Wellington, FL - March 26, 2011 - The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center experienced one of its biggest crowds ever on Saturday night as more than 7,000 spectators filled the stands to watch Laura Kraut (USA) and Cedric race to victory in the $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix, CSI 5* during week eleven of the 2011 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF).
Kraut and Cedric won two grand prix classes in a row earlier in the circuit with victories in the $78,000 Adequan Grand Prix CSI 2* during week four and the $150,000 FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix CSI 3*-W presented by Spy Coast Farm during week five. Tonight was the pair's third and biggest grand prix victory of the WEF circuit to conclude a fantastic winter season.
Guilherme Jorge of Brazil designed the courses in the International Arena this week. In tonight's class, forty entries jumped the first round course and 15 were able to go clean to advance to the jump-off. Nine were able to jump double clear, and Kraut and Cedric finished in a blazing 35.86 seconds to finish in first place.
Andres Rodriguez (VEN) rode Secret to the first clear round of the jump-off and set the standard with his speedy round in 37.10 seconds. The pair's time held onto the lead for ten rounds before Kraut and Cedric entered the ring, eventually finishing in third place.
The only other horse and rider combination able to come close to the time were Lauren Hough (USA) and Quick Study, owned by Laura Mateo, who jumped double clear in 36.55 seconds to place second.
Nick Skelton (GBR) and Carlo 273, owned by Beverly Widdowson, jumped clear in 37.13 seconds to finish just behind Rodriguez in fourth. Australia's James Paterson-Robinson guided Niack De L'Abbaye, owned by Ger Poels Horses, to the fifth place time of 37.41 seconds. Candice King (USA) and Skara Glen's Davos stopped the clock in 37.49 seconds to finish in sixth.
A little grey horse with a heart of gold, 13-year-old Cedric is a Holsteiner gelding by Chambertin x Carolus Z, owned by Happy Hill Farm. Cedric has been the horse of a lifetime for Kraut and gave a huge effort tonight as he raced through the jump-off course.
Taking in the excitement of her win, Kraut smiled, "It was great. I have to say tonight's crowd was amazing. Even when we drove in to walk the course, there were already cars everywhere. The atmosphere was great. I think now the public around the Palm Beach area is starting to know horses and riders and they're getting to know the sport. It's like going to Spruce Meadows now; you are getting people who are cheering for you who don't really know you, and that has never happened here before."
"It's exciting; I think Cedric is special and people like him," Kraut added proudly. "He's little, he's grey, so everybody loves him and it is really fun. When the place goes crazy like it did, that doesn't happen very often in our sport. The management here has done a lot over the past years to get it to this point with the good lighting, good footing, beautiful jumps, and great course building. They have made this the best winter circuit in the world and we are very lucky."
Kraut noted that Cedric was not quite himself during the first round tonight, but he lit back up and gamely galloped to victory in the second round, happily taking in the cheers of the crowd.
"I love him!" she beamed. "It's funny, he was really dull and down for the first round, for the first time in his whole life. I don't know if the heat got to him or what, which would be the first time ever, but he was tired. I thought I had to rev him up a bit in the warm-up area. My sister just tapped him on the hind end with her hand and he became this fiery maniac!"
Speaking about her round in the jump-off, Kraut stated, "I had seen Andres go and there were enough clears that there was no going double clear and being content. I thought I might as well just go all out and if I had one down, I had one down. I thought I was quick from one to two. I never count strides with him because it doesn't really matter; sometimes his two strides are faster than somebody else's one stride. He's fast; he's like a little bunny when he's going."
"I knew it was definitely going to be a fast jump-off," she continued, "I thought I was quick, but I did slow up to the double. I didn't know how much time that cost me. When I looked up and saw the time, I was happy. I felt like I went ridiculously fast over the second fence in the jump-off. It didn't pay off for me two weeks ago, when I went too fast and had two down, but tonight he was just on it."
Second place finisher Lauren Hough was very happy with Quick Study's performance tonight as well and stated, "I didn't see Laura go, but I have seen that horse a lot. Knowing that she was two seconds faster, I knew I had my work cut out for me. My horse was amazing. I lost it from two to three in the jump-off. He has quite a severe right drift and he was really amazing to even clear it. I don't think I could have gone any faster from that point on. He was a little bit mouthy tonight, but he has been fantastic, like all of these horses, throughout the circuit."
Third place finisher Andres Rodriguez was very pleased with his horse Secret's fantastic showing, especially considering he was close to the qualifying cut-off for the class. The 26-year-old rider explained, "My day started not knowing if I was going to get into the class or not. This morning I was 41st on the list. (Then) I received a call at seven in the morning to tell me that I was in the class."
"I was sure that he was ready," Rodriguez smiled. "I am really proud. I think that he is the horse of a lifetime for me. He hasn't had the opportunity to show much during this circuit because he had a long rest after an injury and he is just coming back, but I knew that he is a horse that could compete against horses like Quick Study and Cedric. I'm really happy that I could give him the opportunity. He had a real chance today and I think he's going to have more in the future. I'm really happy that I was able to put him in a class like that and he could be competitive against those horses; I think he is fantastic."
The $100,000 FTI Rider Challenge concluded tonight after eleven weeks of jumper competition at the 2011 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. Great Britain's Nick Skelton led the standings and earned a $50,000 cut of the bonus money for his success during the circuit. McLain Ward finished in second place ($25,000), Lauren Hough third ($15,000), and Beezie Madden fourth ($10,000).
Earlier in the evening Madden was also presented with a special award as the overall Leading Lady Rider during this year's circuit.
The Harrison Cup was awarded to Beverly and Gary Widdowson, the owners of Nick Skelton's top horses.
Also held in the International Arena today, Emilie Martinsen of Denmark earned her fourth classic win of the circuit, riding her horse Gucci to victory in the $15,000 ECB Equine Spa High Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic. The pair won the class during weeks three, seven, eight and eleven.
Week 11 of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival will conclude tomorrow with the final Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic at 2:30 p.m. They will also award the top three riders with bonus money in the Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Series.
Final Results: $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix CSI 5*
1 CEDRIC: 1998 Holsteiner gelding by Chambertin x Carolus Z LAURA KRAUT (USA), Happy Hill Farm: 0/0/35.86
2 QUICK STUDY: 1999 SFA gelding by Quick Star x What a Joy LAUREN HOUGH (USA), Laura Mateo: 0/0/36.55
3 SECRET: 1999 KWPN gelding by Mr. Blue x Burggraaf ANDRES RODRIGUEZ (VEN), Andres Rodriguez: 0/0/37.10
4 CARLO 273: 2001 Holsteiner gelding by Contender x Cascavelle NICK SKELTON (GBR), Beverly Widdowson: 0/0/37.13
5 NIACK DE L'ABBAYE: 2001 SFA stallion by Diamant De Semilly x Rocky Du Carel JAMES PATERSON-ROBINSON (AUS), Ger Poels Horses: 0/0/37.41
6 SKARA GLEN'S DAVOS: 2000 Zangersheide gelding by Carthago Z x Pericles XX CANDICE KING (USA), Skara Glens Davos: 0/0/37.49
7 SIDOLINE VAN DE CENTAUR: 2002 SBS mare by Heartbreaker x Vondel Van Het Hendrixhof ERIC LAMAZE (CAN), Artisan Farms LLC: 0/0/39.50
8 TRISTAN: 2000 KWPN gelding by Lancelot x Ferro KIRSTEN COE (USA), Ilan Ferder Stables, Inc: 0/0/42.22
9 COSTA RICA Z: 1995 Holsteiner mare by Carthago x Lacapo AMY MILLAR (CAN) Millar Brooke Farm & Ann Matthews: 0/0/42.42
10 VOCAS: 2002 KWPN gelding by Hors La Loi II x Voltaire MCLAIN WARD (USA), Louisburg Farm: 0/4/36.79
11 BALLADE VAN HET INDIHOF: 2001 BWP mare by Thunder Van de Zuuthoeve x Heartbreaker BRIANNE GOUTAL (USA), Remarkable Farms LP: 0/4/38.13
12 SELECT: 1999 KWPN gelding by Damiro x Voltaire PETER LEONE (USA), Lionshare Farm: 0/4/38.24
Photo Credit: Laura Kraut and Cedric; Laura Kraut and Cedric with Mark Bellissimo, Mary K. Shaughnessy, Katherine Bellissimo, Cliff Haines, and Dennis Shaughnessy of FTI Consulting, Inc.; Lauren Hough and Quick Study; Andres Rodriguez and Secret; FTI Rider Challenge presentation.Photos © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, www.sportfot.com.