Wellington, Florida, USA – January 15, 2022 – The $140,000 Southern Arches Grand Prix CSI 3* was the feature event of the week at the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) on Saturday, January 15, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL. Part of the popular “Saturday Night Lights” series, Spencer Smith (USA) wowed the crowd and jumped to victory with Ransome Rombauer’s Ayade Hero Z. WEF 1 concludes on Sunday, January 16, and the circuit continues through April 3.
There were 45 entries in the biggest class of the week, and they competed over a course set by Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA) and Andy Christiansen Jr. (ECU). Eight were able to find the path to a clear round and continued to the jump-off.
Starting out the jump-off with a bang was Olympic team silver medalist Kent Farrington (USA) and his 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Orafina (For Fashion x Canturo). They set the time to beat at 36 seconds flat, which would hold up for second place.
Farrington has had Orafina in his barn for nearly a year and recorded consistent top finishes at the 2021 WEF, Kentucky, Tryon, Knokke (BEL), and Valkenswaard (NED), along with a win in Calgary at Spruce Meadows.
With Orafina as a younger horse moving up and competing in her first night class under the lights at WEF, Farrington thought the mare jumped “exceptionally well.” Farrington enjoyed the atmosphere and enthusiasm that has returned to WEF in 2022 and has plans to let Orafina develop further during the circuit.
“I hope she keeps growing in confidence like she showed tonight and that I can finish out the season with a much stronger horse that’s ready to do some bigger things,” he noted.
Two trips after Farrington, it was Nayel Nassar (EGY) who would come closest to Farrington’s time. Nassar and Evergate Stables LLC’s Igor van de Wittemoere jumped clear in 36.65 seconds.
“Igor was phenomenal tonight. I didn’t think I could have done much more without letting him unravel,” said Nassar of the 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Cooper van de Heffinck x Orlando). “I just wanted to keep things together and keep him jumping well. We have a whole circuit ahead of us.”
Nearly two years ago, Nassar took over the ride on “Igor” but in 2021 they raised their level, winning the Longines Grand Prix of Switzerland CSIO 5* in St. Gallen, the CNOOC International at Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ CSI 5*, the new CaptiveOne Advisors Grand Prix of Greenwich CSI 3*, and the Notrex®Vet Grand Prix CSI 3* in Wellington during the ESP Holiday Series in November. They also had a clear first Individual round at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I have to say that he’s really been hitting his stride,” commented Nassar. “He’s finally really finding the consistency. This is a level down from what he’s used to jumping but it’s early in the season, and I thought it would be great to get him out here under the lights. I was just really pleased with how he jumped. My plan is to hit most of the five-star grand prix [classes] that will be under the lights with him, and then fill in the gaps with the other horses.”
Smith and Ayade Hero Z were able to bring the winning time down to a blisteringly fast 34.31 seconds to take the win. Leaving out a stride in the first line was not originally in Smith’s plan.
“I thought it was a big risk for sure,” he admitted. “I wasn’t planning it, and then going to it I thought she was in a good rhythm, and I got a good jump to number one. I just let her get down it, and she ate it up easily so I took the risk. I think to try to beat these guys you have to take a big risk, and either it pays off or it totally doesn’t.”
Farrington noted, “As Spencer said, he took all the risk. He deserved the win today. I thought he had an amazing round, but I’m very happy with my horse, and it was a great way for her to start the season.”
Two more rides were double clear on the night: 19-year-old Tanner Korotkin (USA) and Volo’s Diamond, owned by Sandalwood Farms, were just off the pace in 36.85 seconds for fourth place, while right behind them in fifth place were Hector Florentino (DOM) and Wyndmont’s ABC Quantum Cruise in 36.89 seconds.
Ayade Hero Z has always done double duty with Smith and owner Rombauer, and the adaptable mare had six top three FEI finishes in 2021 – three with Smith and three with Rombauer.
“We have had her since she was seven from Eric Lamaze, and she’s just been produced by me and [Ransome] back and forth, which I think has given her a lot of maturity,” described Smith.
With a tour of five-star events under her belt last year, Ayade Hero Z has “come back in a different state of mind, a different league now this year,” said Smith. “The experience of jumping really big tracks at different venues and traveling and everything made her strong, and I think mature in her head and in her body actually.”
Having grown up in Wellington, Smith was thrilled to win in his hometown in front of his whole family. “I have amazing support, and it’s been a great night,” he said.
Smith and Rombauer, who will compete in the Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix Series, will both continue to take Ayade Hero Z into the show ring during this circuit.
Smith added, “I hope Ransome can have a win. It would be cool to have both of us have a big win this winter. I think that’s kind of rare in our sport.”
Final Results – $140,000 Southern Arches Grand Prix CSI 3*
1) Spencer Smith (USA) & Ayade Hero Z – 0 / 0 – 34.319
2) Kent Farrington (USA) & Orafina – 0 / 0 – 36.005
3) Nayel Nassar (EGY) & Igor van de Wittemoere – 0 / 0 – 36.654
Source: Press Release by Jennifer Wood Media Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions
Photos: © Sportfot