The world's best battled it out at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) on Saturday night with a one-two finish for Great Britain in the $125,000 Fidelity investments® Grand Prix CSI 3* at the 2014 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF). Ben Maher and Scott Brash, the top two ranked riders in the world, finished on top of an impressive field of horses and riders in an exciting ten-horse jump-off.
Maher, the number two ranked rider in the world, came out on top with his mount, Cella. Brash, the current number one ranked rider in the world, finished second behind his Olympic teammate with Ursula XII. Alvaro de Miranda (BRA) and AD Norson placed third.
Week three of the FTI WEF, sponsored by Fidelity Investments®, concludes on Sunday, January 26 with the $34,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic. The FTI WEF, held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL, features 12 weeks of world-class competition through March 30, awarding $8 million in prize money.
Guilherme Jorge of Brazil set the course for 45 competitors on Saturday night with ten clear rounds and a difficult jump-off, in which the top two were the only combinations to clear the short course. Scott Brash and Ursula XII, owned by Lord and Lady Harris and Lord and Lady Kirkham, were the first pair to clear the course in 39.05 seconds, but had to settle for second place when Ben Maher and Jane Clark's Cella took the challenge and bested their time in 38.68 seconds. Alvaro de Miranda and AD Norson, owned by de Miranda and Victory Equestrian, completed the fastest four-fault round in 39.61 seconds to place third. McLain Ward (USA) and Sagamore Farm's Rothchild finished fourth with four faults in 40.06 seconds.
Not only did Saturday night's class feature the top two riders in the world, it saw four of the top ten, with Beezie Madden (USA) who is currently fourth, and Kent Farrington (USA) who sits in tenth on the Longines FEI World Ranking list. Fourth place finisher McLain Ward ranks 20th in the world; third place finisher Alvaro de Miranda sits 29th.
Maher began riding Cella, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare by Cento x Chin Chin, during the FTI WEF circuit last winter and got his first big win with her in last year's Fidelity Investments Grand Prix, a $100,000 CSI 2*. Maher commented on their success, stating,"It's a lucky place here for me and Cella at the moment. She had a long break after Geneva and then our first class was this week in the 'WEF' (Challenge Cup),where she felt better than ever. I decided not to do the jump-off because I knew it was going to be fast, and save her for this evening. She's certainly a once in a lifetime horse so I want to save her for the big occasions. Luckily, between the whole team, we made a good decision because she jumped great tonight."
"She's just a phenomenal jumper. She does it in her own style, and the more I let her get on with it, the better she is," Maher said of Cella's style. "It was a good course tonight. I thought it was big for a 3*, but it has to be big with the horses and competition there is here. In the jump-off there were not too many options. I thought the first round was a great course, very technical, and the jump-off was relatively plain and simple. A lot of horses looked tired and had a lot of faults from running early on, but the course was very suited to Cella. I did what I could do and not what I couldn't. It was a race between me and Scott tonight."
Brash's mount, Ursula XII, is a 13-year-old Scottish Sport Horse mare by Ahorn x Papageno. Brash got the ride on Ursula just after the Olympics in 2012, but explained that it took some time for them to figure each other out.
"It took us probably six months to a year to just gel as a partnership, and I wanted it to change her a bit to my style, and I tried to adapt to what she likes, but I have to say she's a joy to ride and she's such a sweet horse in every way. She's a real top horse," Brash stated.
Saturday night's jump-off was a fun rivalry for Brash and Maher, and they explained that it keeps them competitive. "Ben and I are very good friends," Brash acknowledged. "I think it's a rivalry in a really good way. He wants to beat me as bad as I want to beat him. It's good for Great Britain."
"Scott and I were the only two clears tonight. If we had known it was going to work out like that, perhaps we should have spoke before and come to an arrangement to slow down a bit," Maher point out with a laugh. "I've been lucky, same as Scott, with my team, my horses behind me now, and the support from Jane Clark. It has made all the difference in the past 12 months. It just proves how much we need the owners and the sponsors to support us and how much success that can bring, and we both work hard."
De Miranda was happy with his third place finish aboard AD Norson, a 13-year-old Selle Francais stallion by Quidam de Revel x Grand Veneur, that he has ridden since the horse was four years old. The top placing was a happy end to a bad day for de Miranda after getting news about an injury in one of his top horses. The rider shared that AD Rahmannshof's Bogeno, who he won last year's $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix CSI 5* with, has sustained an injury that will keep him out of competition for a minimum of six months. Despite the bad news, de Miranda had a good night with AD Norson and has high hopes for his season.
"He's a very nice horse," de Miranda said. "In the beginning I was using him as a speed horse, and then since 2010 I started upgrading him to the bigger classes and he did very well. He was in the Pan American Games where we had a silver medal with the team, but the ground was not too good and after that he wasn't coming back too strong to this level. Here he is jumping really good, and he's back to what he was before. He's a really nice horse, very competitive, and I love to ride him."
De Miranda commented on the level of competition at this year's FTI WEF, stating, "I like to come here for two reasons: to build up horses, and to bring along young horses. When you come here for three months it is like spending one year in Europe. You can do a lot, and you can get to know the horse. They come back to Europe in very good shape. It is top level sport. You have the best horses and riders here. It is very competitive."
A special new award was presented before the class on Saturday night. The Engel & Völkers Owner Award recognizes the owner with the highest earnings in prize money each week. The award includes all horses by the same owner in both hunter and jumper divisions.
During FTI WEF 1, Paris Sellon (USA) was the top earning owner. Ronan McGuigan (IRL) was the recipient of the award for FTI WEF 2. Week's three's top owner will be tabulated upon completion of competition on Sunday and the award will be presented at the start of next week's $50,000 Ariat® Grand Prix CSI 2* at The Stadium at PBIEC on Sunday, February 2.
An award for the Leading Lady Jumper Rider was presented as well, awarded to Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum after a great week competing with her veteran partner, Checkmate 4. The award is sponsored by Martha Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties.
Final Results: $125,000 Fidelity Investments® Grand Prix CSI 3*
1. CELLA: 2002 BWP mare by Cento x Chin Chin
BEN MAHER (GBR) Jane F. Clark: 0/0/38.68
2. URSULA XII: 2001 Scottish Sport Horse mare by Ahorn x Papageno
SCOTT BRASH (GBR), Lord and Lady Harris & Lord and Lady Kirkham: 0/0/39.05
3. AD NORSON: 2001 Selle Francais stallion by Quidam de Revel x Grand Veneur
ALVARO DE MIRANDA (BRA), Victory Equestrian Sport BV & Alvaro de Miranda: 0/4/39.61
4. ROTHCHILD: 2001 Belgian Sport Horse gelding by Artos x Elegant de l'Ile
MCLAIN WARD (USA), Sagamore Farms: 0/4/40.06
5. CAFINO: 2003 Swedish Warmblood gelding by Cardento 933 x Roderik 856
ALEXANDER ZETTERMAN (SWE), Alexander Zetterman: 0/4/41.46
6. CHECKMATE 4: 1995 Hanoverian gelding by Contender x Pik Bube II
MEREDITH MICHAELS-BEERBAUM (GER), Octavia Farms LLC: 0/4/42.70
7. EVENING STAR: 2002 Holsteiner gelding by Coriano x Lenz
HEATHER CARISTO WILLIAMS (USA), Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Caristo: 0/4/46.41
8. VICTOR: 2002 KWPN gelding by Elmshorn x Grandeur
TIFFANY FOSTER (CAN), Artisan Farms LLC & Torrey Pines: 0/8/39.77
9. UNEX CHAMBERLAIN Z: 2001 Zangersheide gelding by Chellano Z x Peter Pan
TIM GREDLEY (GBR), Unex Competition Yard: 0/8/45.00
10. ZERNIKE K: 2004 KWPN gelding by Sam R 60 x H Topas
BRIANNE GOUTAL (USA), Remarkable Farms LP: 0/27/62.64
11. MIC MAC DU TILLARD: 2000 Selle Francais mare by Cruising x Galoubet A
DAVID WILL (GER), Bernadette LeJeune: 1/80.25
12. ZARA LEANDRA: 2004 KWPN mare by Metropole x Ahorn
PABLO BARRIOS (VEN), ZL Group, Inc: 1/81.75
Source: Press release from Equestrian Sport Productions
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