madden to become an equitation horse. Higgins got the ride on the talented horse.
"We worked a lot before coming down to WEF," Higgins explained. "We have been trying to get him to slow his brain down by doing the 15-17 classes. I love working with him. He loves to learn and do the right thing. This is the fourth or fifth week showing him in this division. He's really starting to understand what his job is and knowing what he's supposed to do."
Going into today's over fences classes, Higgins was told by her trainers to attempt tight inside turns that most of the other riders had not tried, "to make it harder on myself and give him a challenge," Higgins said. "He really rose to the challenge in both classes. I was really happy with how he did that. I'm really excited to keep working with him and see how he does in some of the tougher classes."
There were three reserve champions named; Emma Seger and Cohiba won an under saddle, Emma Lynch and Anton placed second and third over fences, while Megan Hilton on Cantoblanco won the other under saddle class.
The tenth week of competition at the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival concludes on Sunday featuring the $35,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic in the International Ring at 10 a.m. The Large Pony Hunters will also present championship honors in Ring 12 in the morning. For more information and full results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.