In a jump-off where guts meant glory, Japan’s Karen Polle and With Wings quite literally took flight to win the $130,000 Ruby et Violette Challenge Cup CSI5*, Round 9, at the Winter Equestrian Festival on Thursday, March 9, in Wellington, Florida.
Karen and the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Larino x L. Ronald), who last month celebrated seven years of partnership, topped a stacked field of veteran and rising talent alike. On the younger end of the spectrum, Under 25 U.S. rider Lillie Keenan jumped to a 2nd place finish behind Polle while five-star veteran Lauren Hough rode to 3rd to cap off the class’s top three performances.
A strong female contingent proved it could be done, but the class winner would go on to comment that Thursday’s victory was by no means a walk in the park. Alan Wade’s 13-fence track was a challenging test, requiring consistency and decisiveness at every turn.
“I thought the first round rode a little trickier than it walked,” Polle commented. “At the beginning, we didn’t see so many clears. I rode 31st [in the order] and I was the fourth clear so more of the clears happened at the end. There were rails all over and a lot of places where you could have a fault.”
With a course defined by multiple combinations and related distances throughout a winding track, riders had to be particularly conscious of their pace in order to make the 77 second time allowed.
Portugal’s Luciana Dinaz and Canada’s Eric Lamaze, who has won multiple WEF Challenge Cups this season, were among the five combinations who narrowly missed out on a second round appearance with a single time fault marking their otherwise clear trip.
Disappointment ensued for riders such as last week’s Challenge Cup winner, Shane Sweetnam, who was one of 17 who completed their trip effort well inside the time but accrued four faults on course.
At the midway mark of the class, only two riders, Canada’s Yann Candele and the USA’s Ali Wolff, had managed to capture an elusive clear round. Clear trips would become more frequent in the later half of the start list. After a short break and ring drag, 25 remaining horse and rider combinations entered the International Arena with hopes of advancing to the next round.
Hough and the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding Cornet 39 (Cornet Obolensky x Caletto 1) gave the field its third clear, directly followed by Polle and With Wings. By the conclusion of the first round, 12 pairs—including U.S. Olympic team silver medalist Lucy Davis, Margie Engle, Eduardo Menezes, Pablo Barrios, Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden, Lillie Keenan, and Nayel Nassar—would comprise the jump-off roster.
Round 2 also had its fair share of challenges featuring the addition of two new fences at jumps 15 and 16 and the inclusion of the one-stride combination from Round 1: the vertical to oxer at line 12ab.
After both Candele and Wolff lowered fences on course, Hough would set the standard for the second round, clocking a time of 38.53 seconds. Next to enter the arena, Polle and With Wings delivered a sensational clear, earning the edge by leaving out a stride to the Douglas Elliman oxer at fence 16 and the last jump at the Hermès oxer.
“I thought the jump-off was really fun,” said an enthusiastic Polle. “For ‘Wings’ it really suited him because you could get a gallop and try to cruise through and just watch the verticals. There were two places where I was able to leave out strides which I think really helped me.”
When asked about the decision to ‘really go for it’ over the last fences, Polle described that it was a gut feeling and trust in her horse that made their double clear possible.
“The last line, we were planning eight strides originally, but when I was going in I said to Rodrigo [Pessoa] that I really felt there was a seven there. He said if you want it, you need to meet it just right, if not then go for the eight. I met it really well so I went for it!”
Davis and Cassis 54 (Candidatus x Landadel) rode a double clear round in 38.94 seconds to finish in 4th place. The fastest round of the day went to the master of speed, Kent Farrington at 35.54 seconds, but a knock down over the final oxer would put him and the 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare Gazelle (Kashmir von Schuttershot x Indoctro) into an eventual 7th place.
Giving a strong effort as the second-to-last rider in the jump-off, Lillie Keenan and the 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Skyhorse (Calvaro x Guidam de Revel) stopped the timers at 38.14 seconds to secure 2nd place honors.
For Polle, the success she’s had aboard the talented gelding is something that she felt was always possible for the pair:
“When I tried him [for the first time] I didn’t really know a lot because I was still a junior. But I remember when I rode him, I thought that he was really special and that we could go all the way. I started doing low juniors with him and then worked our way up to the five-star level. I think that makes our partnership even more special. Because we’ve known each other so long, we trust each other. We’ve been through everything together—it’s very rare and I’m very lucky.”
The 24-year-old, who began training with Rodrigo Pessoa in October of 2016, is looking forward to competition the rest of the weekend in Wellington with her sights set on another top placing in this Saturday’s CSI5* $380,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix.
See the complete results of the $130,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup, Round 9 at this link.