WELLINGTON, Fla., Mar. 19 - Beezie Madden and Authentic made it two for two, winning both Grand Prix events held during week nine, the CSI4*-W CN WorldWide, of the CN Winter Equestrian Festival, presented by Zimmerman Advertising, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Thursday's win in the $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round VIII proved to be a mere warm-up for victory in Sunday's $200,000 CN WorldWide Grand Prix. On Thursday, Madden and Authentic were one of nine horse-rider combinations from a starting field of 70 to advance to the jump-off over the track set by Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios. The jump-off field was truly international in scope with riders representing Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States.
The first rider to post a double clear round was eight-time Canadian Olympian Ian Millar riding the 10-year-old grey Dutch Warmblood gelding, Redefin, for owner Susan Grange. Their time of 42.03 seconds would prove good enough for third place overall. Ireland's Edward Doyle and Sequoyah Farm's Utopia were clear, but their time of 46.68 seconds would eventually leave them in fourth place.
The Olympic Gold Medal partnership of Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, N.Y. and Authentic, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Abigail Wexner, were next on course. Performing like the world-class athletes they are, Madden and Authentic left all the rails in place and stopped the clock at 39.48 seconds to move to the top of the leader board.
Canada's Mac Cone, who had bested Madden and Authentic three weeks earlier to win the $60,000 Kilkenny International Cup Grand Prix CSI3*, was next on course riding Ole, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Sara Houstoun and Larry Evoy. Although all the rails stayed up, Cone's time of 41.99 seconds was not fast enough, leaving him in second place to Madden.
"When I walked it, I thought it was a good course but, typical Leopoldo, it proved to be tricky," noted Madden who was awarded $9,000 in prize money for the win. "I liked my jump-off ride. It was fast, but not crazy. This was not an Olympic course, but it was tough enough."
Things got a lot tougher on Sunday when $200,000 in prize money, not to mention valuable World Cup points, were at stake in the $200,000 CN WorldWide Grand Prix. A total of 53 horses entered the International Arena on Sunday afternoon to tackle the demanding track again set by Palacios of Venezuela with 10 posting clear rounds to advance to the jump-off.
Featuring some of the best horse-rider combinations in the world, the jump-off proved to be a real horse race with the times getting faster and faster as the crowd cheered louder and louder. Sydney Olympian Lauren Hough of Wellington, Fla., threw down the gauntlet as the first rider into the ring, turning in a clear round in a time of 37.82 seconds riding Casadora. Jeffery Welles of Brewster, N.Y. and Armani, James Benedetto and Kannan's Gigi Z and Christine McCrea Suffield, Conn. and Vegas all faulted before Canadian Olympian Mac Cone guided Ole to a clear round in a time of 39.73 seconds. As had been the case in Thursday's $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup, it was not fast enough to take over the lead.
Olympic Team Gold Medalist McLain Ward of Brewster, N.Y., gave it a shot with Sapphire and had the time of 35.86 seconds, but a fallen rail ended their chances of victory. Great Britain's Peter Charles then raced around the shortened jump-off course with his handy little bay, Murkas Rubert R, leaving all the rails in place and stopping the clock at 36.85 seconds to move into the lead.
With that, the race was on.
Kent Farrington of Wellington, Fla., went hell bent for leather with the game chestnut gelding, Up Chiqui. The timers flashed 35.23 seconds, catapulting them to the top of the leaderboard.
With numerous accolades to their name, Madden and Authentic were next up and, despite an awkward approach to the final fence, they still shaved a full second off of Farrington's seemingly unbeatable time, crossing the timers in 34.17 seconds.
Madden's 2004 Olympic Gold Medal teammate, Chris Kappler of Pittstown, N.J., was the final challenger riding VDL Oranta. Their time of 36.33 seconds left them in third place with $26,000 in prize money while Madden took home the lion's share of $60,000 for owner Abigail Wexner. As the runner-up, Farrington earned $44,000 for his efforts.
"I had to go real fast," said Madden of her strategy after seeing the round laid down by Farrington. Of her approach to the final fence, she explained, "I totally lost where I was for a second, I think he stumbled, and when I looked up, I was on the half-stride and I added. I don't know how he did it, but he did."
Madden, currently ranked number eight in the world, and Authentic were given a bye from the U.S. Equestrian Team's Selection Trials for the 2008 Olympic Games, held the last two weeks at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
"He was a little more in the game today, I thought he jumped as well as he could," said Madden. "I feel like I have an amazing horse. If I give it a go, he is going to give it a go. It feels fantastic."
For Farrington, he knew if anyone was capable of catching his time, it was Madden and Authentic.
"I was really concerned with that one coming after me. Authentic is one of the best horses in the world with one of the best riders in the world," Farrington said. "My horse is very fast too. At least we got a reward and won some serious money."
The competitors had loyal sponsor CN to thank for the enormous purse awarded at the conclusion of the $200,000 CN WorldWide Grand Prix.
"We had a great competition," said Hunter Harrison, Chief Executive Officer of CN. "With this type of competition with this type of prize money, the cream is going to rise to the top. We had that today with Beezie, Kent and Chris.
"I think people are starting to understand that these are the best riders in the world competing here in south Florida," said Harrison regarding the increase in spectator turn-out. "I think the venue has come a long way. Mark Bellissimo and company have done a wonderful job in just three or four months of turning it around. The tournament has come a long way this year and if we keep stepping it up, this venue is going to be something everyone in the world can be proud of."
In reference to CN's unparalleled support of show jumping, Madden said, "On behalf of my peers, I would like to thank CN for everything they do for our sport. I think we have the best sponsor in the world."
Show jumping at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center begins again on Wednesday, March 19, with the CSI2* Suncast Corporation, presented by Equestrian Club by Tavern on the Green. Featured events include the $25,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round IX as well as Sunday's $75,000 Suncast Grand Prix CSI2*. This will be the 10th week of WEF and the first of six weeks of the Littlewood Farm Spring Circuit.
The 2008 CN Winter Equestrian Festival, presented by Zimmerman Advertising, attracts the best horses and riders from around the world to Wellington, Fla., and offers more than $5 million in prize money. For more information, visit http://www.equestriansport.com
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Zimmerman Advertising, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is an Omnicom Group company and the 15th largest advertising agency in the U.S. Offices are in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Atlanta.
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PHOTO: Beezie Madden and Authentic on their way to winning the $200,000 CN Worldwide Grand Prix at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Photo: Ken Braddick-HorseSport USA
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/wef-equestrian-festival-week-nine-results-3-08.html">Winter Equestrian Festival Week Nine Wrap Up</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com