Nick Skelton and Unique Score Again

Wellington, FL - March 11, 2012 - The ninth week of competition at the 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival concluded on Sunday with a one-two finish for Great Britain in the $32,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic. Nick Skelton (GBR) and Beverley Widdowson's Unique took home the top prize with Tina Fletcher and Unique IX in second. USA's Katie Dinan and Nougat Du Vallet finished third.  Competing over a course set by Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela, 57 entries started the class, and just six were able to clear the obstacles without fault. The jump-off saw only two clear rounds.

Tina Fletcher and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum were the first two competitors in round one to jump clear and were then first to jump-off. Fletcher rode her own Unique IX first in the jump-off and went clear in 39.08 seconds to earn the second place prize. Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum went next aboard Cantano, owned by Octavia Farms LLC. In the jump-off, the pair had a rail at the first fence and stopped the clock in 38.80 seconds to finish in sixth.

Young American rider Wilton Porter put his name on the jump-off list aboard Sleepy P Ranch LLC's Paloubet, but also had a rail over the short course and finished in fifth with his time of 36.33 seconds.

Nick Skelton (GBR) and Unique made it to the jump-off next and the pair jumped a clear round in 35.03 seconds to take over the lead. Ben Maher (GBR) and Katie Dinan (USA) each bested Skelton's time, but incurred faults. Maher and Mrs. Louise Flower's Rowan stopped the clock in 34.99 seconds with four faults and finished in fourth place. Dinan and Grant Road Partner's Nougat Du Vallet were last to go and finished the jump-off course in 32.86 seconds with four faults to place third.

Winners Skelton and Unique won the first Suncast 1.50m Classic during week one of the FTI WEF and are currently leading the series standings. Unique is an eleven-year-old KWPN gelding by Indoctro x Voltaire.

On his ride in the class today, Skelton stated, "I thought he felt really good. He has done the 1.50 every week and he has been great. I thought maybe I might have placed third when I came out from the jump-off because I wasn't that quick. I thought it wouldn't take much to beat me to be honest, but luckily the other two had rails. I didn't think I was particularly quick, but I was clear and that was the main thing."

Commenting on the course, Skelton noted, "I actually thought it was difficult enough, and then when he pulled the time back that made it more difficult. It was big enough and tricky enough. He had a lot of scratches in that, but I think six clears is quite fair enough."  Unique will have next week off and then return to compete in the 1.50m classes during weeks eleven and twelve to round out the circuit. For now, Skelton was happy to end this week on a high note. "It's nice to end the week on a win," he acknowledged. "It wasn't looking too good during the week, but it ended up okay."

Second place finisher Tina Fletcher went first in the class and was happy with her round.  "I think I was quite lucky because I went first in the whole class and the first two were clear and then they changed the time, which I think was in my favor because they made it a really tight time after that. I was surprised how much trouble it caused with the course," Fletcher stated.

Her horse Unique IX is an eleven-year-old KWPN gelding by Heartbreaker x Vasco. "He was good, I was really pleased with him," Fletcher smiled. "I have had him for about a year. He is basically sort of my second horse, but he has done quite a bit. He jumped on a Nations Cup team last year and he has been good here. He was second in one of the WEF classes on the grass. He is a nice horse; he is usually very consistent."

This is Fletcher's first time competing at the FTI WEF and she has had a great experience along with her fellow British riders. "I love it here. It is a great place to be; it is lovely," she concluded.

The amateur-owner, junior and adult amateur competitors also showed in the International Arena earlier on Sunday. Due to thunderstorms on Saturday, the $15,000 SJHOF High Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic had to be cancelled halfway through the class. The entries were therefore scored in two sections. Twenty-three riders showed in Section A on Saturday with three entries jumping clear, but they were unable to complete a jump-off once the rain set in. The three riders were scored by their times in round one, and the win went to Charlie Jacobs Sr. and CMJ Sporthorse LLC's Flaming Star. Section B of the class went on Sunday and saw 27 entries with a win for Amelia McArdle and Old Barrington LLC's Nicholas.

Also showing on Sunday, Victoria Colvin and Waminka, owned by Rivers Edge, won the $10,000 Griffis Group High Junior Jumper Classic. Melanie Brown and Windward's Tilia triumphed in the $10,000 Martha Jolicoeur Adult Amateur 36-49 Jumper Classic.

Equitation Riders Compete For The Top

Mackenzie Hamill of Buffalo, NY, rode to the top of this week's Taylor Harris Insurance Services (THIS) Children's Medal 15-17 class against a field of 25 competitors. Hamill and her mount, Einstein, were called back to test in the top spot with a first round score of 84 and were able to maintain the lead after executing a beautiful test course. Competition among those called back to test (Kate Ross, Marissa Damone, Matthew Kracklauer and Mackenize Hamill) was fierce with a spread of just three points between the first and fourth place finishers in round one. Ultimately, Hamilll claimed victory with Damone and her mount, Paramour, finishing second and Kate Ross and her mount, Chi Wah Wah, finishing third. 

Hamill's partner in today's victory, Einstein, is a thirteen-year-old Selle Francais owned by Monty Kelly of West Sand Lake, NY. According to Hamill, Einstein is "full of life and can be a bit of a character. He definitely has a mind of his own. You just know he loves to win." 

After walking the Equitation course this morning, Hamill watched as ring crews and course designers worked hard to eliminate a large puddle on the left hand side of the arena left after last night's hard rain. "The course designers did a great job working around the water," Hamill commented. "The course rode very well and I enjoyed having a few seconds to breathe after walking."

Describing Einstein's performance in the arena this morning, Hamill commented, "I thought he was great in the first round. Sometimes, I get nervous going back into the test, especially when you come in on top and you want to stay on top. But, I listened when my trainer said, 'Just ride it like you would normally ride it and don't take any chances.' I knew I could show off a little more at the hand gallop so I went for it, and then turned left in front of the judge to sit trot back to the gate." 

In addition to riding Einstein in the Equitation division, Hamill competes as a Low Junior Jumper on an eleven-year-old Belgian Warmblood named Brisco. "I got Brisco in November so we are kind of new partners," Hamill explained, "but we are just starting to click. He's always been really good and I started off a little shaky but we are finally coming together as a team." 

As the oldest of three sisters who also participate in the sport, Hamill is careful to set a good example at the barn and at school. The fifteen-year-old sophomore works hard to maintain good grades at Nichols School in Buffalo, NY, while commuting to Wellington to show at FTI WEF. "When I first got to Nichols School, they were a little unsure about it at first. But I just proved that I could do it with my grades and they have been really supportive since." 

In the coming weeks, Hamill will continue to her quest for victory in the Equitation and Jumper arenas atop Einstein and Brisco, while also providing encouragement for her younger sister, Delaney, in the Children's Hunter 14 & Under and the THIS Medal 14 & Under. 

The 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival will continue with its tenth week of competition, sponsored by Artisan Farms LLC, on March 14-18. The week's feature events will be held on the grass field at The Stadium on Sunday, March 18. The $15,000 Artisan Farms Young Rider Grand Prix Final will be held in the morning, followed by the $80,000 Pennfield Feeds CSI 3* Grand Prix.

Final Results: $32,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic
1. UNIQUE: 2001 KWPN gelding by Indoctro x Voltaire NICK SKELTON (GBR), Beverly Widdowson: 0/0/35.03
2. UNIQUE IX: 2001 KWPN gelding by Heartbreaker x Vasco TINA FLETCHER (GBR), Lady Harris & Lady Kirkham: 0/0/39.08
3. NOUGAT DU VALLET: 2001 Selle Francais gelding by Scherif D'elle KATHERINE DINAN (USA), Grant Road Partners: 0/4/32.86
4. ROWAN: 2003 stallion  BEN MAHER (GBR), Miss Louise Flower: 0/4/34.99
5. PALOUBET: 2001 Selle Francais gelding by Baloubet Du Rouet x Voltaire WILTON PORTER (USA), Sleepy P Ranch LLC: 0/4/36.33
6. CANTANO: 2000 Holsteiner stallion by Cascavelle x Acord MEREDITH MICHAELS-BEERBAUM (GER), Octavia Farms LLC: 0/4/38.80
7. QUINTENDER 2: 2001 Holsteiner stallion by Quinar x Contender  HENRIK GUNDERSEN (DEN), Emilie Martinsen: 1/78.02
8. LINCOURT GINO: 2003 Irish Sport Horse gelding by Gino III x Graf Magna PETER LEONE (USA), Monica Carrera: 1/78.10
9. MAKAVOY: 2003 KWPN gelding by Hors La Loi II x Ahorn JONATHAN ASSELIN (CAN), Attache Stables: 1/78.42
10. LUIKKA: 2002 AES mare by Luidam x Renville ERIC LAMAZE (CAN), Torrey Pines & Artisan Farm LLC: 3/86.17
11. COLORIT: 2003 Württemberger stallion by Coriano x Capitol DAVID WILL (GER), Isaak Klaus: 4/74.84
12. LIGIST: 2000 Swedish Warmblood gelding by Levantos II x Robin Z REED KESSLER (USA), Reed Kessler: 4/75.58

Photo Credit: Photos © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival,