West Palm Beach - The Wellington Classic Dressage 2009 Wild Card Challenge is underway. Winners at the Wellington Classic Dressage Holiday Challenge drew the first cards for their chance to win thousands of dollars in prizes. The grand prize for the competitor who draws a Royal Flush is $50,000.
Four competitions in the Wellington Classic Dressage series are part of the Wild Card Challenge. The Holiday Challenge was the first show. The other three are the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge I (Jan. 9-11), Wellington Classic Spring Challenge (Feb. 6-8) and the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge II (March 6-8). Riders who win Wild Card designated classes get to draw a card for a chance at a winning hand. If they draw a Joker, they get an instant $500. A straight is worth $1,000, a Flush is worth $2,500, a Full House is worth $5,000, 4-of-a-Kind is worth $10,000 and the first to draw a Royal Flush wins the grand prize of $50,000.
"We're trying to make the shows fun and provide a way to give back to the competitors," said John Flanagan, sponsorship coordinator for Wellington Classic Dressage. "Fun" is certainly the word competitors are using to describe the Wild Card challenge.
"It's great that someone would put up that much money to make showing more fun," said Katherine Bateson Chandler. "Sometimes dressage people and the shows can get way to serious and this is fun. It's also an equal opportunity competition in that you can draw cards for winning classes at all the levels and it doesn't matter if you're a professional or an amateur."
That was clearly part of the plan, Flanagan said. The idea of the Wild Card Challenge was to offer something for riders competing at all levels and to give amateurs as much a chance to win prizes as the professionals. "It's a competition that is fun for everyone," he said. It's also likely to encourage competitors to attend more shows in the series because the more they win, the more cards they draw to increase their chances for prize money.
It's certainly going to attract back Mikala Munter Gundersen, who won two Grand Prix classes at the Holiday Challenge. "I'm definitely going to all their shows," she said of the Wellington Classic Dressage series. "Not only do the shows have a great atmosphere and venue, but I also want to see if I can get some more cards and be one of the winners."
Shelly Van Den Neste, who took wins in the USEF levels, said the Wild Card Challenge is also motivating her to compete throughout the Wellington Classic series. She drew a 10 of Hearts and said "I'm keeping track. And yes, I'm coming back in January to try for more cards. I think all the riders are excited about it. You never win anything in dressage, but I'm going for the money now."
Bateson Chandler said her first card in the competition wasn't what she considered the best, but Wellington Classic Dressage staff handing out the cards put a positive spin on her draw. "I drew a three of hearts and I thought, 'typical me,' but the guy handing out the cards said maybe I'd draw three more 3s and then I'd have four-of-a-kind."
Jane Springer, winner of the FEI Intermediaire I adult amateur competition is also thinking positive and wonders if her scores on her test are providential. "My last five movements scored a 6,7,8,9 and the final halt was a 10. The judge said to me, 'I think you'll be pleased with your test. You got a straight.' Maybe that's a sign that I'll win some money this show season in the Wild Card Challenge."
Springer drew a 9 of Spades for her Holiday Challenge. "This Wild Card Challenge is a great idea. This is so exciting because now it gives us something to look forward to at the end of the show season. I mean, we could win some money."
If there is such a thing as beginner's luck in poker, then Shelly Francis might have the edge in the Wild Card Challenge. She got to draw two cards for her wins at the Holiday Challenge and admits that she knows very little about poker. "I'm going back to more shows to see if I can get more cards, but I must admit, I'm not really a card player so I don't really know what's what and what it takes to win. I think I know how to play 'Go Fish' and that's about it."
To learn more about the Wellington Classic Dressage Wild Card Challenge and to keep tabs on riders' poker hands, go to www.wellingtonclassicdressage.com.