A field of 40 of the world’s best set their sights on Sunday’s $200,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping in Wellington, but it was Kent Farrington (USA) who claimed top honors aboard Uceko at the inaugural Wellington Masters CSI3*-W. Beating a jump-off field of 14, the seasoned horse-and-rider pair expertly omitted strides throughout the track designed by Alan Wade (IRL) to finish just over two-and-a-half seconds ahead of Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) and Fibonacci.
“My horse is very experienced, and I know he has a giant stride,” said Farrington. “I left out a step from jump one to two, and I think for sure, I did one less (than third place finisher Richard Spooner) in the rollback to the combination. Also, to the next one (after the double combination), I was really aggressive in using his gallop. I think knowing that horse like I do, I can take advantage of his stride early on in the course.”
As much as Farrington could use his jump-off strategy for his horse, the overall plan to use Uceko for the FEI World Cup™ qualifier stemmed from the show’s early proposal to hold the class on the turf field. But inclement weather interfered and forced organisers to move the penultimate East Coast event to the sand arena.
“Originally, it was going to go on the grass, and he’s really well suited to grass arenas, so that was my plan,” Farrington said. “Obviously that changed. I was a little concerned that that wouldn’t play to his strengths, but he proved me wrong."
“He usually goes best with a really impressive ring, or in an intimidating setting for most horses, and this is usually where he shines so that’s why I try to pick spookier venues or grass arenas that have bigger, impressive jumps. It wasn’t really playing to his strengths today, but he pulled it off anyway, so I’m really happy with him.”
“I kept the distances normal,” said Wade. “As you can see, some of the better horses and riders over two rounds came to the top. We had a few too many clear rounds, but I think that the conditions, windy and wet last night, followed up with good sport.”
With the Rio 2016 Olympics a few months away, all three podium finishers referred to upcoming schedules that allowed for the possibility to travel to Brazil. “Rio would definitely be my goal,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. “(Fibonacci is) shortlisted for the German team at the moment, so I’ll make a plan together with the Chef d’Equipe about what he should do to keep going. He showed great form today and we just hope to keep that going.”
A newer partnership, Spooner (USA) and Big Red are also making a play to be considered for the U.S. Team, although the veteran rider is keeping realistic expectations. “I got him the middle of the first week (in Wellington), so it’s a fresh partnership, and I couldn’t be any happier with the result today,” he said. “When he got here, I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to be very aggressive. It would be nice if I could have four faults and have a nice result and maybe have a point or two at this class.’ So to go out and go double clear far exceeds my expectations.”
“We would be a longshot for the Team but I’m gearing him for the Team,” he added. “I think he’s a Team horse; he’s impressed me incredibly in a very short period of time, and round after round, he’s been consistently clear. I’m learning a bit with him in the jump off, as well as the first round, but he has all the scope, he’s super careful, he’s fit and ready to go, so it will be a little bit about what (U.S. Chef d’Euipe) Robert Ridland wants to do and if he gears me in that direction or not. But that would be my dream for that horse.”
Spooner revealed plans to qualify for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Final in Gothenburg (SWE) and to use the major championship event as an additional opportunity to learn the horse in advance of the Olympics. “I really want to feel confident on the horse, and that if Rio were to be in his future I would feel 100 percent confident in our ability to do that,” he said.
Although Farrington didn’t specify his Olympic plans, he hinted at the possibility from his decision to not travel to Gothenburg (SWE) in March for FEI World Cup™ Final. “I’ll probably give him (Uceko) a bit of a rest now and do a class here and there and save him for the summer, Calgary and Europe,” he said. “I try to pick the venues where he’ll really shine.
“I just work him at home. He’s getting really fit and he doesn’t really need to practice in the ring. He’s been around the world a couple times. He’s better the less he shows, so I just try to have him fit and feeling good, and pull him out at some of the bigger events.”
The careful management of his string of horses is a key factor in the success for Farrington, who is currently ranked world number 3 in the Longines Rankings. “He’s learned to be a fast horse,” he said of his winning mount. “He actually was not a fast horse when I started with him. He has a long stride and sort of a slow canter, and as I’ve gotten to know him really well, he’s been able to turn really short to the fences and leave out strides where other horses can’t. Now for a jump off, I really have his plan and I’m very confident about what he can do and I try to execute to the best of my abilities. And usually, if I don’t make a big error, he pulls it off.”
The Wellington leg of the inaugural season for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League was hosted by Deeridge Farms, a private property owned by the Jacobs family since 1980. Rarely used for competitions, the riders applauded the event’s organisers for handling the week’s unexpected weather issues and for executing the unique and top-level event. “It’s a three-year commitment to host the World Cup qualifier here at Deeridge Farms, so we’re looking forward to next year,” said Louis Jacobs (USA), co-president of the event. “We learned a lot this year, and we all had fun. It was a great family endeavor. So we’re excited about what’s in the future.”
The vision behind the event stemmed from acknowledging Wellington as the country’s capital of high-performance horse sport through the winter months and providing competitors with an opportunity to earn World Cup points at the centre of the action. Jacobs’ brother, Charlie, also served as co-president, in addition to competing throughout the week and in the FEI World Cup™ qualifier class. “It’s a beautiful event here at Deeridge Farms,” Farrington said. “I think these facilities are amazing and really exciting for our sport and for show jumping in Florida for us to have this competition. This calibre of competition is really exciting for all of us as riders.”
“I’m delighted to be here,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “This was a great honor to be able to ride here today. I thank the Jacobs family. This was their first event, and it’s amazing how beautifully it was put on and professionally, as well. We’re excited about coming back next year and perhaps getting to go on the grass field. I think all the riders feel the same that this has been a great event.”
“I had a great time, and the Jacobs family did a great job with the competition,” said Spooner. “There were some difficult decisions that they had to make with the weather and the facility, and they made all of them spot on. The footing in the sand arena was flawless. I’m looking forward to coming back next year - sand or grass or whatever you have, we’ll be here.”
Show organisers decided to postpone the use of the turf to next year’s event, after addressing drainage issues this summer. The goal is for the field to ride the same for the first rider as it does for the last in an order of 40 entries. “It’s a team effort, and I hope it’s going to come out as a better product next year because of it,” said Charlie Jacobs (USA). “I think the new North American League is so important, with its special, unique, one-of-a-kind events. I’ve been fortunate to jump in every event on the East Coast, and I hope to go to the final event at Live Oak in a couple weeks.”
1. Uceko (Kent Farrington), USA, 0 faults/40.30 seconds (JO);
2. Fibonacci (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum), GER, 0/42.83 (JO);
3. Big Red (Richard Spoonder), USA, 0/42.89 (JO);
4. Adare (Paris Sellon), USA, 0/43.50 (JO);
5. Dixson (Ian Millar), CAN, 0/43.54 (JO);
6. VDL Wizard (Callan Solem), USA, 0/3.80 (JO);
7. Nougat du Vallet (Katherine Dinan), USA, 0/48.64 (JO);
8. HH Carlos Z (McLain Ward), USA, 4/41.75 (JO).
Full results here