It was a star-studded equestrian event during week four of the2013 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival's (FTI WEF) "Saturday Night Lights" competition as Great Britain's Ben Maher piloted Jane F. Clark's Cella to victory in the $100,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI 2* Grand Prix. Competing in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), Maher and Cella finished on top of 49 entries over second place finishers Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) and HH Rebozo and third place competitors Gemma Paternoster (GBR) and Osiris.
Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela set the course for Saturday night's $100,000 Fidelity Investment's CSI 2* Grand Prix. Out of 49 competitors, only six made it to the jump-off round, and the top three were the only entries to clear both courses without fault.
Todd Minikus (USA) and Macoemba were the trailblazers in the jump-off, but had a rail down to incur four faults in 50.13 seconds to earn fifth place honors. McLain Ward and Grant Road Partners' Super Trooper de Ness followed and had the fastest time of the jump-off, but also had four faults in 47.59 seconds to place fourth. Rodrigo Pessoa and Double H Farm's HH Rebozo were next and jumped the first clear round in 51.12 seconds to eventually finish second.
Ben Maher and Cella followed with a second clear round and galloped through the timers in 48.95 seconds to take the lead. Gemma Paternoster and Osiris, owned by Paternoster along with Julia Harrison Lee, also cleared the short course and placed third with their time of 52.62 seconds. Last to go, Liza Finsness (USA) had one rail down with Ormsby Hill in 52.77 seconds to place sixth.
Ben Maher just started riding for Jane Clark and has quickly established a great rapport with her top horses. In the last few weeks, Maher has worked hard to get to know his new mounts while showing in Wellington, and even had the help of world-renowned horseman George Morris as he forms the growing relationships. After his win on Saturday night, Maher acknowledged the guidance that he received.
"Yesterday we had a sit down with George," he noted. "It really helped; it's really great to have someone like George to be the eyes on the ground. Cella's a fantastic horse. She's sensitive, she has a mind of her own, but I just let her do the jumping and she felt amazing tonight."
Getting to know a new horse, Maher has tried to make the most of his time with Cella and Clark's other horses. He explained, "I knew I was starting to ride Jane's horses since October, I have been coming every two to three weeks for a couple of days. It was long journeys in between European shows, but it looks like it paid off. We spent a long time getting the horses fit and ready for the circuit and I watched videos from previous rounds of the horses. I felt that Cella was jumping very well and the small pointers we had from George yesterday made a big difference with my style of riding. It has taken her a while to adapt to me, I think as much as I had to adapt to her."
"George told me to sit still and stay off her back; more of an American style," Maher stated. "I said that I was European and he said 'I don't care.' He told me to be soft with her and that she is a great jumper and just to let her do her job. I just try to place her as correctly as I can."
After a few weeks of showing, Maher felt comfortable going a little bit faster in the jump-off with Cella tonight. Speaking about the round, he detailed, "It was one of those jump-offs where it could have gone either way. I had very fast riders in front of me and the turns paid off. Sometimes it goes like that here; I have seen it a lot over the years. You get running and it is easy to make a mistake. Definitely a late draw in the jump-off paid; it was worth a lot tonight. I completely changed my plan; I had a little bit of a pause before I went in the ring and I took a risk that the two riders after me were going to go around and play it a little safe. I don't think we could have been a lot better at this stage today."
Second place finisher Rodrigo Pessoa spoke about his mount HH Rebozo, who has been with the rider through the most recent World Equestrian Games and Olympic Games. Rebozo spent some time off for breeding and is just getting back into the show ring. Pessoa stated, "This is his third class here. He did two classes, a 1.40m and a 1.45m. He is just getting back into competing; he has been breeding. He feels very good and very fresh; he has a lot of energy. This was his first time in the bigger class today and I thought he jumped pretty well. In the jump-off I just wanted to put in a good round. I wasn't really worried about the place I was getting tonight. I just want to get him fit and confident for the weeks to come."
Gemma Paternoster was happy with her round with long-time partner, Osiris. She stated, "I have a bit of a different story from Ben catching his new ride; I have been with Osiris for ten years now. He was superb tonight. He moved to Florida with me two years ago and he says he loves the sunshine. He's 17, but he feels great. I wasn't really sure how much of WEF we would do with him at his age, but he felt better than ever tonight."
Concluding the evening, Maher thanked his new sponsor, Jane Clark, and admitted that it was great to get his first big win in their new partnership. "I just want to say thank you to Jane," Maher acknowledged. "We broke the ice and I feel privileged to ride those horses. There was pressure on Jane's part and my part a little bit in the beginning, but it nice to get the first grand prix win. We feel more relaxed now and we can just do the best with the team we have around us."
Final Results: $100,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI 2* Grand Prix
1. CELLA: 2002 BWP mare by Cento x Chin Chin
BEN MAHER (GBR) Jane F. Clark: 0/0/48.95
2. HH REBOZO: 2000 Mexican Sport Horse stallion by Tlaloc La Silla x Ramiroz
RODRIGO PESSOA (BRA), Double H Farm: 0/0/51.12
3. OSIRIS: 1996 KWPN gelding by Polydox x Lucky Boy
GEMMA PATERNOSTER (GBR), Gemma Paternoster & Julia Harrison Lee: 0/0/52.62
4. SUPER TROOPER DE NESS: 2002 Belgian Sport Horse stallion by Vigo D'arsouilles x Polydor
MCLAIN WARD (USA), Grant Road Partners: 0/4/47.59
5. MACOEMBA: 2003 KWPN gelding by Zeoliet
TODD MINIKUS (USA), Todd Minikus, Ltd: 0/4/50.13
6. ORMSBY HILL: 1997 BWP gelding by Unknown
LIZA FINSNESS (USA), Liza Finsness: 0/4/52.77
7. MIKA: 2000 Selle Francais gelding by Nidor Platiere x Rubis Rouge
REED KESSLER (USA), Reed Kessler: 1/83.22
8. WHISPER HE: 2003 KWPN gelding by Unknown
SAMUEL PAROT (CHI), Samuel Parot:1/85.47
9. KISMET 50: 2001 BWP mare by Kannan x Furioso II
CANDICE KING (USA), Bellissimo, LLC: 1/85.66
10. CHILL R Z: 2003 Zangersheide stallion by Chellano Z x A Lucky One
CHARLIE JAYNE (USA), Pony Lane Farm: 4/77.47
11.UNEX OMELLI: 1996 KWPN gelding by Burggraaf x Equador
TIM GREDLEY(GBR), Unex Competition Yard: 4/79.73
12.NICE DE PRISSEY: 2001 Selle Francais stallion by Rosire x Amarpour
BRIANNE GOUTAL (USA), Remarkable Farms LP: 4/79.89
Source: Lauren Fisher and Laura Cardon for Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.
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