Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Throwback Thursday: The Start Of WEF As We Know It

In the March 3, 1989 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, coverage ran of the first grand prix to take place in the newly built venue that is now the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. The lead photo was one of the first of what would later become an iconic image—a horse jumping in front of the bridge over the in-gate of the grand prix ring.



In the March 3, 1989 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, coverage ran of the first grand prix to take place in the newly built venue that is now the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. The lead photo was one of the first of what would later become an iconic image—a horse jumping in front of the bridge over the in-gate of the grand prix ring.

Unlike the Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks bout, which was billed to be one of the greatest fights of all time but lasted a measly 91 seconds, the opening of the Palm Beach Equestrian Center proved deserving of the pre-event hype. The six-week Winter Equestrian Festival circuit opened with the USET Palm Beach Classic Horse Show, Feb. 15-19, West Palm Beach, Fla. After two more weeks of showing in Palm Beach, the WEF moves to Tampa for three weeks.

With four permanent barns completed, each housing 64 horses; five show rings, each with their own schooling area; room for 2,500 spectators and a 15-acre parking lot, the 125-acre Palm Beach Equestrian Center is already heralded as the best in the United States and possible the world.

“The grand prix arena is breathtaking. This is the finest facility in America. I really thought the first year here we would have to grin and bear it, but they’ve done a wonderful job,” said Katie Monahan Prudent. The underground sprinklers make the turf in the 400’ by 400’ grand prix ring look like a lawn on an old Southern estate.

For the first 10 years, the WEF West Palm Beach show utilized temporary rings and stables across the road from the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. But with the growth of the WEF circuit, a new facility was needed. Dotted with palm trees and lakes, the grounds look more like a well-manicured golf course than the setting for a horse show. From grooms to exhibitors to spectators, the consensus was that the Landmark Land Company, the owner of the polo club and designer of the new equestrian center, had outdone itself.

Same Crowd

While the scene may have changed, the faces remained the same. Mainstays Katie Monahan Prudent, Nicole Shahinian, Bertram Firestone, Nina Bonnie and Megan Furth still led the way in their divisions.

Prudent, the 1988 American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year and the only rider to win the title three times, continued where she left off last year by winning the $30,000 Chrysler/USET Gold Coast Grand Prix on Mrs. Averell Harriman’s The Empress.

Frank Chapot’s grand prix course wasn’t massive or scopey, but it presented ample rider problems, the perfect type of course to start the grand prix season. No one was overfaced, but the course cut the original field of 47 starters down to just six for the jump-off. “The course wasn’t that big—it was a very rideable course,” said Prudent. “There were no mountains, but there were rider decisions in each line. I’ve always thought courses should stress the training of the horse—which ones can go forward and come back well—that’s what this sport is all about.”


The first round course had 18 jumping efforts and a tight time allowed of 103 seconds. Third-to-go Santos and Greg Best were the first to complete the course in the time allowed, but pulled two rail en route. Many riders didn’t take their first string mounts, choosing to save them for the Feb. 26 World Cup qualifier instead.

The first clear round was posted by Prudent on Harry Gill’s Bean Bag, winner of last year’s $30,000 Audi Masters Cup Grand Prix in West Palm Beach. Four horses later Pressurized and Leslie Lenehan logged a 4-fault score. Pressurized got hurt toward the end of last year, but now appears to be sound and fitter than before.

Dina Santangelo and her Manassas County left all the jumps up, but paid for their conservative pace with a .5 time penalty. Deeridge Farm’s Desiree acted like only a mare can, quitting at the triple combination and wanting no part of Joe Fargis’ efforts to get her through it. Fargis voluntarily withdrew.

A jump-off was finally guaranteed when Rodney Jenkins went clean on Vincent Murphy’s Gusty Monroe. Prudent then earned herself another jump-off berth, this time on The Empress.

Debbie Dolan and V.I.P. accrued no jumping faults, but had a .75 time fault. Upon leaving the ring, Dolan smiled and said to her trainer, Lenehan, “I thought I was going fast.”

George Morris rode Slinky, a 9-year-old New Zealand-bred mare that Rodney Brown of Australia competed in the Seoul Olympics. The pair collected 13 faults.

Two back-to-back clear rounds were put in by Norman Dello Joio on Bento and Megan Furth on Nimmerdor. Webster and Jeffrey Welles then went clean to set the jump-off field.

Off To The Races

The jump-off course consisted of seven fences with alternating right and left turns.

Bean Bag and Prudent went clean in 43.90. “Bean Bag has a big stride and I thought it I hit a good lick and hit all the jumps right we’d be fast, but we had a stumble after the third fence, which lost time,” Prudent said.


Jenkins and Gusty Monroe edged Prudent in 43.70, which earned them an eventual fourth place.

“I watched Rodney go,” Prudent said. “And it looked like he was just cantering, but he beat me. I thought I better put the pedal to the metal on The Empress.”

The Empress can canter around grand prix courses and jump with the greatest ease. But she is also extremely fast. In the jump-off, Prudent and The Empress attacked the first fence as if there were three more in front of it, and burned rubber from that point on. They went clean in 40.40 seconds.

Dello Joio and Bento went for it all, and were lucky to come out of the ring in one piece. At the second element of the in-and-out, Bento dropped both hind legs between the Swedish oxer. Miraculously he recovered instantly and left everything standing. The pair crossed the timers with a clean round in 41.39, which held for second place. John Madden told Dello Joio as he exited the arena, “You shouldn’t be smiling because you’re winning, but you should be smiling because you’re living.”

Furth and Nimmerdor started off their second grand prix season with a 4-fault jump-off score and sixth place. As usual, Furth dominated the junior jumper division with her Pint O’Guiness and Pantomine, who tied for the championship. With a year of grand prix experience behind her, Furth seems likely to add her first grand prix victory to her roster of accomplishments.

Webster and Welles took third in 41.73.

When Prudent called upon her in the jump-off, The Empress cranked up the RPMs. “She is lightning, isn’t she?” said Prudent.

“We call her Miss Piggy, though, because if you open her stall door she’ll bowl you over if there is food anywhere in sight. She’s got a mind of her own,” Prudent said.

And in the March 17, 1989 issue ran this ad…




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