Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 8, 2020 – The stands of the International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center were buzzing with excitement for the feature class of Week Five at the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The $401,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5* saw near-perfect weather and a promising lineup of horse-and-rider pairs, with 40 competitors hoping to take home the lion’s share of the prize money. After a tight race to the finish, it was McLain Ward and Noche de Ronda who would rise to the top of the leaderboard and claim the win.
Course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA) set a challenging 1.60m track for the evening that featured 17 obstacles in the first round. Ladies led the first half of the evening, as Erynn Ballard (CAN), Paris Sellon (USA), Bliss Heers (USA), Nicole Shahinian-Simpson (USA) and Tiffany Foster (CAN) were able to complete the track clear and under the time-allowed of 80 seconds. After the drag break, Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) was added to the list of women advancing to the jump-off, and later on Eric Lamaze (CAN), Kent Farrington (USA), McLain Ward (USA), Shane Sweetnam (IRL), Margie Engle (USA), and Conor Swail (IRL) joined the group. At the end of the first round, 12 riders total moved on to tackle the 8-effort jump-off.
The world-class jump-off had the crowd gripping their seats and gasping as each second ticked by on the clock. The pathfinder for the jump-off was Sellon aboard her mount Cassandra, owned by Willow Grace Farm. Sellon, trained by Martin Fuchs, managed a clear round with a time of 41.15 seconds to set the pace, but her lead was quickly taken over by Shahinian-Simpson and her own mount, Akuna Mattata, as they kicked the competition up a notch with a speedy time of 40.75 seconds. Sternlicht and Just A Gamble, owned by Starlight Farms 1 LLC, were the first pair to break the 40-second barrier with a quick time of 39.71 seconds, but were unable to go clear finishing with just 4 faults.
Lamaze and Chacco Kid, owned by Chacco Kid Group, came into the ring on a mission to take the top spot. Lamaze made a tight roll-back turn to the water jump that had the crowd on the edge of their seats as he cleared the tricky obstacle and went on to trip the timers at 39.69 seconds to move into the lead. Lamaze and the 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding are no strangers to the winner’s circle, as the pair claimed victory in Rome, Italy, during the Longines Global Champions Tour CSI5* and finished third in the €153,700 Longines Cup of the City of Barcelona in November 2017, making for a tough duo to beat.
Though Lamaze and Chacco Kid were quick, the next pair to tackle the jump-off, Farrington and his notably speedy mount, Gazelle, managed to overtake Lamaze’s lead. The pair finished just one-tenth of a second quicker, crossing the timers at 39.51 seconds, but the top spot changed hands once again as Ward and Noche de Ronda nailed a hairpin turn to the water vertical and sliced the one-stride in jaw-dropping fashion. Ward shaved nearly 2 seconds off of Farrington’s time, clocking in at 37.47 seconds. The remaining field of riders could not overtake Ward’s impressive round, solidifying the victory for Ward and Noche de Ronda.
Ward and the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare, owned by Bob Russell and Marilla Van Beuren, have been a successful pair for nearly a year, capturing major CSI5* wins in Spruce Meadows, Aachen and Dublin. Ward currently sits 14th on the Longines World Ranking list, with Noche de Ronda ranked as the number 14 horse on the Rolex/USEF Show Jumping Ranking List. Ward looks forward to a bright future for the mare as they continue to climb the ranks together.
At the conclusion of the class, Ward re-entered the ring aboard Noche de Ronda cloaked in the Fidelity Investments Champion cooler to take a well-deserved victory gallop. Farrington and Gazelle, owned by Farrington and Robin Parsky, would ultimately take home second-place honors, with Lamaze and Chacco Kid rounding out the top three.
Week Five of WEF will continue on Sunday starting at 8 a.m., with another opportunity for show jumping riders to bring home a piece of this week’s prize money offered in the $73,000 CaptiveOne Advisors 1.50m CSI5*. Week Six will bring a new crop of riders to the International Ring for the Saturday Night Lights feature when the hunter riders take over for the $100,000 USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Hunter Spectacular.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
McLain Ward and Noche de Ronda – $401,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5* champion
On his win:
“That’s about all I and [Noche de Ronda] had to give. Both Kent [Farrington] and Eric [Lamaze’s] horses are super fast types. Where I have an advantage, sometimes, is a bigger stride, but that course didn’t set up great for a bigger stride because the seven strides from jumps two to three showed up as seven strides for everybody. I think if everything had gone perfect, Kent would have been able to get one less stride to the last. I think when you get to go after any of us at that level, as the one that sets the time, you have a bit of an advantage and normally we either come out by winning or crashing. So, I turned back to the liverpool obstacle and it showed up great. I didn’t lose the momentum and it all came off very nice. The horse really performed spectacularly.”
On what the win means for him:
“I was talking earlier today with Darragh Kenny, and I was saying that it doesn’t get easier. The stress doesn’t get less! It’s a little bit like a drug – I love it, and it’s killing me at the same time. I am also really enjoying the fact that I have a couple of students who are doing the sport at an incredibly high level. It’s very engaging to be with them and see them prosper and grow in all of these things. So I am very excited on these nights. I am still nervous for these big nights, but I really find great pleasure in the fight. The victories are nice, the things that come along with them, but it’s the battle and the fight between people like Kent [Farrington] and me and several others. I think, in the end, that is really what gets our blood up. The other things just come along with it, and so I really love that.”
On his partnership with owner Marilla Van Beuren:
“Marilla has ridden horses for years, and she has been an avid fan, follower and equestrian. She had a dream to own a grand prix horse and we found this mare last year with Maarten Huygens. We thought it was something really interesting and exciting. It’s been a really wonderful story for us and for her. It’s nice sometimes when the good guys win.”
On what made the difference for him in the jump-off:
“I think what made the difference is that I kept taking the risk, to take the leave out, leaving off in every corner, and it worked out. Sometimes you do that and it can kind of explode on you. Tonight the horse really gave an extra effort and it was my night, and more often than not, it’s [Kent Farrington’s] night.”
On his partnership with Noche de Ronda:
“She was doing 1.35m classes with me in March of last year, and I had a run of injuries with my string. She ended up having to step up and jump the [Mercedes Benz Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen]. We kind of made up 6 months in a night when she jumped double clear, and then went on to have a great season and some big wins. She’s a big horse, but she is very rideable. She is a beautiful jumper. Funny enough, often you look at her and she looks like a bit of a heavier, colder horse, but she’s the most mare-ish mare that I have had in years. I’m obviously very fond of the mares, but this one is a little mare-ish. She’s a little bit of a handful.”
On what is next for Noche de Ronda:
“[Noche de Ronda] actually jumps the [$213,300 CSIO5* Longines Grand Prix] at Deeridge next week. We will probably try to do a small class again with her and then the grand prix, not both the qualifier and the grand prix just from an energy point of view. Then she will have a nice little rest. She probably won’t jump again until Week Nine of WEF. Obviously, she is in good form, but I don’t mind doing two shows in a row and then giving the horses a nice break. It’s early in the year and you can kind of get their fitness level up a bit. It’s great to have the win, but I would typically stick to the plan.”
Kent Farrington and Gazelle – second place
On his plan for the jump-off:
“I watched Eric [Lamaze]’s round. He’s a very fast rider, one of the fastest in the world, and that’s a very competitive horse. I knew that we were in trouble and that we had 12 clear tonight, so it was going to be a fast round to win no matter what. I watched Eric go with a little different plan from mine because his horse has quite a small stride, so you can’t really follow his numbers. I stuck to my own plan for the most part. I got beat today by a top rider on a horse with a giant stride and he pulled out all of the stops. He took a big risk to win and he pulled it off. It’s a great win tonight for McLain.”
On his second-place finish:
“I’m very happy with [Gazelle]. When we’re all competing against each other, these are the best riders in the world. Hats off to McLain for a great win.”
Eric Lamaze and Chacco Kid – third place
On the jump-off:
“It was a soft CSI5* course. We’re in the middle of the circuit, so why build something outrageous? I think Anthony [D’Ambrosio] did a great job and it provided some entertainment in the jump-off. I always say that it’s how your distances come up out of the corner. If they come up and you’re quick, then you take them but sometimes they don’t come. For McLain [Ward] everything was there. It was a great class.”
On Chacco Kid:
“He felt great, he’s improved so much. He’s been a super horse for me and I’m so grateful to have him. He’s a real fighter and he’s careful and he will try his heart out for you. When you feel that underneath you, you can enter a lot of classes.”
On what’s next:
“I’m going to Europe tomorrow night just for a little treatment and check-up, and hopefully I get the green light from the doctors to continue. I take it day by day. [Chacco Kid] was good, but I feel like it’s time for a check-up.”
$401,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5*
Place / Horse / Rider / Country / R1 Faults | R1 Time / R2 Faults | R2 Time
1. Noche de Ronda / McLain Ward / USA / 0 | 78.17 / 0 | 37.47
2. Gazelle / Kent Farrington / USA / 0 | 78.29 / 0 | 39.51
3. Chacco Kid / Eric Lamaze / CAN / 0 | 77.84 / 0 | 39.69
4. Akuna Mattata / Nicole Shahinian-Simpson / USA / 0 | 76.5 / 0 | 40.75
5. Cassandra / Paris Sellon / USA / 0 | 79.18 / 0 | 41.15
6. Figor / Tiffany Foster / CAN / 0 | 77.05 / 0 | 41.49
7. Karlin Van’t Vennehof / Shane Sweetnam / IRL / 0 | 77 / 4 | 38.48
8. Just A Gamble / Adrienne Sternlicht / USA / 0 | 77.75 / 4 | 39.71
9. Dicas / Margie Engle / USA / 0 | 77.25 / 4 | 40.34
10. Koss Van Heiste / Conor Swail / IRL / 0 | 78.53 / 4 | 40.84
11. Antidote De Mars / Bliss Heers / USA / 0 | 78.31 / 4 | 42.30
12. Diableur / Erynn Ballard / CAN / 0 | 77.96 / EL