Wellington, Fla., Feb. 18
While the ring crew raised the fences for horses jumping 4’ in the first round of tonight's World Champion Hunter Rider Palm Beach Hunter Classic Spectacular, commentator Geoff Teall noted that hopefully these would be the most seasoned and impressive horses the spectators would see all night.
Was he ever right.
The next horse in the ring, Castle Rock, laid down the first of two spectacular rounds that would propel him to the top of the feature class for the WCHR week at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. Castle Rock, ridden by Louise Serio, took the title over Scott Stewart aboard Reality and the reigning champions, Brunello and Liza Boyd. Boyd also picked up fourth aboard Sarah Ward’s amateur-owner mount Onassis.
“He’s pretty much a veteran at this now,” said Serio of Bryan Baldwin’s 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood. “It’s nice to have a horse that’s so made. He’s done these classes before, but it’s not all that relaxing, because then it’s all up to you!”
After record entries in last year’s class, this year’s edition was split into two sections, with the professionals contesting a separate class than juniors and amateurs. Riders in that classic will compete on Sunday afternoon.
Also new from last year, riders qualified over two weeks by finishing champion or reserve in their divisions (with a few spots reserved for top emerging professionals), but that didn’t make anyone’s job any easier tonight. Many of the 25 entries perked up considerably under the lights of the International Arena, which the jumpers surrendered for the week.
Kenny Krome set two challenging tracks in the expansive ring. The first round included a few tricky bending lines, and two separate in-and-outs: one vertical-to-vertical and one oxer-to-oxer.
“The course rode beautifully, but there were definitely things to be careful of,” said Serio, Kennett Square, Pa. “In the first round you really had to keep track of the nine, because it could be really far away or really easy. Especially over the 4’ I thought the one stride was scopey and quite careful too.”
Reality served as the evening's pathfinder, and he proved unfazed by the ado of his first night class. Thought it was just his fourth show in the first year division, he jumped to second in the first round on an average mark of 88.5.
“I was really thrilled with him because I didn’t know what he would do,” said Stewart. “He was perfect. I couldn’t have expected him to be as good as he was, but I’m really happy with him.”
The top eight horses, including previous winners Brunello and Early Applause, returned for Round 2. In the second round Krome shortened the track to nine fences and finished the class with an option of oxers heading toward the in-gate. Boyd took that as an opportunity to show off Brunello’s hand gallop coming home.
“He made a great effort in the first round and he tried so hard,” said Boyd, Camden, S.C. “I made a little mistake in the second round: I was a little slow to the first fence. So I figured I’d better make up for it with the last jump.”
Castle Rock continued his consistent, high, even jumping in Round 2, which has helped him stay a consistent winner over the years at the Winter Equestrian Festival. That horse rarely leaves Florida, living at owner Bryan Baldwin’s farm near Tampa, Fla., during most of the year and showing almost exclusively at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival.
“He doesn’t show much, because he’s made,” said Serio. “This is the second week he’s done the [high performance division.] And he went better this week than last week. And now he’ll have time off, because that’s what he does.”
This marks Serio’s second WCHR Spectacular win, and Boyd has topped the class four times. But the honor has eluded Stewart, one of the most decorated riders in the sport.
“I’ve been so close so many times before, but it’s all right, I had a great week,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J. “I was nervous during the week for whatever reason, but tonight I was not. I was happy with the horses during the week. This was just fun.”
Top 12 results follow. For full results, visit http://showgroundslive.com.
Results: Horse/Rider/Owner: first round average/second round average=total
1. Castle Rock/Louise Serio/Bryan Baldwin: 87.12/90.50=177.62
2. Reality/Scott Stewart/Krista Weisman: 88.50/88.37=176.87
3. Brunello/Liza Boyd/Liza Boyd & Janet Peterson: 89.50/85.75=175.25
4. Onassis/Liza Boyd/Sarah Ward: 86.62/88.50=175.12
5. Sienna/Patricia Griffith/Lexi Maounis: 87.06/86.50=173.56
6. Whatever/Tim Goguen/Boggs Hill: 85.50/84.50=170.00
7. Spandau/T. Lyman Whitehead/Visse Wedell: 85.25/70.75=156.00
8. Early Applause/Maggie Jayne/Pony Lane Farm: 85.15/ 67.75=152.90
9. Empire/Scott Setwart/Becky Gochma: 84.25
10. Crown N Scepter/Kelley Farmer/Larry Glefke: 83.31
11. Argentum/Peter Pletcher/Alta Basaldua: 83.00
12. Small Collection/John French/Iwasaki And Reilly: 82.75