Lauren Hough led the victory gallop in an exciting top four finish for the women of USA in Saturday night’s $100,000 Engel & Völkers Grand Prix CSI 4* at Wellington’s Winter Equestrian Festival.
Hough and Böckmanns Lazio topped a six-horse jump-off over Laura Kraut and Nouvelle (2nd), Lucy Davis and Barron (3rd), Lillie Keenan and Pumped Up Kicks (4th), Ben Maher and Urico (5th), and Kent Farrington and Blue Angel (6th).
Germany’s Olaf Petersen, Jr. set the track for 45 competitors that qualified to compete, with seven entries advancing to the jump-off. Seven others finished the course with just one time fault in a very tight time allowed. The jump-off saw four double clear rounds.
Ramiro Quintana (ARG) and St. Bride’s Farm’s Whitney were the first pair to jump clear in round one, but withdrew from the jump-off, leaving 17-year-old Lillie Keenan (USA) to blaze the trail over the short course. Riding Chansonette Farm LLC’s Pumped Up Kicks, Keenan set the time to beat at 49.27 seconds, and eventually finished fourth. Lucy Davis, 21, jumped next and upped the ante with Old Oak Farm’s Barron in 47.13 seconds to earn third place honors.
Hot off of a win with Aristo Z in the $50,000 Live Oak Grand Prix CSI-W 2* earlier in the day, Ben Maher (GBR) took to the course next with Urico. Looking for his sixth grand prix win of the FTI WEF circuit, Maher had the fastest time of 44.46 seconds, but had a rail down at the second to last fence and would have to settle for fifth place.
Seeing that Maher had a rail encouraged Lauren Hough to go for broke in her round, next to go with Böckmanns Lazio. Hough knew that two very fast competitors were still to follow and did her best to ensure a top time, blazing through the course in 45.64 seconds for the winning round.
Kent Farrington (USA) and lue Angel were fast, but also had a rail to finish sixth with a time of 46.44 seconds. Last to go, Laura Kraut (USA) and Nouvelle jumped into second place with a clear round in 46.66 seconds.
This was Hough’s second win of the circuit with Böckmanns Lazio, a 14-year-old Westphalian stallion by Lancer II / Cor de la Bryere. Hough explained that the horse had a lot of experience showing under several international riders before her, most recently Cassio Rivetti of Ukraine and Gilles de Balanda of France.
“He is a wonderful animal, and I am really lucky to have the ride on him,” Hough said. “He is 14 now, so he has been around for a while, and he has had quite a lot of success from other riders. I acquired him in October and did a couple of shows in the fall and then started straight away having success down here. He has just been very, very consistent. It was a very good jump-off for him tonight; I could sort of just keep galloping him all the way around. He has a very big stride.”
Hough breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Maher have a rail right before she went in the ring. “I’ve been getting a lot of red ribbons lately, which I am very grateful for,” she said. “I am very happy to be second with these kinds of riders and this caliber, but it was a little bit of a relief when he had that one down tonight. I still had a lot of fast riders coming after me though, so I knew I had to hit the gas and not let up.”
Finishing a close second to Hough on Saturday night, Laura Kraut has had great results with her mount Nouvelle this year after the mare came back from an injury last season. The pair also finished second in week eight’s $150,000 CSIO 4* Grand Prix, presented by Wellington Equestrian Realty, and had a fantastic finish Saturday despite the fact that Kraut was briefly not quite sure where she was going in the jump-off.
“I’m so happy with her,” Kraut said. “This was her second time under the lights. Last week I had a couple down, but they were green mistakes, and tonight she came out and seemed to have it figured out. I’m really pleased with her.”
California’s Lucy Davis proved that she is a force to be reckoned with when the young rider earned the biggest victory of her career this past September in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Lausanne. Davis and Barron also finished third during FTI WEF week five in the $370,000 FEI World Cup Grand Prix CSI-W 5*, just behind the number one and two ranked riders in the world.
“I was really pleased with the performance tonight,” Davis said after the class. “My horse jumped incredible, again, and I am really lucky to have him. In the jump-off, we were just focused on being smooth. Sometimes I get a little excited and things get hectic, but my trainer Markus (Beerbaum) told me to have a nice, smooth round and I think that is what we did.”
Two other special awards were also presented during the night’s class. Davis was named the Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider of week eleven after her success throughout the week’s competition. The award is presented by Martha Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties in memory of Dale Lawler.
A special award was also presented to young rider Sophie Simpson before the class. Simpson was awarded the Potcreek Meadow Farm Junior Sportsmanship Trophy in memory of Candida C. Fortsmann. The trophy is awarded at the end of the FTI WEF circuit to the junior rider that consistently demonstrates outstanding conduct, horsemanship, attitude, and courtesy appropriate for a competitor at the highest levels of our sport.