Wellington, FL - February 26, 2011 - Saturday night at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival featured an exciting victory for McLain Ward (USA) and Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve in the $78,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI 2* Grand Prix. The class was held on a beautiful Florida evening under the lights at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Riders representing 12 different countries made up the international field this evening, showing over a course designed by Olaf Petersen, Jr. of Germany. Thirty-seven entries began the class, and seven were able to jump clear in the first round. An exciting jump-off followed, as some of the best riders in the world battled for top honors. The United States took home the top three places with Olympians McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, and Margie Engle leading the class.
A father and daughter each riding for France, Marie and Michel Hecart, were the first two riders to jump clear over the first round course to advance to the jump-off. Marie rode Myself De Breve, owned by Haras De La Rogue, through the jump-off course with eight faults in 44.72 seconds to finish in sixth. Michel and Babbe Van't Roosakker, also owned by Haras De La Rogue, immediately followed and jumped in 46.44 seconds with four faults at the last fence to place fourth.
Schuyler Riley (USA) and South Beach Stables' Lapacco returned next and finished with four faults in 48.57 seconds to finish in fifth place.
Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo were the first pair to jump double clear and stopped the clock in 42.81 seconds to take the lead, eventually finishing in second place.
Margie Engle returned next with Indigo, owned by Griese, Garber, Hidden Creek and Gladewinds, but an unfortunate rail at the second to last fence cost the duo four faults and their time of 45.13 seconds landed in third place.
McLain Ward, of Brewster, NY, really wanted the win tonight after finishing second in several grand prix classes over the WEF circuit. Ward's motivation led to a fast, clear ride aboard Louisburg Farm's Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve to top the leaders. Ward and Pjotter stopped the clock in 42.08 seconds, the fastest round of the night.
The final competitor in the jump-off was Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and his mount Amaretto D'Arco, owned by Spy Coast Farm. Three rails cost the pair 12 faults and they finished in seventh place.
Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve is a ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Plato x Emilion. Ward explained that he started riding Pjotter in the Low Schooling Jumpers last year and the talented chestnut has advanced quickly. "Beth Johnson was nice enough to give me the ride on this horse and he has been a star since he came out," Ward smiled. "I'm kind of excited about the future with him. I did the night Grand Prix in week two and he had four faults but went brilliantly and he has been clear in three or four of the WEF Challenge Cup classes. He is just a cool horse. He's electric careful and he has a big heart. I think he trusts me and I believe in him. It has been a really great match."
Speaking about his winning ride in the jump-off, Ward stated, "I got to see Beezie go on the (mini jumbotron) in the warm-up area and I know her horse has a very big stride. Pjotter is a little inexperienced, but he's naturally a very fast horse. I was a little concerned with the rollback on the triple bar because he's very careful. I thought if I didn't meet that right I was in a little bit of trouble, but it showed up great. I knew I could run across the middle of the ring to that second to last vertical and he wouldn't touch it. I figured I'd give it a shot. I've had a lot of second places and I got nipped by Beezie last week, so it was certainly in the back of my head; I wanted to give it a go."
"In the end, I think it was a brilliant course," Ward added. "There were a lot of long gallops with a tight time allowed, so I think the horses got a little unraveled and it caused them to get flat towards the end of the course and have rails. I had a young student in the class and she had a few rails, but she came out more confident. I think that's really important with these two star grand prix. You can start a young horse or a young rider while still not killing them and also testing the better combinations in the class; that's a very difficult thing to do."
Beezie Madden has had two big wins recently at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival and added a great finish this evening to her success. Madden rode Abigail Wexner's Mademoiselle to victory in the $31,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round 6, then went on to guide Prima, owned by Neapolitan Holding Co., LLC to a win in the $50,000 G&C Farm Palm Beach Jumping Derby last Sunday. A second place with Coral Reef Via Volo tonight continued Madden's fantastic run through the WEF circuit.
"I thought I was pretty fast, but McLain is of course a really fast rider and that horse is pretty fast. There's always a chance somebody can beat you," Madden said of her round tonight. "My horse has such a big stride that I think I could have done five to the double, but I wanted to be a little sensible because she is in the Nations Cup next Friday; I didn't want to take a big risk."
"I was really happy with my round and the way she went," Madden expressed. "This was her first time under the lights this year, which is why I wanted to show her this week before Friday. I was slow getting started this year because I had a speed horse and then I didn't really show a lot, but we are getting going now and things are working out."
Margie Engle was also pleased with her mount Indigo's performance tonight, and wanted to get her horse in the ring under the lights as well before next week's Nations Cup. "He's still learning about the speed part, but he felt super in the first round and I thought he jumped around very easily," Engle noted. "He had a light rub at the one jump, but I was really happy with how he went overall. He always feels good! I don't think he ever gets tired. He feels like he's on springs, almost on a trampoline half the time. He has more energy than any horse I think I've ever ridden."
Earlier in the day, Emilie Martinsen took home the top prize in the $15,000 ECB Equine Spa High Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic.
The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival's seventh week of competition, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, will conclude on Sunday with the $25,000 Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Series Classic at 1 p.m. The 2011 WEF will continue through April 3 and award more than $6 million in prize money.
Final Results: $78,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI 2* Grand Prix
1 PJOTTER VAN DE ZONNEHOEVE: 2001 Dutch Warmblood Gelding by Plato x Emilion MCLAIN WARD (USA), Louisburg Farm: 0/0/42.08
2 CORAL REEF VIA VOLO: 1998 BWP mare by Clinton x Heartbreaker BEEZIE MADDEN (USA), Coral Reef Ranch: 0/0/42.81
3 INDIGO: 2000 Dutch Warmblood gelding by Indoctro x Unknown MARGIE ENGLE (USA), Griese, Garber, Hidden Creek & Gladewinds: 0/4/45.13
4 LAPACCO: 1999 Holsteiner gelding by Lavaletto x Grundyman SCHUYLER RILEY (USA), South Beach Stables: 0/4/48.57
5 BABBE VAN'T ROOSAKKER: 2001 BWP mare by Kannan x Unknown MICHEL HECART (FRA), Haras De La Rogue: 0/4/46.44
6 MYSELF DE BREVE: 2000 SFA mare by Quidam de Revel x Grand Veneur MARIE HECART (FRA), Haras De La Rogue: 0/8/44.72
7 AMARETTO D ARCO: 2000 BWP stallion by Darco x Tenor Manciais SHANE SWEETNAM (IRL), Spy Coast Farm LLC: 0/12/46.76
8 ONISHA: 1999 Holsteiner mare by Caretino x Athlet Z REED KESSLER (USA), Reed Kessler: 4/73.79
9 CRISTALLO: 1998 Holsteiner gelding by Caretino x Cicero RICHARD SPOONER (USA), Show Jumping Syndications International: 4/73.80
10 BON AMI: 2001 BWP gelding by Pavarotti VD Helle x Unknown SCOTT BRASH (GBR), Liz Mctaggart: 4/78.17
11 FAROUKH: 1998 RHEIN gelding by Rembrandt x Lanier II SARAH WAYDA (USA), Sarah Wayda: 4/78.91
12 NICE DE PRISSEY: 2001 Selle Francais stallion by Rosire x Amarpour BRIANNE GOUTAL (USA), Cloverleaf Farm: 4/80.34
Photo Credit: McLain Ward and Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve won the $78,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI 2* Grand Prix during week seven of the 2011 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. McLain Ward and Pjotter with ringmaster Cliff Haines, owner Beth Johnson, and Mark and Katherine Bellissimo of Equestrian Sport Productions. Photo © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, www.sportfot.com.