The grass was freshly cut, the vibrant and colorful jumps were set and music was playing in the background for the ninth week of The Ridge's 1.40m Grand Prix Invitational Series. Eleven went clear over Pierre Jolicouer's course, but no one could catch up to Darragh Kenny in the jump off. Aboard Any Given Sunday, the two were on a mission to claim first place and were not about to let anyone stop them. After completing the first round with a time of 75.127, Kenny was racing to beat McLain Ward and Cruz Z. Aboard Any Given Sunday, the pair jumped the first four fences of the second round effortlessly, then blazed over the final oxer to vertical combination in a time of 33.638 seconds. They went as fast as they could to finish in first.. Earlier in the day, Kenny piloted S & L Slingback to a third place finish with a time of 36.146.
"Any Given Sunday is a ten-year-old stallion I've had since the start of the winter season. I just brought him here to give him a change of venue. It's a great show, a fantastic venue, they do a great job and it's really enjoyable," acknowledged Kenny. "We're always at WEF all the time and so busy, but then you come here and it's so peaceful; it's a nice break."
Jeffery Welles was the closest rider to being able to catch Kenny, with a double clear effort. Aboard 11-year-old Merlin, the two finished the jump off in 35.923 seconds. The veteran used the field to his advantage, utilizing quick turns and a fast pace. "He's quite a hot horse, strong, but he's careful and brave. This is the best setting for him. A new field that looks different. We're so used to jumping in sand fields and all-weather footing that it's nice to jump on the grass," explained Welles.
With only one week remaining in the 10-week series, many were taking advantage of the grass field at Mida Farm and the relaxing atmosphere that is offered to competitors. Many familiar faces were seen entering the in-gate, such as Ward, who has competed in five of the nine weeks.
Ward and Cruz Z went on to finish the class in fourth place with a time of 36.932. After only working together for about three weeks, the pair certainly showed that they are ones to watch out for in the future. McLain was holding the top spot with his other mount, Cocoa 135, until he turned too quickly in the during the second round, knocking a rail down over the last vertical.
"I think it's giving some options and showing that people enjoy having a change of venue," stated Ward. "To continue on one venue is difficult on the trainers, staff, and horses. The theory that you can choose what weeks you want to show at WEF doesn't work well, for the trainers and staff you are there all the time. This is a breath of fresh air to have a change of venue and I think the horses enjoy it."
The change of venue and relaxing atmosphere has been catching on more and more. The series, which started out small has grown immensely and is widely popular among the top professionals and amateurs alike. "I'm very happy that farms like G & C are here and Luis, and to have Jeffery back, Amy Miller. It proves that it's a need and that people are loving it," remarked George D'Ambrosio. "There are a lot of happier people and smiles, a feeling of accomplishment for introducing something new and inventive."
Mida Farm, owned by Victoria McCullough, has become the popular spot and has been key for keeping riders coming back. This week, Jan Tops, the field's namesake was in town and came out to show his support for the series and the sport. The immense grass field has become a cornerstone of the series and McCullough and Top's generous support is has taken the sport to a higher level. By allowing riders on the property, McCullough has opened the sport to a more traditional and European way of riding, and has brought the relaxed and majestic atmosphere to show jumping.
"This wasn't made to be a competition," said D'Ambrosio. "We wanted to add to the magnificence that is in Florida, wondering what better place there was to develop this stage and level of competition. We wanted to be able to provide a different venue offering the traditional grass ring, hospitality, using beautiful, colorful jumps to enhance the development of young horses and riders. We wanted to create something that wasn't commercialized and create education for the future generations of our sport. The main purpose was to develop young riders and send them to European tours with some experience and a strong backbone. We were fortunate enough to meet generous people such as Victoria who believe in the future of the sport and the riders as well as want to provide an old world charm with a European type flair. What we created was so positive and was such a need and filled a niche in Wellington."
D'Ambrosio continued, "We wanted to compliment the Winter Equestrian Festival by helping riders prepare to face challenges and learn to ride outside of the box. We didn't create this to make money; it was designed to give back to a sport that has given us everything we have. We are trying to give back in every way we know how. We welcome everybody to the final event and we would like to thank all of the riders, friends and supporters who believe in the series and show the importance of it for the future.
Next week will be the final week of the series and the Invitational finale will be held on March 23, where the Leading Rider will be announced.
Source: Press release from Phelps media Group.
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