2013 FTI WEF Opening Press Conference
RELEASE: January 10, 2013
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: Lauren Fisher for Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.
Press Conference Panel Laura Kraut, Dennis Shaughnessy, Mark Bellissimo and Nick Skelton. (ManciniPhotos)
The 2013 FTI WEF hosted its opening press conference on Tuesday afternoon and a large crowd of local, national, and international media were in attendance to kick off the 12-week competition. The FTI WEF circuit will host thousands of the world's best horses and riders competing in the hunter, jumper and equitation disciplines starting January 9 and running through March 31.
The press conference panel included Equestrian Sport Productions' (ESP) CEO Mark Bellissimo and FTI Consulting, Inc.'s Executive Chairman of the Board, Dennis J. Shaughnessy, as well as top show jumpers and Olympic Gold Medalists Laura Kraut (USA) and Nick Skelton (GBR).
As the FTI WEF moves into another year, everyone looks forward to the continued growth and development of the event. On Tuesday, Mark Bellissimo welcomed members of the press and spoke about the great changes that he continues to see.
"This is the 34th year of the Winter Equestrian Festival and it should be an outstanding year for us," Bellissimo declared. "I first want to thank FTI Consulting and Dennis Shaughnessy for once again being our title sponsor. Through their investment in our vision and our facility and our event I think that we have really been able to distinguish this event throughout the world."
"This year we will see a record crowd," Bellissimo stated. "We are sold out of every major component of our business from International Club tables to box seats. I believe that we will have a record international audience this year with the likes of Nick Skelton leading that pack as the gold medal winner in the 2012 Olympic Games. We are attracting very high caliber competitors in the jumper world, the hunter world and dressage. We are very excited about this year and I think this will be a breakout year for us."
Spectatorship at the FTI WEF has had tremendous growth through a combination of alliances with the schools and communications throughout Palm Beach County in conjunction with the FTI Consulting Great Charity Challenge.
In addition to the growth of spectatorship, the Wellington community itself is growing rapidly. Bellissimo noted that there are currently 47 new construction projects going on right now with new houses and barns being built, creating an even stronger community. As more people call Wellington 'home', the shows that ESP hosts throughout the rest of the year are also booming.
The show also made a large investment in improving infrastructure. As Bellissimo detailed, "We want to make sure that the increase in spectatorship is matched with accessibility, enhancements and better spectator pavilions. We have spent a lot on the International Club to make that more permanent. We added a new pavilion that will be called Central Park that sits between The Gallery and the Wellington Club. Each year we have added a new pavilion. I think it gives another opportunity for people to come and have a different experience for a different age group. We have tried to enhance the public access areas in a way that makes some sense. People will also see some noticeable improvements to the front entrance, including a Venetian carousel. We are trying to hone the facility to be a much more elegant, safe, spectator-friendly venue."
The fantastic competition in Wellington is something that riders are taking notice of around the world, especially since three of the four team members from this year's gold medal winning team from Great Britain showed here last year in preparation for the Olympic Games in London. Nick Skelton was a member of that team with his great horse Big Star and was one of the most successful riders on the circuit here last year prior to that win. Nick explained how the level of competition in Wellington helped him prepare for that monumental victory.
Skelton stated, "Coming here for the three months definitely contributed towards him in London. You can teach them a lot of things here. You can go in the different rings and it is invaluable to give them the experience that they need, especially as a young horse. As the weeks go on the prize money gets better. There are fantastic shows here with really good prize money. I've been very lucky the last few years here and taken quite a bit away. It is a great facility. There are a lot more foreign riders coming over and they all think the same thing. The weather is good here and I think the horses do better in the sunshine. They come on better for the weather and when they go back in the spring they are ready to go, like Big Star was."
FTI Chairman Dennis Shaughnessy has seen the reach that sponsoring at this competition has had for his company. "FTI obviously is a global company, but our largest office is in London," Shaughnessy said. "There is a great magazine called Horse and Hound there and last year I started getting calls from clients in London. They Picked up Horse and Hound and on the cover is FTI WEF and there were some kind words from Nick and his fellow teammates about the entire operation. It was a pleasant surprise for us as a sponsor because I am getting great impressions sitting in London of something that we are sponsoring here. For those of you native to Palm Beach County and this area, the outreach is unbelievable. You have one of the classiest magazines in London featuring beautiful color photography of the facility here. Most of the British Olympic team were unbelievably complimentary about not only the facility itself, but the experience. They talked about the uniformity and the quality of the rings. As a sponsor I wanted to thank Nick for the kind words because it resonated with our employees as well as our clients over there."
"This is a tremendous asset," Shaughnessy added. "I'm not sure everyone understands that between December and April you have a collection of people here that can do an awful lot of good for Palm Beach County. You have a Collection of CEOs, fund managers, investment bankers. It's probably rare to get them all together in one spot. The impressions they are getting from Palm Beach and Wellington are priceless. You could not pay to have that kind of marketing. Mark and the staff deserve a lot of credit for being great promoters of the sport and putting an awful lot of investment into making this the premier facility in the world."
Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut has been showing in Wellington for 33 of the show's 34 years, beginning on ponies and moving up the ranks. Kraut is now a top competitor and trainer, with several young students making their mark on the sport. She has also been very helpful to the horse show in sharing her opinions and suggestions for improvement.
Bellissimo detailed, "Laura has been a phenomenal force in terms of providing the eyes and ears on the ground. It is tough when you are running a show likes this to please everyone, but she has been spectacular and has really tried to push the quality of our product over the years."
"I have always found them incredibly receptive to almost anything that I have suggested or critiqued. They always are willing to listen," Kraut said. "You can see by looking around you it has just gotten better and better. This is a great business opportunity for all of us in this sport, a great competitive opportunity, and it is becoming more of a sport for the show jumping end of it."
Other notable improvements to this year's schedule include another CSI 5*-rated week during FTI WEF 9 as well as the addition of a Nations Cup series for young riders, sponsored by Hollow Creek Farm. Three new FEI Nations Cup competitions will be held for Children 12 to 14 years old, for Juniors 14 to 18 years old and for Young Riders 16 to 21 years old during Week 8 of the FTI WEF alongside the $75,000 FEI Nations Cup presented by G&C Farm. As well as a team competition, there will also be an individual class for the three levels, all of which will run under full FEI rules giving the riders an early experience of top level international competition.
Wellington Equestrian Partner Katherine Bellissimo added that there are many more factors to the added competition for young riders as well as young horses.
"We are not just about running the biggest and best horse show in the world, we are trying to develop young horses and riders, which is also why we are doing the Nations Cup series, she stated. "It doesn't just start when the team is selected; it starts when they are young. It starts with having classes here where they can compete on an international basis and get that team experience as well as the individual experience. It is also about developing horses here in the United States instead of going to Europe to get them. We are doing the young horse shows, a lot of education, some breeding shows, and we are working with young riders to help us grow the sport."
A further expansion includes even more competition on the grass derby field at The Stadium at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. During FTI WEF 7, the hunters are the focus in the International Arena and the jumpers will have all of their classes for the week at The Stadium. The hunters will then have a whole week of competition there themselves during FTI WEF 9 and will of course have their feature $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby there as the finale hunter event during FTI WEF 12.