New eventing format the start of something big?

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Boyd Martin and Trading Aces seal their victory in the Wellington Eventing Showcase at the weekend.
Boyd Martin and Trading Aces seal their victory in the Wellington Eventing Showcase at the weekend.

Following the success of the weekend’s $50,000 Wellington Eventing Showcase in Florida, there may be more such events on the calendar in the lead-up to major horse trials competitions, course designer Captain Mark Phillips says.

Boyd Martin and his 2004 Irish Sport Horse gelding Trading Aces led from start to finish and took home $15,000 for the win in the inaugural $50,000 event, presented by Asheville Regional Airport.

The event was a compressed format horse trials, with dressage on Friday, showjumping on Saturday morning, and the cross-country in the afternoon. The 2000m advanced level course of 16 obstacles and  20 jumping efforts spanned the grass derby field at The Stadium at the Palm Beach Equestrian Centre and adjacent polo field.

Following the success of the weekend, Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo revealed his aim to host fully recognized FEI events, with a CCI3* in Tryon International Equestrian Center, North Carolina, in August, and the hopes of hosting the country’s second CCI4* event, aside from Kentucky, also at Tryon.

Michael Pollard and Cyrano finished second.
Michael Pollard and Cyrano finished second. © Susan J Stickle

Designer Phillips said much of the infrastructure for the Wellington Eventing Showcase was already in place. “We tried to put together a 3* test that was appropriate for the time of year and the fitness of the horses. When we talk about the future of the sport in this sense, I think we will see a lot more of these types of events as build-ups to Rolex and other large international competitions,” he said.

“It is a huge benefit to the riders, the horses and in particular the owners and the sponsors. When everyone is happy we have a good sport to look forward too.”

The cross-country course was built by Eric Bull, with the showjumping course designed by Britain’s Richard Jeffrey.

It was the  first big win of the 2015 season for Martin and Trading Aces, who performed a lovely dressage test to take the lead in the large class on a 24.80, their finishing score. Michael Pollard riding Cyrano Z finished with 25.7 for runner-up, and Laine Ashker and Anthony Patch ended on 29.1 for third.

“For me, at this time in the year, my horses are not that fit yet, so it was perfect. It was right around the three and a half, four-minute mark, and it was a well designed course with a few galloping questions and then double corners to test for accuracy and Mt. Wellington down to the narrow (jump) is probably a 3 or 4 star question,” Martin said. “It was spot on for this time in the year.”

Ashker agreed with Martin’s comments, adding that the course had every type of question needed at Advanced level. “I was nervous before we left the start box. It had all of the questions you need: water, a ditch, corners, and skinnies. I definitely respected it and felt like I had a horse who was super happy and healthy coming off when we finished. This was pretty much my cross-country school for the Carolina International 3* in March, and it was tough but fair at the same time.”

Laine Ashker and Anthony Patch, who were third.
Laine Ashker and Anthony Patch, who were third.

The Derby Field at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center was packed with more than 2000 spectators on Saturday afternoon as visitors from around the country came to see the first-ever eventing competition in Wellington unfold. Martin was thrilled to be a part of such a unique competition. “I’ve been lucky enough, I’m 35 and I’ve competed in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Holland, US, France, England, and this is by far the best competition I have ever been to,” he said. “The organizers have put on something I have never see before, and I am just so proud to be here.”

Cyrano Z arrived in Pollard’s barn only a few weeks ago from his father-in-law Carl Bouckaert, who rode the horse in the 2012 London Olympics. The pair had a stellar performance across the board, and Pollard was thrilled. “He was perfect today. I don’t know him that well, but it couldn’t have gone a whole lot better. Carl has had a lot of clear rounds on this horse and I thought I’d better do a good job so I just held on and let the horse do his job, which he did quite well,” he said.

The plan was to just give Cyrano Z a leg up to prepare him for sale, but those plans could be changing after their finish this weekend. “We’ll take it one day at a time and if someone with the right situation comes around we will figure that out, but I wouldn’t mind keeping him around for a while,” Pollard said.

Ashker plans on heading Anthony Patch towards the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in April while Martin says it “may or may not be” the last time he rides Trading Aces. “We’ve had some massive highs and lows, and we will just have to see,” said Martin.

Martin also piloted Pancho Villa to a 7th place finish this weekend.

Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, said he had been contemplating such an event for three or four years.

“When we threw out the idea of doing an event, we talked about what it would take to get people to come down here and my colleague, Jim Wolf, said maybe $25,000 (in prize money). So we decided to double it, and I didn’t realize that it would turn into the second largest event in terms of prize money in the country, which really is a shame. The athletes are spectacular and the owners are amazing in this sport. It is a great group of people, and we are encouraged and inspired to take this sport to the next level.”

Bellissimo was proud to award the owners of the top three placed horses large charitable donations. Aside from their earned prize money, they will be able to donate to any 501c3 charity of their choice.

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