Postcard: 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival

February 12, 2017—Ask Kent Farrington what kind of car he drives, and he replies “a fast one.”

“I like speed in everything…I like to go fast on a skateboard, I like to go fast on a snowboard, I like to go fast on a motorcycle,” he says.

Kent Farrington and Gazelle over the last fence on the way to winning the $380,000 Fidelity Investments 5-star Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival.

But most of all, the number two-ranked show jumper in the world likes to go fast when he’s on a horse and against the clock. That’s the way he did it last evening to win the $380,000 Fidelity Investments 5-Star Grand Prix on Gazelle, who is as quick as the animal after which she is named.

The field of 40 for the Saturday Night Lights feature drew a crowd that packed the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center under a glowing full moon, setting the stage for excitement. You could just feel the buzz, as fans enjoyed watching some of the sport’s biggest names go for it.

While Kent suggested that perhaps course designer Bob Ellis of Great Britain could have made the time allowed a touch tighter, that might have cut down on the number in the tie-breaker. There was no need for it. The crowd was really into watching the 11 horses who made it to the jump-off give their all. That was especially true since one of them was Canada’s Eric Lamaze with Fine Lady 5, who won a class earlier in the week to prep for the featured competition.

Eric had an advantage going last, which also heightened the suspense after Kent produced a pull-out-the-stops performance in 44.48 seconds. Fine Lady, with whom Eric won individual bronze at the Rio Olympics, is very special, in the same vein as Hickstead. He earned on individual gold in the 2008 Olympics on that late stallion. Earlier in the week, Eric speculated that perhaps Fine Lady is his second horse of a lifetime, and it certainly would seem that way.

Kent called Eric and his Hanoverian mare “an incredibly competitive combination.” Citing how fast they are, he said, his plan “was to do what I thought the limit was for my horse and put the pressure on him to have to really chase me to win. I knew if we were both running, his horse is probably faster in this type of arena, so I tried to put the pressure on him and hope he would have one down.”

And that’s just what happened after Kent clocked a clear, sharp trip in 44.48 seconds on the Belgian-bred mare he owns with Robin Parsky.

Eric, ranked number seven in the world, was going for it in a big way, but a rail late in the course put him fourth as the fastest 4-faulter in 45.65 seconds.

Luiz Francisco de Azevedo of Brazil and Comic, second in the Fidelity Grand Prix.

Second place went to Brazil’s Luiz Francisco de Azevedo on the Dutchbred stallion Comic, clocked in a respectable 45.69 seconds. Luiz was as thrilled as if he were the one who got to gallop around the arena on a horse draped in the winner’s cooler.

“I am very happy because for me, it is like a win, to be second behind Kent Farrington,” he explained.

“For me, it is like a victory. I am really happy with my horse. We bought him when he was just six years old, and we built him. My goal was to be here where we are now, so I have to just thank God for that.”

Kent Farrington, winner of the $380,00 Fidelity Grand Prix, on the podium with runner-up Luiz Francisco de Azevedo of Brazil and Catherine Tyree of the U.S., third.

Third place went to Catherine Tyree, who admitted, “I’m a little bit new to going quick at this height.” Knowing she had Eric and Kent behind her, she opted for a smooth, clear round on the striking gray Dutchbred Bokai and achieved it in 48.29 seconds.

I consider Saturday Night Lights, which seems to be ever-more popular, as a major occasion for the horse world. So I wondered how Kent feels about these weekly features. After all, he rides regularly at the most prestigious shows in Europe, and I know the one in Geneva, Switzerland, is among his favorites. I asked him how the two compare. Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch the video of our discussion.

Kent is leading the East Coast Sub-League of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League, but he doesn’t know if he’ll make it to the final in Omaha next month. As always, he’s saying he doesn’t want to go just to go; he needs the right horse. And his main prospect at the moment is Creedance, whom he will test in the coming weeks to see if he’s ready for the challenge of the indoor show jumping championship. So stay tuned.

Another big show jumping star of the week was Todd Minikus, who won two classes with the attractive chestnut Zephyr, including today’s $86,000 Suncast 1.5 Meter Championship Classic. Although they both are successful at getting their horses across the finish line ahead of everyone else, Todd and Kent are two very different people. Let’s just start by saying that as a teen, Kent was an equitation champion, and still rides stylishly. Todd is a get-it-done, extremely effective rider, who has a completely different silhouette on a horse.

Todd Minikus and Zephyr winning the $86,000 Suncast 1.50 meter Classic at the Winter Equestrian Festival.

But Todd and Kent do have something in common, and that’s the speed thing. Todd knows how to be quick when it counts, as he did this afternoon in scoring his fourth WEF victory of the season with Zephyr. As Todd put it, the 10-horse jump-off culled from a field of 51was “kind of a fast rider Who’s Who,” mentioning Kent, Conor Swail of Ireland (who wound up second on Flower) and Eric (fourth with Chacco Kid.)

Todd figured it would be a fast tie-breaker, and “it ended up being blistering. It seemed like everything came up nice for me and I could just keep going.” His time was 35.98, to Conor’s 36.38.

Aside from having the key to victory, Todd doesn’t know much about Zephyr, as you’ll find from watching this video. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he had to say. 

Happily, Ronnie Beard filled in the blanks. Ronnie runs Wyndmont, which owns Zephyr, with Michael Dorman. Laura Kraut tipped off Ronnie to go to Spain five years ago so he could see Zephyr, who at that time was in the stable of Peter Charles, the 2012 Olympic team gold medal teammate of Laura’s partner, Nick Skelton. Ronnie bought Zephyr, the champion seven-year-old of that season in Spain, and the Dutchbred started off with four grands prix victories under Michael’s guidance.

However, the horse “wasn’t 100 percent right” in 2016, so he had nearly a year off. “With that rest, he’s come back like his old self again,” said Ronnie.

I asked Ronnie about why he paired his horses with Todd. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he said.

At most venues, the Suncast would have been enough jumping for one day, but this afternoon we had a double feature. After riders requested it, the 5-star shows at WEF also include a 2-star division. The $50,000 Equo LLC Grand Prix for that section went to 18-year-old Emily Moffitt on For Sale 6.

For Sale, who is not for sale, was named by German show jumper Ludger Beerbaum, whom Emily believes won the Westphalian as a foal.

Emily, a native of California who has dual British and U.S. citizenship (her father is British) declared last month that she would ride for Britain and is going to be a member of that country’s Nations’ Cup team in Wellington later this season. The rider, who is coached by 2012 British team gold medalist Ben Maher (a teammate of Peter Charles and Nick Skelton), decided to skip college and focus on her array of 20 horses and her family’s farm in Britain’s Cotswolds, but she is remaining an amateur so she can compete in amateur-owner classes.

For Sale was injured last year, and the Equo was his first big class since he returned to action. Emily’s time of 37.03 seconds was in jeopardy during the 12-horse jump-off as 19-year-old Lucas Porter was on track trying to nip her mark aboard B Once Z, a Zangersheide daughter of three-time World Cup champion Baloubet du Rouet. But Porter lost his stirrup partway through the course and missed the perfect take-off spot at the next fence as a result. He had to settle for a spot that wasn’t as good and wound up with a clocking of 37.39 for second.

It’s been two crazy busy weeks in Wellington with eventing, dressage and jumping. Time for me to take a deep breath and get ready to go to central Florida next month for the Live Oak show. It is hosting the final qualifier for Omaha, the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Ocala. Be sure to look for my postcard from there.

Until then,

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