Jennifer Wood/WEF Press Release/photos: Randi Muster/Mustphoto Inc.
Wellington, FL - March 27, 2010 - Tonight's $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix, CSI 5* drew the largest crowd in the history of equestrian sport in Wellington. More than 9,000 spectators came to see who would win one of the biggest show jumping purses in North America. Sapphire, ridden by McLain Ward (USA) and owned by Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock, came home with the win and repeated their victory from last year over Laura Kraut (USA) and Cedric, owned by Happy Hill Farm, and Todd Minikus (USA) with his own Pavarotti.
The class was also the final qualifier for the $100,000 FTI Rider Challenge, where the top four riders of the circuit were awarded with bonus checks. The top four riders were Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA), who earned $50,000, Pablo Barrios (VEN) who received $25,000, McLain Ward, who took home $15,000, and Laura Kraut, who received $10,000.
The eleventh week of the FTI WEF is sponsored by FTI and concludes on Sunday, March 28. The 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of competition that conclude on April 4, 2010, and they will be awarding almost $6 million in prize money through the circuit.
Tonight's course designer was Conrad Homfeld of Wellington, FL. He designed a 14 numbered obstacle track for the first round, which had 40 entries. Four riders found the clear path to advance to the timed jump-off.
Kraut said of the course, "Conrad is just one of the most genius course designers. The course was technical and it was big, but the fences were nice. There weren't a lot of gimmicky jumps."
Pessoa added, "Conrad was an unbelievable rider and he's just as good as a course designer. There was a lot of feeling; he knows courses well. The fences are always in the right places. He really did a tremendous job without jumping mountains."
Todd Minikus and Pavarotti
First to go was Minikus on Pavarotti. They flew around the jump-off course to try and set the time to beat. They stopped the timers with no faults in 36.84 seconds, and would finish in third place.
Minikus joked about having to go first, "Life's all about position right? I wasn't in the best position going first. I think ultimately that ended up being an awesome class. My horse was absolutely awesome. I was a little slow to the white gate being careful. That was where I was slow, (but) I've lost a lot of grand prixs going fast."
He added, "I'm personally very proud to be able to sit with Rodrigo, McLain and Laura. That's a pretty good list of show jumping riders right there."
Kraut and Cedric were next in, and they were very fast across the middle of the ring from the orange oxer to the upright gate vertical, to the double combination. They came just under Minikus' time with no faults in 36.02 seconds. Their time would hold up for second place in tonight's class.
Ward and Sapphire, last year's winner of the FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix were next. They sped around the course and were very fast turning back to FTI oxer and down the final line. They came home in 34.89 seconds, which would set the winning time.
McLain Ward and Sapphire
"I went tonight with Rodrigo coming behind me and thought I wasn't going to leave any room. I saw Rodrigo land on the same time as me at the double, and he's got a quick horse, but it went our way. I tried to lay it down, and I think it's the fastest that I've ever gone with her," Ward revealed. "It was a great jump-off course for my horse because there were a lot of places to leave out strides."
The last to contend were Pessoa and Let's Fly, owned by Double H Farm. Pessoa went quickly and would have finished second with a time of 35.97 seconds, but four faults at the FTI oxer left them in fourth place.
"I knew exactly what was coming my way. On a night like this, you know they're not going to make mistakes," Pessoa said. "You have to be on your best to beat them. You just have to give it a try. My horse jumped really, really well. My mistake in the jump-off was when I turned out of the double, I was on a good time, and I couldn't get square to the oxer. That made it a little bit wider and he hit the back pole. But he tried really hard."
For Ward, today's win just shows once more the incredible talent of Sapphire and her amazing consistency. "It's a nice way to finish the circuit, and I think she's rounding into good form for the FEI World Cup Finals. I'm so lucky to have this horse and the people around me. She just keeps giving and giving and giving," he expressed.
Ward finished third in the FTI Rider Challenge and said of FTI's sponsorship at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, "It's a great incentive, and it shows consistency over the circuit. What FTI does for the sport is phenomenal, and we can't thank them enough."
McLain Ward rides in Ecogold saddle pads:
“I feel Ecogold pads are the best on the market to allow close contact while providing comfort and protection to my horses back, ensuring their best possible performance.”
Click here to view: McLain Ward's profile in our Hall of Champions with videos!