Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 13
When Harrie Smolders and Don VHP Z set a blistering pace—topping the previous fastest time put in by Erynn Ballard and Appy Cara by nearly three seconds, it seemed that he’d leave the showgrounds victorious in the $85,000 Salamander Hotels and Resort CSI3* Grand Prix.
But Kent Farrington, who’s earned a reputation for speed, had yet to return. Farrington made a repeat of last year’s performance with Blue Angel, gunning it to finish atop a nine-horse jump off.
“I think I’m just on a faster horse,” Farrington said. “I thought Harrie’s round was incredible. I mean, he turned so tight back to the vertical. He went to the whip going to the last fence. I don’t think there was anything else Harrie could do. Luckily my horse was a little faster today.”
The turn in question—from fence 1 to 2 in the jump-off—had decorative standards in the path. While Smolders opted to go inside, both Farrington and third-placed Ben Maher (Valinski S) opted to ride to the outside, to set them up better for the tight rollback that followed.
With the hunters taking over the International Ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival for the World Champion Hunter Rider week, top jumper competition moved across the street to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Stadium.
“I think it’s a great change of pace, just so it doesn’t feel like groundhog day going over and over in the same ring,” Farrington said. “I think using this, using the field and sort of maximizing the different venue opportunities that we have here in Wellington is great for all of the horses and you know a nice change of scenery for the riders too.”
The ring rides more like an indoor in comparison to the expansive International Ring the horses have been jumping in regularly, requiring accuracy in the changing stride lengths, a problem many riders ran into, resulting in several rails at 8B, an oxer coming out of a one-stride combination.
A man of few words, Smolders was pleased with Don VHP Z’s performance. “Normally he’s not so handy in such a small ring, but I tried to make the best of it today, which was almost enough.”
Maher’s ride Valinksi S is brand new—he only began riding the horse this past Monday.
“I think he’s very suited to this ring. I don’t know him a lot to compare to really, but he feels careful. He feels quick. He needs to adjust to my riding a little bit,” he said.
None of the top three-finishers plan to compete at the Longines FEI World Cup Finals (Las Vegas), instead they are spending this year building up their strings which includes several new prospects.
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Catch up on yesterday’s grand prix action here.