At the age of 19, Checkmate is returning to Florida’s Winter Equestrian Festival 12 years after Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum showed the Hanoverian gelding there. Meredith who has been a regular with her husband, Marcus, shared the spotlight at WEF’s opening news conference with fellow Olympians Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil and Eric Lamaze of Canada.
“It’s fantastic to ride here,” she said of the 12 weeks of WEF that starts Wednesday. Shutterfly started here as a seven year old and so did Checkmate and he’s returning here as a 19-year-old. This is an amazing event with tremendous prize money."
"Riders can do two things at the same time--bring along young horses and compete against the best in the world.”
Checkmate (Contender x Pik Bube II), owned by Octavia Farms LLC of the United States and Michaels & Beerbaum GmbH, has competed internationally since 2006 in Asia, North and South America as well as Europe, including on the German team at the 2009 European Championships , the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky and the 2006, 2011 and 2013 World Cup Finals.
Meredith also sharply criticized the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) for forcing the organizers of WEF to drop the level of what had been three planned CSI5* events as part of a big increase in prize money from Rolex, the globally renowned luxury watch brand that was replaced by Longines as a major sponsor of FEI events.
Mark Bellissimo, chief executive of Wellington Equestrian Partners that owns and organizes WEF and has spent $35 million upgrading the show grounds in the past eight years, said in response to a question that the group started in August to get approval for the additional prize money and ranking points that are attached to 5* events.
“We are very disappointed not to get the upgrades,” he said. “There were a couple of shows that objected. I can’t explain why there wasn’t approval. It’s something we pushed aggressively, very hard."
WEF expects to get at least three 5*s in 2015 and to get five in 2016 on the way to fulfilling WEF’s goal of six CSI5*s.
Meredith said depriving WEF of the extra 5*s "made any difference whatsoever” on the shows that apparently objected to the competition--believed to be Doha, Qatar and Paris.
“Those planning to come (to WEF) had already made their plans,” she said. “Those riders who wanted to come here were focused on the possibilities."
“It’s a big disapointment to us riders. It’s a tremendous step for Rolex to come here with its brand and to bring it up to a first class standard. Riders are very disappointed with this decision. We support this event and see a bright future.”
Text by Ken Braddick // dressage-news.com
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