Sunday was the final day of Week I of the Winter Equestrian Festival, which is technically the second week following this year’s new addition of the Premiere week. Week I was the first week where the competitions were held using the FEI rules designated for competitions. Saturday’s Grand Prix tonight was the $137,000 Wellington Regional Medical Center CSI3* Grand Prix. There were 45 entries, of which 44 horse and rider pairs crossed the in-gate. Management continued to do what they needed to do to make everyone safe with masking and social distancing, so the stands had only a sprinkling of occupied seats as outside spectators were not allowed. The weather was chilly, but perfect for the horses to compete at their best. The Week I Grand Prix was also the first grand prix to be held under the Saturday night lights! Our course designers for the week were Andy Christiansen(MEX) and Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA).
A quick breakdown of Saturday’s course reveals that there would not be a water jump, which is not necessary at this level, but I do hope we will see one soon. There were two liverpools, one of which was a closed vertical and the other an oxer liverpool. There was a double combination and a triple combination. We saw a plank vertical, a short pole vertical and a wall. I have stated in many walks of the past that I believe the wall is not used enough! I know the wall played a major role in Saturday night’s class.
For the first time in a while, I noticed in my walk that there was great use of poles of different lengths in the jump construction. There were lengths of 8ft, 10ft, and 12ft which is something that can add to the visual difficulty of that particular jump. I know that there is always a mix of the lengths in most of the courses, but tonight it stood out for me. The course featured 13 numbered obstacles and 16 efforts. The time allowed for the initial round was set at 80 seconds. Now, let’s run through my walk of the $137,000 Wellington Regional Medical Center CSI 3* Grand Prix.
#1 Vertical 1.48m or 4.10ft came toward the in-gate and quickly ended the evening for two riders, giving them plenty of time to go home and watch the football game.
#2 Oxer 1.48/1.55m or 4.10/5.1ft was on the right rein away from the in-gate and was the bogey jump on the evening with five refusals and five top poles hitting the ground. I was asked by someone who was live-streaming the class “what is wrong with fence two?” There was nothing wrong with #2. It was built a little deep into the corner, but not too deep. As with all obstacles, the rider must find a good distance and there were quite a few bad decisions on the correct distance. Creative use of the placement of the jumps in the ring is one of the tools the course designer can use. This was a fair test.
#3 Plank vertical 1.55m or 5.1ft came on a soft left bending rein with a distance of 32m or 104.9ft. This was the only fence to remain intact throughout the evening.
#4 Oxer 1.48/1.55m or 4.10/5.1ft came from #3 in a straight line with a distance of 25.8m or 84.6ft and tumbled to the floor one time.
#5a Vertical 1.50m or 5ft came from #4 on a right turn with no given distance allowing riders the opportunity for a long gallop. This fence was punished with three refusals and four sand-covered poles.
#5b Oxer 1.50/1.60m or 5/5.3ft came from #5a with a distance of 7.90m or 25.9ft and fell from grace nine times. In this triple I could not find the actual distance for this combination, so the distances given are what I walked and ask the course designers for forgiveness if I am too far off.
#5c Vertical 1.52m or 5.1ft comes from #5b with a distance of 8m or 26.3ft and was removed from the yellow cups two times.
#6 The Wall 1.58m or 5.2ft. The wall came from #5c on the right rein and no given distance and was not knocked down, but did create three refusals. The wall requires the rider to find a very specific take-off point and failure to find this distance with a rider or horse that has not jumped that many walls can be more difficult to approach properly than some obstacles. We need to see the wall more often and we need some variety of walls. Not that long ago we certainly saw more use of the wall and some variety in the construction.
#7 Oxer 1.50/1.60m or 5/5.3ft came from #6 with a distance of 19m or 62.3ft. This oxer created another two refusals and two poles were dashed from the top cups.
#8 Triple bar 1.50/1.90m or 5/6.3ft came from #7 on the left rein with no given distance and kissed mother earth three times.
#9 Closed Liverpool vertical came from #8 in a straight line with a distance of 14.6m or 47.9ft. There were nine splashdowns and one refusal.
#10a Oxer 1.50/1.60m or 5/5.3ft came from #9 on the left rein with no given distance and caused disappointment for one rider.
#10b Oxer 1.50/1.50m or 5/5ft came from #10a with a distance of 11.2m or 36.7ft. One rider saw their hopes for the jump-off dashed here.
#11 Vertical 1.60m or 5.3ft came on the full rollback turn off the left rein. Here we saw four poles tumble to the turf.
#12 Short pole vertical 1.52m or 5.1ft came with no given distance on the right rein across the face of the in-gate and also tumbled to the turf five times.
#13 Liverpool oxer 1.50/1.70m or 5/5.6ft came from #12 in a straight line past the in-gate with a distance of 23.2m or 76ft and drowned the hopes of eight riders. This was the final fence in the first round of the Wellington Regional Medical Center CSI 3* #137,000 Grand Prix. The results will follow.
The results of the first round showed just three clear rounds advancing to jump off. There was one ride resulting in 1 time fault, 14 rounds of 4 faults, one with 5 faults, seven rounds of 8 faults, and three with 9 faults. The rest will jump another day. In my opinion, one of the signs of a really good comes is when all of the jumps prove to be a factor in the end result, which was the case tonight as all the jumps but number #3 played a role throughout the evening.
There was an unusual result in that there were 11 refusals tonight and that is a larger number than in the past. I mean no disrespect to any rider, but many refusals were not a result of the course but that there were a number of poor rides to poor distances. This is not the norm, but it happens and all will be back next week. There were no falls, six eliminations caused by refusals and there were two voluntary withdrawals. I loved the track and appreciate the good design from Andy and Anthony to make this a very entertaining Grand Prix. Until next week I am Dave Ballard. Stay Safe.