Over 3,500 fans packed the stands at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) on the opening Saturday night to watch the women beat the men for the fifth year in a row in the $55,000 Nespresso Battle of the Sexes at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) in Wellington. It was the closest race yet in the three-phase competition between the male and female teams, but the ladies pulled out another victory in the end.
Week one of FTI WEF runs January 9-13, sponsored by The Mar-a-Lago Club. The week will conclude on Sunday with the $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix in the International Arena at PBIEC. The 2013 FTI WEF runs through March 31 featuring 12 weeks of world-class competition.
Eric Hasbrouck is the course designer in the International Arena this week and set the tracks for Saturday’s classes. In the highlight $55,000 Nespresso Battle of the Sexes, the three-phase contest included speed rounds, match races, and six-bar competition.
The women’s team was captained by Georgina Bloomberg and also included riders Laura Kraut, Margie Engle, Marilyn Little, Maggie Bracco, Nicole Bellissimo, Debbie Stephens, Brianne Goutal, Candice King, and Schuyler Riley.
Charlie Jayne led the men’s team, which included riders Shane Sweetnam, Richie Moloney, Daniel Bluman, Luis Larrazabal, Ramiro Quintana, Steve Schaefer, Darragh Kenny, Alex Granato, and Nick Skelton.
The first round of competition in tonight’s Nespresso Battle of the Sexes was the speed round, with a 6 to 4 win for the men. The match races followed, with the men and women competing side by side over identical courses. The women were the winners of that round with six points over the men’s four, bringing the total team points to a ten-ten tie.
The final six-bar competition would be the deciding factor of the evening. Four men and four women returned from each team with the opportunity to earn two points per clear round. The competition started at 1.60m (5’3″) in height and moved up to 1.80m (5’11″) through three rounds.
Following the first six-bar round, only three riders continued from each team after Maggie Bracco and Shane Sweetnam each had rails. In round two, Charlie Jayne, Laura Kraut, and Daniel Bluman all had rails. Nick Skelton was the only member of the men’s team to advance to the third round competing against Candice King and Georgina Bloomberg. The six jumps were taken down to four with the larger height, and with the men on 18 points and the women on 20, all three riders jumped clear. The final tally was 24 to 20 – a victory for the women.
Captain of the winning team, Georgina Bloomberg, was thrilled to be a part of the women’s fifth consecutive victory in the event. Bloomberg was last to jump in the final round aboard her horse Highrise and gave the women the solid four-point lead.
Commenting on her last round, Bloomberg stated, “I have a lot of confidence in my horse, but I have never done him in this kind of class and I have actually never done him in a night situation, so my only worry was getting to the first jump. I didn’t know how he was going to react to the crowd and stuff, but I have all the confidence in the world in his scope and he is careful. I just had to be able to fit in each two stride and not mess it up for him.”
“I had faith in us,” Bloomberg said of her team. “We seem to do a little bit better under pressure. It made me a little nervous in the end because Nick is obviously so good at this. I knew we needed a little bit of luck on our side, but I never lost faith.”
Speaking about her fellow teammates, Bloomberg smiled, “Everyone was amazing. We really form a team because we all work together every day. We know each other so well. It is nice to do a team competition and not be riding against each other and to really be rooting for each other. We always seem to come together well and be there for each other and I think that is what gives us the edge, that we are really just a great team.”
Bloomberg enjoyed the atmosphere of the Saturday night class and the enthusiastic crowd cheering everyone on.
“It is great to look up and see the stands full and hear the music playing,” she acknowledged. “It means a lot to us to have people come and watch us and support us, especially with this kind of event, so it was a great night.”
Men’s Team Captain Charlie Jayne echoed the sentiments. “All the way around the ring was packed, which was really exciting,” he said. “The crowd was really behind you. And it came down to the end, which was better than last year. This year we had some fast riders and I think that showed. We started off winning the first two with Shane and rRchie and that was nice momentum. We really stuck with it the whole time. Unfortunately the cups rolled out not in our favor for the six bar.”
In addition to the winning prize money, a few special awards were presented this evening. Darragh Kenny won a gift certificate from The Brazilian Court Hotel and Beach Club for the overall best time in both the speed and match race rounds aboard his mount Vanotrouska.
This was Kenny’s first time competing in the Battle of the Sexes and he was excited to win the special award for his speed in the two rounds. Kenny remarked, “It is really cool. I did a mare that belongs to a client of mine, Megan Bifano. She is a really super mare; she was fantastic tonight. She tried so hard and she is really, really fast and really competitive. This is a lovely, lovely prize. She is a junior jumper, so she is used to going fast, but nothing like this.”
“I have never done this,” Kenny added. “It was my first year, so to win the speed award was quite nice. It was a fun class and I would love to do it again for sure. Hopefully I will have a six-bar horse next year too.”
A $1,000 prize was also to be awarded to the rider that had the most clear rounds in the six-bar competition. When Skelton, Bloomberg, and King all cleared the final round and decided not to continue any further, the money was split between all three riders.
Source: Lauren Fisher and Laura Cardon for Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.