Over 3,500 fans packed the stands at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) on the opening Saturday night to watch the women beat the men for the fifth year in a row in the $55,000 Nespresso Battle of the Sexes at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) in Wellington. It was the closest race yet in the three-phase competition between the male and female teams, but the ladies pulled out another victory in the end.

Week one of FTI WEF runs January 9-13, sponsored by The Mar-a-Lago Club. The week will conclude on Sunday with the $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix in the International Arena at PBIEC. The 2013 FTI WEF runs through March 31 featuring 12 weeks of world-class competition.

Eric Hasbrouck is the course designer in the International Arena this week and set the tracks for Saturday’s classes. In the highlight $55,000 Nespresso Battle of the Sexes, the three-phase contest included speed rounds, match races, and six-bar competition.

The women’s team was captained by Georgina Bloomberg and also included riders Laura Kraut, Margie Engle, Marilyn Little, Maggie Bracco, Nicole Bellissimo, Debbie Stephens, Brianne Goutal, Candice King, and Schuyler Riley.

Charlie Jayne led the men’s team, which included riders Shane Sweetnam, Richie Moloney, Daniel Bluman, Luis Larrazabal, Ramiro Quintana, Steve Schaefer, Darragh Kenny, Alex Granato, and Nick Skelton.

The first round of competition in tonight’s Nespresso Battle of the Sexes was the speed round, with a 6 to 4 win for the men. The match races followed, with the men and women competing side by side over identical courses. The women were the winners of that round with six points over the men’s four, bringing the total team points to a ten-ten tie.

The final six-bar competition would be the deciding factor of the evening. Four men and four women returned from each team with the opportunity to earn two points per clear round. The competition started at 1.60m (5’3″) in height and moved up to 1.80m (5’11”) through three rounds.

Following the first six-bar round, only three riders continued from each team after Maggie Bracco and Shane Sweetnam each had rails. In round two, Charlie Jayne, Laura Kraut, and Daniel Bluman all had rails. Nick Skelton was the only member of the men’s team to advance to the third round competing against Candice King and Georgina Bloomberg. The six jumps were taken down to four with the larger height, and with the men on 18 points and the women on 20, all three riders jumped clear. The final tally was 24 to 20 – a victory for the women.

Captain of the winning team, Georgina Bloomberg, was thrilled to be a part of the women’s fifth consecutive victory in the event. Bloomberg was last to jump in the final round aboard her horse Highrise and gave the women the solid four-point lead.

Commenting on her last round, Bloomberg stated, “I have a lot of confidence in my horse, but I have never done him in this kind of class and I have actually never done him in a night situation, so my only worry was getting to the first jump. I didn’t know how he was going to react to the crowd and stuff, but I have all the confidence in the world in his scope and he is careful. I just had to be able to fit in each two stride and not mess it up for him.”

“I had faith in us,” Bloomberg said of her team. “We seem to do a little bit better under pressure. It made me a little nervous in the end because Nick is obviously so good at this. I knew we needed a little bit of luck on our side, but I never lost faith.”

Speaking about her fellow teammates, Bloomberg smiled, “Everyone was amazing. We really form a team because we all work together every day. We know each other so well. It is nice to do a team competition and not be riding against each other and to really be rooting for each other. We always seem to come together well and be there for each other and I think that is what gives us the edge, that we are really just a great team.”

Bloomberg enjoyed the atmosphere of the Saturday night class and the enthusiastic crowd cheering everyone on.

“It is great to look up and see the stands full and hear the music playing,” she acknowledged. “It means a lot to us to have people come and watch us and support us, especially with this kind of event, so it was a great night.”

Men’s Team Captain Charlie Jayne echoed the sentiments. “All the way around the ring was packed, which was really exciting,” he said. “The crowd was really behind you. And it came down to the end, which was better than last year. This year we had some fast riders and I think that showed. We started off winning the first two with Shane and rRchie and that was nice momentum. We really stuck with it the whole time. Unfortunately the cups rolled out not in our favor for the six bar.”

In addition to the winning prize money, a few special awards were presented this evening. Darragh Kenny won a gift certificate from The Brazilian Court Hotel and Beach Club for the overall best time in both the speed and match race rounds aboard his mount Vanotrouska.

This was Kenny’s first time competing in the Battle of the Sexes and he was excited to win the special award for his speed in the two rounds. Kenny remarked, “It is really cool. I did a mare that belongs to a client of mine, Megan Bifano. She is a really super mare; she was fantastic tonight. She tried so hard and she is really, really fast and really competitive. This is a lovely, lovely prize. She is a junior jumper, so she is used to going fast, but nothing like this.”

“I have never done this,” Kenny added. “It was my first year, so to win the speed award was quite nice. It was a fun class and I would love to do it again for sure. Hopefully I will have a six-bar horse next year too.”

A $1,000 prize was also to be awarded to the rider that had the most clear rounds in the six-bar competition. When Skelton, Bloomberg, and King all cleared the final round and decided not to continue any further, the money was split between all three riders.

McLain Ward and Zhum CW Top $25,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic

The $25,000 Suncast® Championship Jumper Classic was held in the International Arena in the afternoon with a win for McLain Ward riding Ilan Ferder and Missy Clark’s Zhum CW. In a class of 18 entries, nine jumped the first round course without fault to jump off, and Ward and Zhum CW completed the fastest double clear round in 38.663 seconds.

Finishing in second, Peter Wylde and Lewin 5, owned by Societe Civile De L’ecurie Meutry, jumped clear in 39.118 seconds. Shane Sweetnam and Sweet Oak Farm’s Solerina were third in 39.146 seconds.

McLain Ward first rode Zhum CW in November and immediately won the $10,000 Holiday & Horses Welcome Stake one day later in the pair’s debut in the show ring. Ward has now shown the nine-year-old KWPN gelding by Querlybet Hero x Cambridge a few more times and is getting a better feel for the ride.

“I think I have ridden him three more times, so that’s good,” Ward smiled. “He was great the other day; I think he ended up second in the 1.40m and then we did the 1.45m and he was very good. He kind of went well all week and he was excellent today. Our turns were a little rough, we have to work on those a bit, but he is super careful and he has a big step. It was a good start to the circuit and a good finish to the week.”

In the jump-off, Ward was going for speed. “I like to try to win always and this is a good series, this Suncast series,” he stated. “I knew the turns were a little bit difficult in the jump-off and again that is not his greatest strength at this point in time, so I tried to make it up with a little bit of foot speed. We had a little bit of a funny angle on the Suncast fence, but the horse really gave a great effort and it worked out.”

Zhum CW lives at Ilan Ferder’s farm and works in their program. Ward described, “I go ride him once in a while, but Ilan and Kirsten (Coe) prepare him nicely and they do a great job, so it is a good team effort.”

Emphasizing Zhum CW’s careful jumping style, Ward further detailed, “He is a little bit his own way, but he is always in the hunt with you. He is in the fight with you and he delivers a lot of clear rounds, so we will just kind of keep moving up the ranks and hopefully it keeps going his way.”

McLain Ward and Zhum CW in their winning presentation with ringmaster Cliff Haines and Suncast representative Lauren Tisbo. Photo © Sportfot.

Final Results: $25,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic
1. ZHUM CW MCLAIN WARD ILAN FERDER & MISSY CLARK: 0/0/38.663
2. LEWIN 5 PETER WYLDE SOCIETE CIVILE DE L’ECURIE MEUTRY: 0/0/39.118
3. SOLERINA SHANE SWEETNAM SWEET OAK FARM: 0/0/39.146
4. CAPALL ZIDANE RONAN MCGUIGAN RONAN MCGUIGAN: 0/0/39.816
5. TEIRRA ALISE OKEN HI HOPES FARM LLC: 0/0/40.091
6. QUICK DU POTIER ALONSO VALDEZ PRADO ALONSO VALDEZ PRADO: 0/0/41.453
7. NOUVELLE LAURA KRAUT EVITA GROUP: 0/4/41.001
8. S& L SLINGBACK ADRIENNE STERNLICHT ADRIENNE STERNLICHT: 0/8/45.174 9. CROSSFIRE 10 EMANUEL ANDRADE HOLLOW CREEK FARM: 0/8/46.412
10. VICTOR E CHRISTINE MCCREA CANDY TRIBBLE: 1/88.728
11. HH CABALLERO QUENTIN JUDGE DOUBLE H FARM: 3/90.954
12. ZINNIA ANDREW WELLES ANDREW WELLES: 4/85.999

Parkland and Lillie Keenan Victorious in Small Junior 16-17 Hunter Division

Parkland and Lillie Keenan received championship honors in the Small Junior 16-17 Hunters during the first weekend of competition at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF). The eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, owned by Jennifer Gates and trained by Gerardo Escalara, placed first and second over fences on day one of competition. Keenan rode Parkland to first and second over fences during day two, tying with Lyle and Taylor Sutton going into the under saddle. Parkland and Keenan placed second under saddle, earning them the division championship.

Lyle and Sutton placed fourth under saddle to pick up the reserve championship prize for the division. The pair was edged out by Parkland and Keenan after strong jumping performances earned them first and second place ribbons during day two. The pair was also first and second in day one’s over fences classes, jockeying for first place with Keenan and her mount.

Owner/Rider championship honors were also awarded at the end of the division. The award is designed to promote junior riders owning and riding their own horses. Genuine and Cloe Hymowitz took home the prize after solid jumping rounds and finishing third under saddle.

Keenan described Parkland’s fluid jumping style as the gelding’s biggest advantage in the ring, “He’s really pretty across the ground, so in between fences is really smooth and he puts in some really nice jumps. Riding him and watching him, he’s very seamless and I think that’s what makes him appealing.”

The pair kicked off their show career this January at Wellington after starting the winter at home in New York. They’re yet another freshly matched team off to a great start at the FTI WEF. Parkland was Small Junior Hunter 16-17 champion at the A-T Children’s Benefit Horse Show on January 3-6 before securing the title again the opening week of the FTI WEF.

Parkland and Keenan have already developed a close bond, made clear by Keenan’s gutsy turns in the handy round. “It’s fun to do these classes on a horse that you know is going to do whatever you want him to do. When I did the handy round, there were some extra tight turns that I could do on him that some of the horses weren’t able to,” Keenan stated.

Keenan will go home to New York City at the end of the weekend, but will be back in Wellington for week two of the FTI WEF. “I wish I got to stay down here, but I have to go to school so we fly back and forth. It’s so nice to be in the good weather to be in a facility like this,” Keenan explained.

Parkland and Keenan will return to the hunter ring during week two, hoping to keep their championship momentum rolling in the Small Junior Hunters 16-17.

Week one of hunter competition for the FTI WEF wraps up tomorrow when the FarmVet Amateur-Owner 3’3″ 18-35 Hunter division names its champion in the Equine Tack & Nutritionals Ring 6. The $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix will be featured in the International Arena at 2 p.m. For full results, please visit www.showgroundslive.com.

About the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival
The 2013 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of top competition running from January 9 through March 31. The FTI WEF is run by Equestrian Sport Productions, LLC, and Wellington Equestrian Partners and held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. All 12 shows are “AA” rated and Jumper Rated 6, and more than $7 million in prize money will be awarded.

About FTI Consulting
FTI Consulting, Inc. is a global business advisory firm dedicated to helping organizations protect and enhance enterprise value in an increasingly complex legal, regulatory and economic environment. With more than 3,800 employees located in 24 countries, FTI Consulting professionals work closely with clients to anticipate, illuminate and overcome complex business challenges in areas such as investigations, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory issues, reputation management, strategic communications and restructuring. The company generated $1.56 billion in revenues during fiscal year 2011. More information can be found at www.fticonsulting.com.

Please visit www.equestriansport.com or call 561-793-5867 for more information.