Wellington, Fla., Feb. 19
Beezie Madden had one major goal with Prima during the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival: win the $50,000 G&C Farm Jumping Derby. And today Madden and her top speed mare pulled off that feat, topping the class of 27 entries to pick up the top check for owner Jenny Sutton of Neapolitan Holding Co. LLC.
Not that it was easy. Problems came up across the course, but especially at the devils dyke, which eliminated riders like Angel Karolyi (Artifice L.S.), Brianne Goutal (Voilette), Emanuel Andrade (Oxford) and Jackie McQuade (Copilot). Plenty of other riders had faults there as well. The table bank and water weren't influential, and the pair of liverpools were relatively innocuous, but several sizeable oxers shed rails as riders gunned to keep up the pace. And with 20 jumps and 25 efforts, some horses just plain started to run out of steam mid-course.
Not even Madden found a clear way around as she did when she won the class last year.  Prima took down a rail on top of a hedge midcourse, which added four seconds to her time in the faults-converted format class.
"I thought someone would beat it," said Madden of her time. "I thought I had a nice smooth efficient round, which is what you want. But having the rail down, which was time, I thought someone would be able to match that round and go clear."
Mario Deslauriers came closest with Whistler, Jane Clark's speed mount who finished sixth last year. Shane Swetnman and Little Emir claimed third.
"This horse showed last summer at Spruce Meadows [Alberta] and did all this type of [classes], as Prima does all the time," said Deslauriers, New York, N.Y. "With a speed class, the whole trick is to keep it smooth. When you're jumping 20 fences at that speed, you have to keep it smooth. It's not like a short jump-off; it's a lot longer. You have to keep the energy with the horse and keep the sanity."
The course saw a major change this year with the addition of a grass bank. A huge hill with a drop off was installed on the back of the grass derby field before last year's derby, but it wasn't quite ready for prime time then. This year riders galloped up the stepped hill, then jumped a small vertical at the top. They then could either tackle a steep bank with a tall upright gate at the bottom, or elect a longer track and canter down a much gentler slope, and jump a similar fence at the bottom. Most riders elected the tougher option, but that delicate gate came down several times.
Madden had practiced plenty of natural elements at her farm and knew that her mount would be game for the challenge. But they didn't have a bank that looked anything like the one on the Wellington, Fla., course.
"She's very good about the natural fences," said Madden, Cazenovia, N.Y. "But the bank, I think I was little slow at the top. They have one at Spruce Meadows that's not quite as steep, so she's used to getting booted off the top of that one and running down it. I made sure to take a little time and make sure she didn't go flying down. The devil's dyke was a little of the same thing. She's so brave, the distance was so short, I wanted to make sure I slowed down enough."
Madden considers Prima a specialty horse, and aims her toward occasional classes like this one.
"She especially likes grass and big fields because she has a huge stride," she said. "She's really good at natural fences. She's one of your classic speed horses. I'm lucky to have a horse like her. I have a lot of respect for my grand prix horses, obviously, but a great speed horse like Prima doesn't get a lot of respect for that. It's a really important horse to have in your string, and I thank Jenny Sutton for supporting me and keeping her and having her for this."
For full results check out www.showgroundslive.com .