McLain Ward and Sapphire Win $400,000 FTI Finale Grand Prix CSI*****
RELEASE: March 26, 2009
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Ken Braddick
Olympic Double-Gold medalist McLain Ward and Sapphire won the biggest purse in his career Saturday night by capturing the $400,000 FTI Consulting Finale CSI***** Grand Prix Saturday night at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC).
Todd Minikus of Wellington won the $200,000 FTI Rider Challenge in a double header event that made the total purse the largest payday in U.S. jumping history.
The finale grand prix of the 12 weeks of the FTI Winter Equestrian at PBIEC that has undergone a multi-million dollar makeover was a dramatic highlight of the world's longest and largest horse show with prize money approaching $6 million in jumpers, hunters and dressage.
Lauren Hough of Wellington, FL, who had dominated the circuit-long FTI Rider Challenge withdrew her horse, Quick Study, only hours before the competition due to a slight strain in the high suspensory on the left hind leg, an ailment that veterinarians said could have allowed her to ride. She withdrew "for the sake of the horse," an action that drew unanimous praise.
Despite heavy rain throughout much of the day that stopped just as the first of 35 horse-and-rider combinations went on the course designed by Guillherme Jorge of Brazil, about 5,000 spectators turned out for the event under lights. Eight pairs made it to the jump-off.
Ward of Brewster, NY, and the 14-year-old Belgian warmblood mare, owned by Ward and Tom Grossman's Blue Chip Bloodstock, were the fastest in the jump-off, posting a time of 41.56 seconds, earning them $120,000. The win was the third in a row for Ward and Sapphire, earning the pair $320,000 at this winter circuit.
Great Britain's Nick Skelton and Nemo 119, owned by Beverly Widdowson, cleared the course in 42.55 seconds, earning them second place and $88,000. Venezuela's Pablo Barrios and Lagran, owned by Pablo Barrios and Andres Olivares, rounded out the top three with a time of 43.64 seconds, earning them $52,000.
The Finale Grand Prix was the concluding event of the $200,000 FTI Rider Challenge.
After Hough's withdrawal was announced, Ward said, "Lauren made a hard call today. A lesser horseman would have gone. By taking herself out tonight, she took herself out of the bonus."
The fifth-place finish tonight by Pavarotti, owned by Todd Minikus, Ltd, the Wellington resident captured the top spot on the Rider Challenge rankings and $100,000. Ward was second in the Challenge taking home another $50,000. Third place and $30,000 went to Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, NY, the 2008 winner, while fourth place and $20,000 went to Charlie Jayne of Elgin, IL.
Minikus said of the Challenge: "There's no question you think about it. Tonight was a huge class. It's a high pressure situation."
"My stomach started to turn yesterday. It's a familiar feeling. I was excited for tonight and giddy this afternoon," Ward said of Saturday's class, which he ranked as one of the top three victories of his career that includes Gold medals on Sapphire at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
Skelton, one of the most celebrated riders in show jumping history, said, "I knew McLain was going to take a bit to beat. I think it was a lack of experience on the horse and a trip up by the in-gate. I was going as fast as I could."
Dennis Shaughnessy, Chairman of FTI Consulting, the New York Stock Exchange company that sponsored both the grand prix and the challenge, described his company's involvement. "At FTI we fix tough problems and people have to trust us. I have never seen a sport where you have to have that trust between the horse and rider. That's why this sport is such a good parallel to what we are trying to do."
Minikus said his jump-off round was "not smooth enough," but that winning the FTI Rider Challenge is "outstanding."
Ward said the goal for Sapphire is the World Cup Final in Las Vegas, April 15-19.
Meantime, he said, he has bought a