Wellington, FL - Four of the United States' classiest veterans represented the United States in the $75,000 FEI Nations Cup presented by G&C Farm and did not disappoint a packed house of fans. They dominated the field of eight teams to win on a score of eight faults over Canada on 16. Three teams tied for third: Great Britain, Australia and Ireland, all on 37 faults.
Under the lights in the International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Club, McLain Ward on Sapphire, Mario Deslauriers on Urico, Margie Engle on Indigo and Beezie Madden on Coral Reef Via Volo dominated the field in an heroic effort under the guidance of Chef d'Equipe George Morris.
"It was a great night," said Morris. "Thanks to the sponsors, the horse show, the course builders. I was getting some indirect rein pressure this year... and I was just able to put great horses and riders forward. Some years I try to save the older horses. This year it worked out and we were finally able to beat our neighbors to the North, by a squeak."
Ward led off the U.S. Team with his two-time Olympic Gold medalist Sapphire (owned by Ward, Tom Grossman and Blue Chip Bloodstock) and the superstar 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare skipped around Steve Stephens' track, not once but twice. She made it look easy on a night where clear rounds were hard to come by. There were only two horses to jump two clear rounds, Sapphire and Niack de L'Abbaye. She's had a quiet winter, Ward has been busy with his other horses, but the rust didn't show and Sapphire delivered the performance her fans were expectation.
"It was a great class, a very good crowd and a very good course," said Ward. "Steve Stephens does a really good job, it was the hardest Nations Cup course I've seen here. These are four very exciting horses, mine is obviously a veteran and Margie's is younger. They jumped very well, very solid. It was a very solid win."
Teammates on the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Team with Ward and Sapphire, Deslauriers returned with Urico to the big stage after a similarly light campaign over the winter. Urico, a 10-year-old Dutch gelding (owned by Jane Forbes Clark), jumped confidently around the course, but picked up an unlucky rail at the bogey fence, fence 10, the double combination after the open water. He barely touched the plank and he put in a very professional effort around the course. Urico did not return for the second round, as only three horses from each country had to jump twice.
"For me it was a first to represent the U.S. here in Palm Beach," said Deslauriers, who rode for Canada until 2009. "It's a good week to represent the U.S. here, it's good to win at home. It was a great night."
Engle and the exciting 11-year-old Dutch gelding, Indigo (owned by Garber, Griese, Hidden Creek Farm and Gladewinds Farm) made light work of the course in the first round and made it all the way to the last fence in the second round without putting a foot wrong. Luck ran out at the liverpool for the pair but Engle gave the relatively inexperienced horse all the confidence in the world to put in professional efforts over the two rounds.
"I got a little too confident after he jumped the wall (at the second to last) and relaxed a little," said Engle. "He got a little confused going to the last jump."
The striking grey gelding looks to be an exciting horse for the future for Engle and the United States.
"It's exciting to be back on the team," said Engle. "It's important for us to do well. It's the first team for my horse. I'm very pleased."
Ward's teammate from both Olympic Gold medal-winning teams, Beezie Madden had Coral Reef Via Volo (Coral Reef Ranch) well prepared for the 13-year-old Belgian mare's first Nations Cup in the United States. An error in the line that caught the majority of those that made mistakes caught Madden too in the first round, as the yellow plank fell at fence 10a after the open water. She made up for it in the second round, where she jumped a beautiful clear round on a far more settled horse.
"I think we made a big effort, it was a high priority to win tonight," said Madden. We haven't fielded the strongest teams here in the past. We aimed the horses here and it paid off- it was important to win in front of the home crowd."
The U.S. dominated the international field, and Wellington CSIO4* welcomed teams from
Venezuela, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, Great Britain, Canada and Colombia. The U.S. Team never really looked in danger of sacrificing their lead, although the defending champion Canadians fought back in the second round to finish on 16 faults.
Highlights of all the action are available on www.usefnetwork.com, which will also broadcast the $35,000 Hermes Puissance at 8 pm on Saturday night.
Photo Credits: McLain Ward and Sapphire Jump Flawlessly Sport Fot Photo; The U.S. Team Celebrates Their Victory with Sponsors Sport Fot Photo