March 10, 2016 - Week nine of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), sponsored by Douglas Elliman Real Estate, continued on Thursday with a win for Reed Kessler (USA) and Cylana in the $130,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round 9 held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL. It was Kessler and Cylana's second win of the series in 2016 after also topping the $130,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup Round 5.
WEF 9 runs March 9-13, 2016, featuring CSI 5* jumper and 'AA' rated hunter divisions. Friday features the $35,000 Illustrated Properties 1.45m Classic in the morning and the $25,000 Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Semi-Final, presented by Seabrook LLC, in the evening. Saturday night highlights the $380,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate Grand Prix CSI5*, and Sunday concludes the week with the $86,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic. The 12-week WEF circuit runs through April 3 offering more than $9 million in prize money.
Alan Wade (IRL) is the course designer in the International Ring for WEF 9. For Thursday's Challenge Cup class, Wade set the track for 74 starters, with seven clear rounds.
In the jump-off, Margie Engle (USA) and Elm Rock LLC's Royce set the pace with a clear round in 44.88 seconds to eventually finish third. Sharn Wordley (NZL) and the Sky Group's Casper cleared the course next with the fifth place time of 47.34 seconds. Fabio Leivas (BRA) and Marco Antonio Alencar's Fape Fox Trot VD Padenborre jumped into second place with their round in 44.64 seconds. Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Artisan Farms' Fine Lady 5 had eight faults in the jump-off in 44.18 seconds to place seventh. Nine Fagerstrom (FIN) was next to go with a clear round in 45.56 seconds to place fourth aboard Finca Horses' Flower. Kessler and Cylana followed with the winning time of 43.51 seconds. Last to go, McLain Ward (USA) and Double H Farm's HH Carlos Z had the time in 42.22 seconds, but dropped one unlucky rail to finish sixth.
Following her victory, Kessler admitted that the win was a relief after a difficult time with Cylana in week eight. The 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Skippy II x Darco), owned by Kessler Show Stables, was not feeling like herself through the week and had three rails down in the Sunday's grand prix.
"I feel really relieved because I did not have a great week last week, and I was actually so stressed about it that I gave myself an ulcer and was in the emergency room on Tuesday," Kessler stated. "Cylana jumped really well in the WEF (Challenge Cup) on Thursday (last week), and I was flatting her in the days after and she was fine on her legs, but was behaving a little funny. She did not want to move her haunches, and I know her so well that I was a little worried. She just did not feel 100%. I was so stressed about whether I would jump her or not. She is more than a horse to me; she is like half of me, and I never want to jump her if she is not right. I had our team vet go over her and he thought she was fine, so we jumped on Sunday and it did not go well at all. We had three down, and she did not jump like herself. I gave a few quiet days, and put her out in the field at home, and whatever was bothering her was totally fine this week. I feel so much relief having had that round now. That was not her last week; that was her today."
The challenging track by Wade yielded just seven clear rounds, but Kessler thought it was well done.
"It was quite difficult today. There were only seven clear," Kessler stated. "Alan Wade is a great course designer, and I think that is the way the WEF should be. It is a big 5* week and a big money class, so it should be challenging. I did not even think I went particularly fast in the jump-off; I just made a few tight turns and was able to win. I wanted to have a nice clear round to set her up for Saturday. I thought I would just do a few neat turns and see what happens. Luckily, everything came up well. Honestly, I thought I would be second or third. I did not expect to win, so that was really nice."
"That was a great jump-off," Kessler added. "It was the kind of jump-off where you could have a really smooth, calculated, clever round and get a great piece of it. I thought it was a great class."
Kessler and Cylana will return to their home base in Europe after this weekend, and the mare will have several weeks of turnout and time off while Kessler competes with other horses. Kessler will then await the release of the U.S. Show Jumping Short List, as her sights remain set on competing in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In addition to the winning prize money on Thursday, Kessler picked up her second $3,000 bonus of the circuit for wearing SSG 'Digital' style riding gloves as part of the SSG Gloves 'Go Clean for the Green' promotion.
Also competing in the International Ring on Thursday, the $8,000 Douglas Elliman 1.45m jump-off class was held with a win for Conor Swail (IRL) aboard Susan and Ariel Grange's Cita. The $2,500 MAYBACH - ICONS OF LUXURY High Amateur-Owner Jumper speed class was also held in the afternoon with a win for Rogelio Pellerano and Precieuse Platiere.
Peggy Gehman Sweeps the Pre-Green Hunter 3 & 4 Year Olds Aboard Jon Snow
The crowning of the Pre-Green Hunter 3 & 4 Year Old champion took place in Ring 6 early on Thursday. A beautiful sunny morning served as the backdrop for Peggy Gehman's complete domination of the division. She piloted Meralex
Farm's Jon Snow, a five-year-old Holsteiner gelding, to wins in all four classes on her way to the division championship. Rob Carey and First Watch settled for the reserve title, placing second, third, and fourth over fences and second in the under saddle.
Jon Snow, named after a famous television show character, has a personality that holds up to his namesake. "We have a bunch of horses named after the 'Game of Thrones' characters," Gehman remarked.
"Jon Snow (the gelding) has got lots of personality. He's really pesky and needy," she laughed.
Jon Snow was imported to the United States less than a year ago. "We bought him as part of a group of young horses in Germany three years ago," owner Bryan Baldwin explained. "We brought him along in Germany and then brought him over here last year in May."
Since his arrival, the team at Meralex has been preparing the young horse for competition. The gelding made his horse show debut here at WEF a few weeks ago. "This is his fourth horse show ever," Baldwin stated.
The last few weeks have been a bit of a learning experience for the young gelding, but he is starting to earn consistent results. "He's been the champion now twice this circuit and he won a class last week," rider Peggy Gehman explained. "The first week we were kind of green, but we are getting there!"
"The purpose of buying these young horses is to two-fold: to enjoy bringing along the young horses and making them up yourself, but also, to look for and to find the next great one," Baldwin remarked.
It can be difficult to find the next great hunter in the professional divisions. "To find the next great one winning in the big professional divisions, they are just so expensive," Baldwin stated. "If you can find a young one and bring it along, you are taking more risk, but you are also coming in at a lower price point. At worst you have a nice hunter for a junior or amateur to ride. But, what we are really looking for is the next Castle Rock," she said.
Both Gehman and Baldwin have nothing but positive things to say about Jon Snow and his budding career. "He's a good mover, he's a great jumper. He's not spooky. He's just so nice about the jumps. He's really a nice guy," Gehman remarked. "He's a very pretty type," Baldwin added.
Gehman was thrilled with the gelding's performance this week. "He's finally gotten to where he is really consistent," she said.
Gehman will continue to show Jon Snow in the Pre-Green divisions during the last few weeks of competition at WEF. "We will hopefully bring him along to do the regular 3' Pre-Green division and the Pre-Green Incentive classes. I think we will try for that this year," Gehman stated about the gelding's future.
The ninth week of competition at the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival continues on Friday featuring the $35,000 Illustrated Properties 1.45m Classic in the International Ring in the morning and the $25,000 Artisan Farms U25 Grand Prix Semi-Final, presented by Seabrook LLC, in the evening. The $5,000 "Give a Buck" Small, Medium, and Large Pony Hunter Derbies will be featured on the grass derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC throughout the day. For more information and full results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.