A jam-packed weekend of equestrian sport ended on a high note for Todd Minikus on the derby field at Equestrian Village in Wellington, Florida on Sunday, February 5, 2017.
Minikus won the $216,000 Ariat CSI4* Grand Prix aboard Babalou 41, topping a three-horse jumpoff that featured Sergio Alvaraz-Moya of Spain in 2nd place with G&C Unicstar D’Laumone, and 21-year-old Jennifer Gates in 3rd, with Pumped Up Kicks, on the open grass derby field that is a true gem of the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“As riders we were lucky today, we had two nice grand prix [classes] that we could participate in,” Minikus said. Earlier in the afternoon, he jumped Valinski S to a four fault round in the $160,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Wellington CSI3*-W at the Palm Beach Masters at Deeridge Farms. He then made a quick venue change, and produced a much better result less than two miles down the road.
“It worked out well here, and it was hard because the horses had to walk out here [onto the derby field] for the first time. We didn’t have a warm up class, so it was hard for a lot of the horses to come out and be right on their game,” Minikus said of the venue. “You needed a little bit of an experienced horse.”
For the feature competition of WEF Week 4, a starting order of 33 riders traveled the short distance from the main WEF grounds to the Equestrian Village complex and derby field, which less than 24 hours ago had held cross country jumping for the $100,000 Land Rover Eventing Showcase. But come Sunday the show jumpers took over as Steve Stephens set a sizable 1.60m track—albeit, one that wound around many of the solid cross country fences still in place on the field.
“This was a four-star class and it was built as a four star,” Minikus said. “The jumps were the size of a proper four star and maybe there wasn’t a lot of difficulty as far as riding questions, but they were proper dimensions and horses had to jump.”
With an open water obstacle in Round 1, and big, airy fences on the open field, the track got horses’ sights up. Rails fell throughout the track with no real bogey fence, and a total of 10 riders were kept from the jumpoff due to just four faults on their score.
Minikus and Babalou 51, a 12-year-old Oldenburg mare (Balou Du Rouet x Aetna) owned by Two Swans Farm, were last two go in Round 1, and Alvarez-Moya admitted that he was hoping that the jumpoff would remain an order of two. When Minikus proceeded to foil that, Alvarez Moya, second to go in the jumpoff, adjusted his plan.
“I figured out, if Jen goes clear I’m just going to try go a little faster and put some pressure on Todd, to see if he has a rail down,” Alvarez Moya explained. “If Jen would’ve had one rail down, then I would give everything and try to get him. But it worked out well, I think we’re all happy.”
For Gates, double clear and 3rd place in a CSI4* grand prix was a milestone finish, and she was over the moon to also be named the Martha Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider of WEF 4.
“Going into the jump off, I knew I was in the top three and I was absolutely ecstatic,” Gates said. “My plan was to put the pressure on a tiny bit just in case they had a rail, which of course they didn’t, but I’m still so thrilled to be 3rd in great company.”
The best of the four faulters were in the money, as Kent Farrington placed 4th with Gazelle, and Kevin Babington of Ireland was 5th with Super Chilled.