Week one of the 2014 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) concluded on Sunday with a victory for Great Britain's Ben Maher and Kavanagh IV in the $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC).
For Sunday's highlight competition, course designer Eric Hasbrouck saw 47 combinations jump the first round, with ten entries advancing to the jump-off. Only two were able to clear the short course without fault, and Ben Maher and Kavanagh IV had the winning time of 35.017.
Paris Sellon (USA) and Heracross finished second with their clear round in 40.053 seconds. Karen Polle (USA) had the fastest time in the jump-off in 33.898 seconds, but incurred four faults to finish third. Ireland's Ronan McGuigan and Capall Zidane placed fourth with four faults in 34.344 seconds. McGuigan and Polle were both victim to a tall plank jump on course that was a problem for many of the riders in both rounds.
Class winner, Kavanagh IV, is a 12-year-old Anglo European gelding by Kannan x Carousel. Maher started riding the gelding this fall and has already had great success with him. He explained, "I took over the ride a few months ago when I was resting the other horses in England back in October, and he went quite well the first week, so John and Laura (Renick) kindly left him with me."
"I begged them to let me take him to Florida because I know he's great in the big arenas," Maher continued. "He jumped very well in the Trump Grand Prix the other week. I couldn't see where I was going (because of the rain), and I ran a little deep and had a mistake, so we saved him for this grand prix this week because he felt good, and the plan paid off."
"He is the most laid back going horse there is," Maher described of the horse. "He is very relaxed and doesn't mind who looks after him or who is riding him. I actually didn't ride him all week. My girlfriend rode him the whole week, so maybe I'll stick to that plan. He takes strides out in a big ring like this; he's pretty fast. A lot of horses had the planks down, so I took a little bit of time there and left a small margin for the others to catch me, but luckily it was the right decision today."
Maher looks forward to another great FTI WEF circuit in 2014, returning with Jane Clark's Cella and Urico, who he had great success with in 2013. "I am looking forward to riding Cella and Urico," he noted. "They have been great for me the whole year. We rested Urico for the indoor season because he gained some great results. I had a whole new plan with him for the summer, and I think he's in great shape, so he'll start out here next week. Cella, we'll save for the bigger grands prix. They're kind of split up this time, so she's going to come out week three I think, but I've got some great horses. I'm very lucky, and always excited to be here."
In addition to earning top prize in Sunday's grand prix, Maher was presented with a special Champion Equine Insurance Jumper Style Award, presented by Laura Fetterman. Second place finisher, Paris Sellon, also earned a special award as the Leading Lady Jumper Rider for week one thanks to Martha Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties in memory of Dale Lawler.
Sellon, 21, is from Los Angeles, CA, and this is her first time competing at the FTI WEF riding with Laura Kraut and Nick Skelton. She purchased Heracross from Skelton one year ago. "I just started riding with Nick and Laura last May," Sellon exlained. "I went to Europe with them, started traveling with them. I have just been getting to know him, getting to know how to jump clear, and it's all finally paying off now. It has taken a full year, but he's great. He is super straight forward and a super show horse."
Commenting on the day's course, Sellon noted, "It was difficult enough. With the time allowed and everything, you have to keep moving as well as trying to jump clear, but my horse actually benefits from that. The more you keep him going, the more you fire him up. That's when he jumps his best, so it was actually a pretty good course for him."
Karen Polle, also 21, is from New York City and started training with Todd Minikus in October. She has had her horse What Ever for three years, but the mare is coming back from a year and a half off with an injury, and Sunday's class was one of their first grands prix back together. Polle described What Ever, stating, "She is so lazy at home. She's like a pony, but once she gets in the ring she fires up. She leaves out strides and turns really fast, and she's just so fast and fun."
Polle explained that training with Todd Minikus has really helped her. "He has helped me focus on using my leg to really ride the course and guide the horse," Polle noted. "I tend to get a little bit too much hands, and I stop them a little too much and I get them behind me sometimes, so he's really been helping me ride from my leg."
Final Results: $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix
1. KAVANAGH IV BEN MAHER JOHN RENICK & BEN MAHER: 0/0/35.017
2. HERACROSS PARIS SELLON PARIS SELLON: 0/0/40.053
3. WHAT EVER KAREN POLLE KAREN POLLE: 0/4/33.898
4. CAPALL ZIDANE RONAN MCGUIGAN RONAN MCGUIGAN: 0/4/34.344
5. ZAMIRO 16 KARA CHAD STONE RIDGE FARMS LLC: 0/4/34.683
6. QUIDAM MB ADRIENNE STERNLICHT ADRIENNE STERNLICHT: 0/4/36.228
7. RAMSES SARAH SEGAL ROBERT SEGAL: 0/4/36.541
8. CISCO'S ZIDANE ROOSJE BROUWER STAL THIJSSEN BV: 0/4/36.642
9. WOTSAMILLION LAURA KRAUT STONE HILL FARM: 0/4/37.062
10. COLORADO JONATHAN MCCREA CANDY TRIBBLE: 0/4/37.354
11. DOLORES MB JIMMY TORANO BEN MAHER: 1/75.894
12. WINGS MCLAIN WARD MCLAIN WARD: 4/70.522
Source: Press release from Jennifer Wood Media Inc.
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