$50,000 Cunningham Dressage Challenge at Winter Equestrian Festival Ends Without a Winner
Prize Money Will Increase for 2008
WELLINGTON, FL – February 28, 2006 – The inaugural Cunningham Insurance Dressage Challenge presented by Great American Insurance Group (GAIG) guaranteed $50,000 to the winner of all three Grand Prixs at the 2007 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, but the challenge went unmet this year after the first two dressage shows.
Canada’s Ashley Holzer of New York, New York, riding her own Pop Art earned the highest score (72.813%) at the first qualifying Grand Prix on February 9 at Cosequin Wellington Dressage and was the sole contender to move on to the next event. The challenge would award 50% of the purse to the rider and 50% to the owner of the horse, so Holzer was in line to receive the entire $50,000 if she could win the next two Grand Prixs in the Cunningham Challenge.
On Friday, February 23, at the Zada Enterprises, LLC Florida Dressage Classic, Holzer was entered in the Grand Prix but had to withdraw because Pop Art was not feeling well.
Only the horse/rider combination with two qualifying wins would be qualified to continue in the challenge at the third and final show, so because Holzer did not compete, the challenge ended before the final qualifying Grand Prix scheduled for Thursday, March 22, at the Zada Enterprises, LLC WEF Dressage Classic CDI-W.
“First of all, I feel very, very sorry for Ashley because her horse became ill,” said Tom Cunningham of Cunningham & Cunningham Livestock Insurance, Inc., the developer of the $50,000 Cunningham Challenge. “In racehorse terms that we use on the racetrack, I felt her horse was 1 to 9 to win the Challenge. We probably would have had a winner in our first go-around at doing it. Notwithstanding that, we would have looked forward to coming back and doing it again – even with a winner. Consequently without a winner this year, I certainly want to come back and do it next year.”
Cunningham is reviewing the 2007 Challenge with top riders and owners and plans to make adjustments to the Challenge for next year. “If everything goes correctly for us, I’ll probably do it for more money next year. For sure, it would be at least $100,000,” Cunningham said. He noted that he would begin promoting the Challenge earlier and in a more widespread context for 2008.
Cunningham, who has a long history in Thoroughbred racing and Standardbred trotter racing, explained that he patterned the $50,000 Cunningham Challenge after the Visa Triple Crown for Thoroughbreds. To claim the Visa Triple Crown, the horse must win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. Based on that, Cunningham said he would definitely keep the same format for the 2008 Challenge that he established this year. “It’s all or nothing – they have to win all three Grand Prixs,” he said.
Cunningham is exploring marketing, sponsorship, and underwriting opportunities to increase the prize money for 2008. He is also looking at different avenues of advertising and promotion to attract horses to Florida to participate in the Challenge. “We may want to attract horses that come from California. In trotting in Italy for example, to entice top horses to participate, different tracks will pay for all or part of transporting those horses to certain venues,” Cunningham explained. “Let’s say Guenter Seidel or Steffen Peters has a horse on the west coast and if they’re on the fence about participating in the Challenge, perhaps we would consider defraying some of the expenses they might incur to send a horse to a particular event. I’m trying to visualize certain ways of promoting this event – and I’m not opposed to entertaining any ideas about it.”
Born in the racetrack town of Saratoga, New York, Cunningham has been in the horse business for 45 years, first as a trainer of Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, and then for the past 30 years, as an insurance agent. His first clients were racehorses, but now he and his daughter, Sara Cunningham, have shifted their focus to show horses and are focused primarily on dressage horses. “On a personal level, I like the sport. My idea of doing this Challenge was certainly to give back to the sport that’s been good for me,” Cunningham explained. “I like the sport at the top level. It’s very, very difficult for a horse and rider to attain the level that they need to be at to participate at the level they all want to participate at, which is, hopefully, World Cup and Olympic aspirations for everyone.”
Even though this year’s Challenge ended after two shows, Cunningham was pleased with the launch and the learning experience of this first-time effort. “I thought it was great. I think once people recognized what was going on, they were excited about it,” Cunningham shared. He noted that one participant this year commented to him that normally if he won three Grand Prixs, he might receive a total of $1,500 in prize money, so the opportunity to win $50,000 for the same effort was exciting. “People liked it,” Cunningham concluded, “So I’m willing to move forward.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Ashley Holzer and Pop Art had the lead in the inaugural $50,000 Cunningham Insurance Dressage Challenge presented by GAIG after the first event. PHOTO CREDIT: SusanJStickle.com.
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