Wellington, FL - The $150,000 Wellington Realty Grand Prix came down to a battle between 12 horse and rider combinations after 46 started over the CSIO4*course in the International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Top horses and riders brought the eighth week of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival to a close - as the only CSIO in America showcased some of the very best in the world.
When the dust settled over Steve Stephens' very challenging track, American superstar Lauren Hough (Wellington, FL) came home with top honors after a stylish and lightning fast jump-off round on Laura Mateo's Quick Study.
"There were a lot of difficulties in the triple combination (in the first round)," said Hough about the final combination that claimed some of the best of the field. "It was not super technical except for that last line. I think he ended up with a good result."
Seasoned veterans, Hough and Quick Study ran down Great Britain's Nick Skelton on Carlo 273 with a brave ride to the double combination. She made a short turn and the distance came up beautifully, so the chance paid off and Hough scored her first major victory of 2011.
"Nick's horse is very, very fast," said Hough. "I was able to see a little bit on the video. The trick was obviously the double. I took a bit of a risk there and it paid off."
Five-tenths of a second separated the first two placings and Canada's Amy Millar rounded out the top three with Costa Rica Z to make the CSIO Grand Prix a truly international affair.
"I'm pleased with my horse, he was great," said Skelton of Beverly Widdowson's flashy grey 10-year-old. "I lost it going to the last, because I had a really good shot but three strides out he jumped over the tractor wheels, (where they dragged the ring) I lost a stride there."
Quick Study, a 12-year-old Dutch gelding tuned up with a win in the $31,000 WEF Challenge in Week 4, and is aiming for the $500,000 FTI Finale Grand Prix at the end of March.
"He's had a really good season so far," said Hough. "He won the WEF Challenge in his first week showing... he's in good form. He's 12 this year and has a lot of mileage but he's my only one at the moment so I'm going to pick and choose."
Hough's win finished off a stellar week for the U.S. Show Jumping Team, after the U.S. Nations Cup team dominated on Friday night; Hough wasn't part of that team but has represented the United States on dozens of Nations Cup teams, the 2000 Olympic Team and the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Chef d'Equipe George Morris led his team to a fantastic result and guided his riders to confident performance all week.
"George pointed out where he thought I could be quick... he just gave me some encouraging words," said Hough about talking to Morris before she went in the ring for the jump-off. "He is very fast across the ground and he was really on form today."
Photo Credit: Lauren Hough and Quick Study by SportFot