Wellington, FL - January 11, 2012 - The FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) kicked off competition today with hunter/jumper classes in 10 rings. In the International Arena, Olympian Cian O'Connor (IRL) scored the first win of the season with Everything, owned by Abdulla Humaid Al Muhairi, in the G&C Farm 1.45m Jumpers. The first week of the FTI WEF runs through Sunday, January 15, and is sponsored by Surpass. The 2012 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of competition that conclude on April 1, 2012, and they will be awarding more than $6 million in prize money through the circuit. The highlight jumper class in week one is the $30,000 Surpass Grand Prix on Saturday, January 14, at 7 p.m.
This week's course designer in the International Arena is Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL. The G&C Farm 1.45m class was a time first round format and welcomed 19 entries. O'Connor and his first mount, Blue Loyd owned by Ashkirk Ltd and O'Connor, were neat around the course to finish in sixth place.
Immediately following, the lead changed hands as Nick Skelton (GBR) and Unique (2001 KWPN gelding by Indoctro x Voltaire), owned by Beverley Widdowson, set the time to beat at 61.196 seconds. Skelton's time would hold up for second place. Scott Brash (GBR) and Intertoy Z (1999 Zangersheide gelding by Interadel x Centauer) placed third with a quick, clear round in 62.918 seconds.
With Everything, O'Connor decided to change his route on course from his first time around, and it helped him stop the timers in 60.510 seconds for the win. "The ground is perfect, and the fences are lovely. There was a short turn from one to two. I didn't try it on my first horse, but then I saw some others doing it so I thought I'd give it a lash," he explained. "I think that was the winning of the class, just to come inside to number two. It was a nice course, fair, and very easy to get to the jumps. It was a lovely start for the horses."
O'Connor has been riding Everything, an eight-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Toulon x Mast VD Vrombautshoeve, since he was three. They have moved up the ranks together, and O'Connor noted he had a very consistent seven-year-old year.
"He's pretty mature, for an eight-year-old to go straight in that big ring on the first day and do what he did there, I'm pretty happy with him," O'Connor noted. "I think he's a really exciting horse. I'm looking forward to the rest of circuit on him."
O'Connor explained his decision to enter the 1.45m division, "Sometimes you can start too small and then it's a big jump up and you might not get to this level until week three. I just said let's put him in there and see what happens," he said. "Both of my horses jumped well. He's a quick horse. He's only jumped a handful of 1.45m and 1.50m classes, so he's still inexperienced. He's only eight, but he's so brave and he's got a super attitude. I think he's one that will push on and jump the grand prix."
Having just gotten married on New Year's Eve, O'Connor and his wife Ruth are mixing business and pleasure at the FTI WEF. "I love it here. It's nice to be here and I suppose it's combining a bit of honeymoon and work!" he laughed. "I have to take a day away from the show at least once a week, so I'm told."
The FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival will continue tomorrow with a full schedule of hunter and jumper competition. The highlight class in the International Arena is the $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round 1 at 1 p.m.
For full results please visit www.showgroundslive.com.
Final Results: $8,000 G&C Farm 1.45m Jumpers Time First Round
1 EVERYTHING CIAN O'CONNOR (IRL): 0/60.510
2 UNIQUE NICK SKELTON (GBR): 0/61.196
3 INTERTOY Z SCOTT BRASH (GBR): 0/62.918
4 TRAFFIC BOY SHANE SWEETNAM (IRL): 0/63.228
5 AZZARO VAN'T HAGEN HOF LAURA KRAUT (USA): 0/65.539
6 BLUE LOYD CIAN O'CONNOR (IRL): 0/66.782
7 LISONA DARRAGH KERINS (IRL): 3/76.228
8 LENNOX LEWIS 2 LESLIE HOWARD (USA): 4/60.420
9 WOODSTOCK O LAURA KRAUT (USA): 4/63.355
10 OH' D EOLE MCLAIN WARD (USA): 4/66.940
11 APACHE ASHLEE BOND (USA): 4/68.141
12 UTAN ANGELA COVERT-LAWRENCE (CAN): 4/72.468
Photo Credit: Cian O'Connor (IRL) and Everything won the $8,000 G&C Farm 1.45m Jumpers on the opening day of the 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. Cian O'Connor and Everything with ringmaster Cliff Haines Photo © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, www.sportfot.com.