Wellington, FL - March 3, 2012 - The FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival had a very exciting day of competition on Saturday with a full schedule of hunters and jumpers. In the International Arena, the night session hosted two classes that highlighted power and speed. In the $35,000 Hermès Puissance, Paul O'Shea (IRL) rode Primo Level, owned by Michael Hayden, to win in four rounds of the high jump competition. Lauren Tisbo and Welinde were the fastest through four rounds for victory in the $35,000 VitaFlex Match Races.
Earlier in the day, Reed Kessler scored an international win in the $32,000 G&C Farm 1.45m Classic, while Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Wang Chung M2S captured victory in the $25,000 Equine Couture/Tuff Rider Jumper Stake.
Week eight of the FTI WEF, sponsored by G&C Farm, will feature CSIO competition through Sunday, March 4. The week will conclude tomorrow with the $150,000 Wellington Equestrian Realty CSIO 4* Grand Prix on Sunday, March 4. The 2012 FTI WEF has 12 weeks of competition that conclude on April 1, 2012, and will be awarding more than $6 million in prize money through the circuit.
The $35,000 Hermès Puissance was a highlight event on Saturday night with Paul O'Shea and Michael Hayden's Primo Level clearing the wall at 6'8" (2.02m) for the win. Anthony D'Ambrosio, of Red Hook, NY, was the course designer for the evening. D'Ambrosio raised the wall from 5'8" (1.72m) at the start, all the way up to a towering 7'2" (2.17m) through four rounds of competition.
The class began with nine entries jumping vertical, oxer and triple bar obstacles leading up the wall at a height of 5'8" (1.72m). Three of the original duos faulted in the first round to tie for fourth place.
Steven Bluman and Percynality had a rail at the triple bar before clearing the wall, knocking him out of the competition. Mark O'Sullivan and Milord De Kergane, owned by Patrick Dwyer, dropped a rail at the first fence and were also unable to continue. Last to go, Alvaro Lozada and Ronan Group Inc.'s Urileva knocked a block off of the wall in round one and would also continue no further.
Six other combinations jumped clear to advance to a second round, where the wall moved up to 6'2" (1.87m) in height. All six went clear to also return for a third round.
In round three, the wall increased in height to 6'8" (2.02m). David Will and Colorit, owned by Isaak Klaus, Filip De Wandel and Dacha De Toulon, owned by Sophie Laforce, Richard Spooner and Caretol, owned by Molly Ohrstrom, and Charlie Jayne and Balougris SL Z, owned by Pony Lane Farm, all dropped blocks off the top of the wall in the round to tie for third place.
Defending champions Pablo Barrios and Gustavo Mirabal's G&C Quivola returned against Paul O'Shea and Michael Hayden's Primo Level as the only entries to clear the 6'8" wall and advance to a fourth and final jump-off round. With the wall set at 7'2" (2.17m) in height for round four, neither pair was able to clear the obstacle. Barrios and G&C Quivola finished in second place after two refusals ended their evening. O'Shea and Primo Level jumped the final wall, but knocked the top blocks, earning their victory with the 6'8" clearance.
O'Shea and Primo Level, a ten-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Landor S x Zeus, also competed in last year's Puissance class and finished in third place after clearing 6'6" (1.95m). That was Primo Level's first Puissance, and O'Shea explained that he was easier to ride to the wall this year.
"Last year he was a little bit harder to ride down to it; he was a little bit spooky," O'Shea said. "This time he was really confident. He was really taking me to the wall."
Primo Level usually shows at the 1.40m level and O'Shea noted the difference in riding the gelding to a much larger jump. "I think I have him more in my hand coming to a wall like this, really pressed and with quite a lot of pressure, especially at the last stride to help him kick off the ground. That's the main difference; the wall backs them up, so you can do that in this class."
O'Shea enjoys the Puissance class and has done several others in his career. "I've won two before and I've been in seven or eight," he said. "I love Puissance classes. It's just different, I suppose. It's a different test and it's exciting. I think the crowd loves it. It is a fantastic atmosphere here and I think the horses know; they really try harder."
Primo Level cleared the 6'8" wall, but faulted at the 7'2" height. O'Shea explained the ride, stating, "The second to last time, he tried very hard in front and rubbed it behind, so the last time I kept him a little bit further away so I could press him more. It didn't matter if I knocked it, I knew that. That's why I rode it that time. If I got too deep, he'd climb in front and not be able to kick off behind."
Primo Level's owner, Michael Hayden, was present for the class tonight and O'Shea was happy to get a win for him. "It was very nice to have him here. This is his third time over this year, and he's been here for two weeks. He loves it. We have another horse that is jumping her first 1.50m tomorrow," he said. "It's great. This year I haven't had a grand prix horse, so it's really nice to be back and jumping on Saturday night."
Prior to the Puissance, 16 horse and rider combinations showed in tonight's $35,000 Vita Flex Match Races with a win for 27-year-old Lauren Tisbo of Wellington, FL aboard Tequestrian Farms LLC's Welinde. The class was held in a bracket style format with four rounds of head-to-head competition. Entries competed in pairs over identical courses, racing to the finish side by side against the clock.
Tisbo and Welinde jumped clear and fast in the final round against Haylie Jayne and Fly Away, owned by Alex Jayne, to earn the victory following three rounds of competition. In round one, the pair out jumped Anna Murphy and Caladesi. Moving on to the second round, they beat out Mikala Chesler and Ruth Armstrong's Ilian De Taute. Round three set the duo against Daniel Bluman and Fatalis Fatum to win once again. In each round, Tisbo and Welinde prevailed.
In order to make it to the final round against Tisbo, Haylie Jayne and her mount Fly Away beat out Kelsey Thatcher and Pony Lane Farm's Sorina in round one, Amy Millar and Brookstreet Stable's Victoria in round two, and defending champion, Richard Spooner aboard C&S Partnership LLC's Pariska 2, in round three.
The final four came down to Tisbo, Bluman, Jayne, and Spooner, then Tisbo and Jayne for the final round.
Tonight was Tisbo's first time competing in a match race competition, and she enjoyed the class. "It was a lot of fun. It went well for me," she smiled. "It was kind of a last minute decision to do this and I am a little in shock right now to be honest. I thought I would maybe make the second round or something, so I am excited."
Tisbo has had Welinde, a nine-year-old KWPN mare by No Limit x Ahorn, for two years. Welinde also showed in last year's FTI Great Charity Challenge and excelled in the atmosphere of the night class. Tisbo thought she would be great for tonight's competition. "She has been in this ring before and she was great, so that is why when someone had suggested doing this class I thought 'I have the perfect horse for it.' She is a really good speed horse; she is especially good off the right turn. I just tried to keep the rails up and keep going forward," Tisbo explained.
The young rider enjoyed the course and noted that her plan did not change in between rounds. "The course was really nice and flowing and it was good for this type of class," she stated. "I don't know about other riders, but for me it was so hard to even know where your opponent was that I just was like, 'Don't have a rail, keep going.'"
Photo Credit: Photos © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, www.us.sportfot.com.