Wellington, Fla. – Mar. 2, 2019 – Competing for their countries and a shot at the prize money, 35 horse-and-athlete combinations representing nine nations battled it out Saturday night for a chance at the top prize in the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup CSIO4* during Week Eight of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Noticeably absent was the reigning champion team from Great Britain, which opened the door for a new squad to take over the top status, and the United States took advantage of the opportunity with a series of impressive performances from teammates McLain Ward, Wilton Porter, Adrienne Sternlicht and Beezie Madden. A rookie to Nations Cup competition, Porter proved his worth aboard Sleepy P Ranch LLC’s Caletto Cabana as the only double clear American athlete of the evening, while multi-time Olympic medalist Ward and Beechwood Stable LLC’s Contagious secured the victory for the team in a head-to-head jump-off against Ireland.
For the first round of riding, course designers Steve Stephens (USA) and Nick Granat (USA) posed to pairs a 15-fence track, which included an open water and a series of fragile obstacles at the 1.50m and 1.60m height. Nine pairs managed to complete foot-perfect rides within the 77-second time-allowed to aid their respective teams’ total tallies. At the conclusion of the first phase of the class, the United States, Canada and Ireland, led by clear trips from Ward, Porter, Beth Underhill (CAN), Nicole Walker (CAN), Lorcan Gallagher (IRL) and Daniel Coyle (IRL), sat tied at the head of the leaderboard with the lowest cumulative scores of 4 faults each.
Based on the composite points accrued from the first round, the top six teams qualified for a slot in the second and final portion of the class. The United States, Canada and Ireland served as the early front-runners, and Israel and Colombia claimed the next two spots with 8 faults apiece thanks to clear rides from Daniel Bluman (ISR), Ashlee Bond (ISR) and Ilan Bluman (COL). Mexico represented the cut-off score of 12 penalties to round out the pack of teams eligible for round two. With only two rails separating the leading team from the troupe in sixth position, navigating successful trips was imperative to earn a place on the podium.
Returning in reverse order of the standings over the same pattern, it took until halfway through the second rotation to see a clear trip, with Irishman Gallagher piloting Hunters Conlypso II to a second successful round to solidify the pair as the first double-clear duo of the evening, although they were quickly matched by Walker and Falco Van Spieveld to keep Canada in contention, as well as Porter aboard Caletto Cabana for the home team. Coyle and Farona maintained the momentum for the Irish team in the third rotation, maneuvering the second double-clean effort for their nation. Amy Millar (CAN) earned 5 faults for her ride with Heros, and Sternlicht and Starlight Farms 1 LLC’s Toulago had trouble at the water jump, settling for 9 faults to finish the third rotation of pairs.
Headed into the final leg, it remained a three-horse race between the initial top three squads, as Israel, Colombia and Mexico accumulated too many faults to improve upon their original rankings. Ireland held an edge with two penalty-free rides in the second round of the class, with Canada and the United States each having only turned in one successful trip of the first three pairs to ride. With the ability to clinch the victory by leaving all the fences upright, Irish anchor Paul O’Shea and Imerland Van’t Voorhof took to the ring, but downed two fences to keep the title up for grabs and finish on a team total score of 8 faults overall. Last to ride for Canada, Mario Deslauriers and Amsterdam 27 tried to lay down a clean effort to equal Ireland’s 8-fault tally and force a jump-off, but faced the same fate with penalties at two obstacles, pushing their team out of the running for the top prize with 13 penalties in total. Also sitting on a score of 8 faults with only one partnership left to tackle the track for round two, the USA placed its trust in the ever-formidable Madden and Abigail Wexner’s Chic Hin D Hyrencourt, who were able to force a jump-off with Ireland thanks to their clear trip.
Coming down to a jump-off for only the second time in the event’s 18-year history, the third and final phase of riding challenged one selected horse-and-athlete combination from each of the tied nations to jump the abridged 8-effort pattern as representatives of their countries. Chosen to ride for the Irish team, Coyle and Farona aimed to add to their streak of successful trips, but the horse’s energy levels were clearly low as three rails fell to collect 12 faults in 41.80 seconds. Coming as no surprise, the consistently-clear Ward was chosen to campaign Contagious as the flagbearer for the United States, and only had to best Coyle and Farona’s efforts to clinch the team championship. With no need to rush, the duo rode conservatively, ultimately tripping the timers in 43.69 seconds with no faults earned to capture the title for the United States team on home turf.
Since the inauguration of the event in 2002, five nations have taken the crown: the United States, Canada, Ireland, Germany and the 2018 champions, Great Britain. With their win Saturday evening in the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup CSIO4*, the United States brings its total number of victories in the event to seven, with the last triumph coming in 2015. Though the team was stacked with three members, in the form of Ward, Madden and Sternlicht, who had won gold medals in international championships, Porter was new to the roster and each of the four horses were inexperienced with two-round Nations Cup competition, making the win that much more sweet and indicative of what horses may be making reprises in elite competition for the United States in the future.
Although Saturday evening’s competition did not count for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Series, teams in the North/Central America and Caribbean division will have a chance to accrue valuable points for their home nations in two more Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ events, the CSIO5* Coapexpan in Mexico and the CSIO5* Langley in Canada later this spring. Mexico currently leads the way in the standings with 100 points, followed by USA in second with 80 points and Canada in third place with 60 points.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Robert Ridland – U.S.A. Chef d’Equipe
On the selection of the team:
“We have had two back-to-back Nations Cups, and pretty much it was based off of the rankings. One of the prerequisites for the two teams [tonight at WEF and two weeks ago in the $290,000 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of the United States of America CSIO5* at Deeridge Farms] was that we didn’t want to use the same horses. Beezie [Madden] and McLain [Ward] did both Nations Cups, but on different horses. We also try to get the young riders experiences they haven’t had before. Wilton [Porter] was double clean in his debut, so we are going to bring him along as a good luck charm. That’s a pretty good way to start things off. Of course, Adrienne [Sternlicht] on Toulago is a different combination than what she had last year at the World Equestrian Games.”
On Chic Hin D Hyrencourt:
“I hoped for two clear rounds, but I think he was a little wound up at the atmosphere tonight. I didn’t have the best warm-up that I would have liked for the first round, and I felt like he was just a bit unsettled and tense the first round. In the second round he was more relaxed in the warm-up and there were less horses out there by the time I went in the second round. For our second ride I think he went the way he can go, and I Was very pleased that he came back and jumped better.”
On his reaction to winning:
“It is kind of a neat team because you have two, in theory, younger riders, and Beezie and I are veterans with two younger horses, horses for the future that are both really exciting. To get the opportunity to make these horses up into international contenders in this atmosphere and under the lights is a great thing, and I think both of our horses really rose to the occasion. Contagious was a little nervous and needed a little hand-holding. I actually thought he jumped a much better round in the second round, and I think I thought I was done and took it a little for granted. He’s not really gone two rounds like that in one evening before. I actually jumped at the opportunity to do the jump-off because I thought he was jumping better both rounds. In the end, it was not such a hard job, but I thought it was really nice and he jumped his best in the third round. I think this horse has a bright future and I’m excited for all of his owners.”
On jumping two clear rounds in his first Nations Cup:
“I’m very excited, to say the least. I’m honored to be able to ride with three great riders who have gold medals in senior championships. That’s a pretty big honor for me. I definitely felt like the rookie coming into it, but I have a great horse in Caletto Cabana, so he gave me a lot of confidence to get the job done tonight.”
On her performance:
“I heavily relied on my teammates tonight for our win, so I’m very grateful to them. My horse is sort of a steady Eddie and is so reliable, so I always know what I am going to get from him. That being said, he was unexpectedly spooky at the water jump tonight. I went with a smaller spur even in the first round, and I tried my guts out both rounds. In the second round I had a little bit of assistance from a bigger spur and a stick. That helped, but it is definitely something I have to address. I am still really happy with my horse and how he jumped the rest of the course. I’m grateful for my teammates putting in super performances tonight.”