Wellington, Fla.—Jan. 31
As he said at this evening’s press conference, Boyd Martin’s competed all over the world. So how did eventing—and winning—at the $50,000 Wellington Eventing Showcase compare?
“This is by far the best competition I’ve ever been to,” said Martin. “The organizers here put on something I’ve never experienced before. I was so proud to be here. The people who owned the horses felt like kings. The course was first class. The arena was arguably one of the best I’ve ever ridden in. It was an unbelievable competition.”
And not only was the event, organized by Equestrian Sport Productions LLC, lauded by the riders for its prize money and venue, but it also earned a thumbs up from the many spectators as it concluded in a nail-biting finish with riders running in reverse order of standing. Martin and Trading Aces’ score of 24.8 gave them little breathing room in front of Michael Pollard on Cyrano Z, who finished second on 26.5 penalties, and Martin knew when he set out that he had to ride fast and clear to take home the $15,000 top check.
“I think it was a beautiful course,” said Martin. “It encouraged a run-out at the corners and narrows, but it wasn’t a dangerous course.”
Martin’s career with Trading Aces has involved some ups and downs, most recently culminating in Martin retiring the Irish Sport Horse after he tired on the Galway Downs CCI*** (Calif.) course.
“This may be the last time I ride Trading Aces,” he said. “It’s a gut-wrenching moment when you have to try and figure out if it’s an Olympic horse. If this kind of showcase thing takes off, you’d keep him in the barn for that and see where it goes. But this might be the end for Trading Aces and I.”
Though Martin’s ridden the Trading Aces Syndicate’s Trading Aces for several years now, Pollard headed out on Carl Bouckaert’s Cyrano Z without much knowledge of the gelding. The pair earned just 0.8 time penalties on the 18-obstacle track.
“He was perfect,” said Pollard. “He couldn’t have really gone a lot better. I also want to give an A+ to this event; none of us knew what to expect when we got here, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Laine Ashker slotted into third (29.1) on her Anthony Patch with a double-clear cross-country trip.
“Al’s 16 now, and I’ve had him since he was 3,” she said. “There’s quite a lot of atmosphere here, so it was great practice leading up to [Rolex Kentucky CCI****]. This was the most amazing experience I’ve had at any event.”
(Ashker wore a helmet camera during her cross-country round, and we’ll be posting that footage later!)
Riders did their show jumping this morning, and dressage leader Martin maintained that top spot by jumping clear. Of the 26 who started that phase, there were 13 jumping clears over Richard Jeffery’s track. The pairs then had a bit of a rest until the 1:30 p.m. start of cross-country, which also ran in reverse order of standing.
“I think there are a couple of designers who do a really good job at testing event horses, and Richard is one,” said Pollard. “The lines you had to do some planning before them, but if you jumped in well, they usually rode well. My horse is a really careful jumper with a lot of scope, so it made it easier for me.”
Mark Phillips’ cross-country track caused few problems for the riders today. Clayton Fredericks was eliminated with Rendezvous With Charly after a runout at the skinny at the bottom of the Land Rover Bank (fence 12) and then two stops heading into the Rolex Splash at 13a. Katie Ruppel pulled up Houdini after the horse appeared to have clipped himself, but he walked off sound. Marilyn Little, sitting in a tie for sixth after show jumping with RF Scandalous, went off course towards the end of her round, eliminating herself on that horse. There were 15 double-clear trips.
“We tried to put on a three-star test that was appropriate for this time of year, and the fitness of the horses,” said Phillips. “The course was the course, and we knew it wasn’t super difficult, and the speed wasn’t super fast. I have the technology to make it more difficult if these riders want it that way.”
ESP CEO Mark Bellissimo has already noted that next year’s event will include double the prize money, and he added a charitable aspect to today’s as well. The owners of the top three horses were allocated some additional dollars—$7,500 to first, $5,000 to second and $2,500 to third—to donate to charities of their choice.
“We contemplated this event three or four years ago, and we were trying to figure out a way to do something interesting in eventing,” said Bellissimo. “We thought about Central Park as an option, but then we thought this might be a great format. We like to keep it interesting and unique. This wasn’t exactly what we want, but I think next year we’ll put together something really spectacular.”
Martin also issued a call for more riders at next year’s class.
“I want to make a shoutout to Michael Jung, Andrew Nicholson, Chris Burton, William Fox-Pitt,” he said. “Come test yourself, boys.”