Wellington, FL – January 12, 2012 – Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) was able to beat a field of 39 competitors to take the first round victory in the $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup Series at the 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. He and Oh’ D Eole triumphed in the jump-off over Charlie Jayne (USA) on Chill R Z and Darragh Kerins (IRL) with Hot Wheels. Today’s grand prix marked the start of an exciting show jumping season, where riders will compete over 12 weeks to win bonus money in the $100,000 FTI Consulting Rider Challenge.

The first week of the FTI WEF runs through Sunday, January 15, and is sponsored by Surpass . The 2012 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of competition that conclude on April 1, 2012, and they will be awarding more than $6 million in prize money through the circuit. The highlight jumper class in week one is the $30,000 Surpass Grand Prix on Saturday, January 14, at 7 p.m.

This week’s course designer in the International Arena is Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL. Seven of the original starters were clear in the first round to advance to the jump-off.

Watch McLain and Oh D’ Eole in their winning round! Videos by Shownet – View 2012 FTI WEF Videos at www.shownet.biz

The first to contest the shortened course was Merlin, ridden by Jeffery Welles (USA) for Noel Gross. They pulled a rail at the last fence to finish with four faults in 39.130 seconds for fourth place.

Ward and Oh’ D Eole, a horse he owns, were next in. Ward guided the mare around the jump-off and rode a sharp angle to the “WEF wall” jump. Oh’ D Eole hesitated, but was able to clear the wall and continue to the final oxer. They finished clear with a very speedy time of 38.420 seconds for the win.

Oh D’ Eole and McLain Ward

“It got a little dicey!” Ward admitted. “She’s a brave horse at walls and she jumped it great in the first round, but I think she wasn’t used to the angle in the jump-off. I tried to hold her together there and she trusted it. We got away with a little rub and kept galloping home. You need the little things to go your way.”

He added, “That’s a tough test to slice that wall. Even though she was a little green about it, she trusted it. I think next time she’ll do it even better. She’s actually a very fast mare and she’s got a really big stride. I had some good people coming behind me. I went second, so it wasn’t a position that I could rest on a clear round.”

Margie Engle (USA) and Ashland Farms’ Lord Spezi contested next, but with eight faults in 40.890 seconds, they would finish in sixth place. Rebecca Conway (USA) and Twister, owned by Blue Hill Farm LLC, had the final jump down for four faults in 44.311 seconds. They placed fifth. Katherine Dinan (USA) and Grant Road Partners’ Couletto K James registered eight faults with a time of 43.090 seconds and finished in seventh place.

Although they posted a quick time of 39.028 seconds, a rail at the last jump relegated Darragh Kerins and Hot Wheels to third place. Riding last in the jump-off, Charlie Jayne made a bid for the win with a clear round on Chill R Z, owned by Pony Lane Farm, but finished just off the pace in 40.354 seconds for second place.

Ward was very pleased with Oh’ D Eole’s win today as she is “still relatively green.” The talented mare posted three victories in national level grand prix classes and wins at Spruce Meadows and the Hampton Classic Horse Show last summer. She hadn’t competed since the Fidelity Investments Jumper Classic in September.

“She had a nice rest. We felt that she really finished the year in good form,” Ward noted. “We’ve been working on her fitness and she feels really strong. We were excited coming into this show and it’s nice to see we were on target.”

Ward commented that starting with a win at the FTI WEF “feels great.” He continued, “It feels nice because it’s an up and coming horse. We started this horse as a six, coming seven-year-old. I believe in our young horses. My dad and Francois Mathy have done a great job of picking out these horses. It’s nice to see them coming into their own in the bigger classes. Like with any young horse, it’s an up and down road. Sometimes you get frustrated and sometimes you get excited, but it’s nice to see when they look legit.”

The FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival will continue tomorrow with a full schedule of hunter and jumper competition. The highlight class in the International Arena is the Spy Coast Farm 1.40m Speed Challenge at 2 p.m.

For full results please visit www.showgroundslive.com.

Final Results: $30,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round 1

1. OH D’EOLE: 2002 SFB mare by Kannan x Papillon Rouge MCLAIN WARD (USA), McLain Ward: 0/0/38.420

2. CHILL R Z: 2003 Zangersheide stallion by Chellano Z x A Lucky One
CHARLIE JAYNE (USA), Pony Lane Farm: 0/0/40.354

3. HOT WHEELS: 1997 gelding by Liliputiense

4. MERLIN: 2002 Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding by Hors La Loi II x Emilion

5. TWISTER: 2000 KWPN gelding by Goodtimes x Skorpio

6. LORD SPEZI: 1998 Oldenburg gelding by Lord Pezi x Grandeur
MARGIE ENGLE (USA), Ashland Farms:

7. COULETTO K JAMES: 1996 Hanoverian gelding by Continue x Zeus

8. VATRICIA: 2002 KWPN mare by Niveau x Burggraaf
NAVONA GALLEGOS (USA), Bar X Ranch LLC: 1/84.058

9. UNIQUE: 2001 KWPN gelding by Indoctro x VoltaireNICK SKELTON (GBR), Beverly Widdowson: 4/77.146

10. ROLETTE:  1998 KWPN mare by Lester x Voltaire   
SHANE SWEETNAM (IRL), Spy Coast Farm, LLC: 4/77.224

11. DIKTATOR VAN DE BOSLANDHOEVE: 2003 Belgian Warmblood stallion by Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Capital
SHANE SWEETNAM (IRL), Spy Coast Farm: 4/78.885

12. ALSVID: 2001 Hanoverian gelding by Escudo I x AzurRICHARD MOLONEY (IRL), Equinimity, LLC: 4/79.155

Professional Hunters Award First Championship Ribbons

Day two of the 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) featured the presentation of championship honors in the professional hunter divisions for week one competition. Carrying on their winning ways from last year, Louise Serio and her talented mount Castle Rock swept the CWD Performance Working Hunter 3’6″ division with five first place ribbons. Bases Loaded, owned by Am Free, Inc. and ridden by Kelley Farmer, earned the reserve championship with four second place ribbons.

Castle Rock is a 13-year-old KWPN gelding by Corland, owned by Bryan Baldwin of Brandon, FL. The gelding has a very light show schedule during the year, and has not shown since he was here in Wellington last March. He came out for his first week back to competition feeling fresh and fit, topping every class in his division.

Owner Bryan Baldwin and Castle Rock

Serio was very pleased with Castle Rock’s rounds and praised the gelding, stating, “I am going to tell you, that horse had four rounds that were, in my opinion, outstanding. He jumped every jump beautifully. He never touches a jump; he was just fantastic.”

“He just has such a great life,” Serio smiled. “He doesn’t have to show very much and he comes here and it is the best place in the world to show. Having so much time off keeps him fresh and happy. He has been jumping 4′ and that was 3’6″, so it was really easy for him. I just loved every round.”

Watch Louise and Castle Rock in their winning round! Videos by Shownet – View 2012 FTI WEF Videos at www.shownet.biz

Castle Rock and Louise Serio have been a very consistent team in the last several years, with top wins throughout the country, including a first place finish in last year’s WCHR Palm Beach Hunter Classic Spectacular. The pair already has a spot secured to compete in this year’s Hunter Spectacular as the defending champions, and will most likely continue competing at the 3’6″ level in the weeks leading up to the competition.

Serio explained, “We are trying to decide, but I think I might just leave him there. That was just four easy rounds and he just wins, so why not keep him where he is happy?”

Louise Serio and Castle Rock
“He is just so amazing, she added. “I say every year when I get on him that he should be mine. He is the right size, he rides perfectly. He is completely my ride and I just love him.”

Commenting on her first week of competition for 2012, Serio smiled, “I have had a great first week. I won a nice amount of classes and my young horses have done well. I am just feeling very good and I am very happy with where they all are right now.”

Hunter competition for the FTI WEF week one will continue tomorrow with championship presentations for the Horseware Products Adult Amateur 3’3″ division.

Photo Credit: McLain Ward with Oh D’Eole and Louise Serio on Castle Rock were winners at the 2012 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, www.sportfot.com . This photo may be used only in relation to this press release.