The blue Deeridge Farms initials used to decorate the arena during the Wellington Masters (bottom photo) were in pointed mimicry of initials constructed at WEF in 2015 (top photo).
Mark Bellissimo’s Wellington Equestrian Partners filed a lawsuit on Friday, March 18th, 2016 against Stadium Jumping Inc. and its directors, Jeremy Jacobs and his son Lou.
The lawsuit alleges that Stadium Jumping Inc., a horse show management company which produces such top-class events as The American Gold Cup and The New Albany Invitational, violated a non-compete clause from a 2007 lawsuit settlement when it produced the Wellington Masters CSI3*-W at the Jacob family’s Deeridge Farm from February 4th – 7th.
Multiple lawsuits filed in February, 2007 regarding the property now known as the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center came to a close later that year, when both sides settled their differences. Stadium Jumping, which held the licenses for the Winter Equestrian Festival show dates, agreed to transfer the dates to Bellissimo’s Wellington Equestrian Partners, as outlined in this 2007 USEF news release.
However, Bellissimo now alleges that non-compete and non-interference clauses in that 2007 settlement were “among the most critical aspects of the settlement agreement.”
The Wellington Masters CSI3*-W marked the first time that dual USEF/FEI rated competitions were held within several miles of each other. On the same weekend as the Wellington Masters at Deeridge, the Winter Equestrian Festival held the 4th week of its circuit at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, a CSI4* rated competition that attracted over 50 FEI riders in its grand prix qualifier and hosted a CSI4* grand prix.
The second competition was allowed to take place because of a recent USEF rule change that exempted the federation’s mileage rule in geographical areas where the market can prove a need for it due to an higher than normal concentration of competitors. Bellissimo’s Winter Equestrian Festival has come under increased criticism this season for its high entry numbers and overcrowded showgrounds.
Many riders, who chose not to be identified because of the pending litigation, voiced their support for a second show that offered another option to WEF, and rider consensus is not only that a second show is needed in Wellington, but that allowing competition in a free market economy would encourage both organizers to raise their standards. Stadium Jumping Inc. and the Wellington Masters were widely commended for pulling off a top quality, well-run event in February.
However, market needs in an oversaturated area that Bellissimo himself helped to create seems not to matter to Wellington Equestrian Partners, which now seeks in its lawsuit to prevent Stadium Jumping Inc. from hosting another show. Bellissimo was quoted in the Palm Beach Post as saying he “heard Stadium Jumping Inc. was planning to expand the event next year, so he had to make a move now.”
Until more information is made available, this effort to shut down a second competition in Wellington that was welcomed and widely considered a needed asset to the industry smacks of a developer’s fixation to remain the biggest, and only, player in town. It remains to be seen whether Bellissimo’s recent purchase of the International Polo Club’s 248 acres that are adjacent to Deeridge Farm will play a part in this most recent turn of events. Speculation is high on whether Wellington Equestrian Partners will expand to open its own second horse show on the new property.