By Kenneth Braddick
Australian turned US event rider Boyd Martin rode Blackfoot Mystery to win the Wellington Eventing Showcase in Florida on Saturday (6 February). This was Boyd’s second victory in the event that looks set to become highlight of Wellington’s winter circuit that has been dominated by world class jumping and dressage.
Fellow US rider Colleen Rutledge on Covert Rights (pictured below) finished second while the British-based Kiwi Dan Jocelyn was third on catch ride Devil Munchkin to pick up the biggest slices of the $75,000 prize money.
The event is the brainchild of Mark Bellissimo, who put together a business partnership to own and operate the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Global Dressage Festival that have revolutionised horse sports in Florida.
Thirty-four combinations came forward to the final cross-country round over Capt. Mark Phillips’ course after the previous day’s dressage and show jumping on Saturday morning.
Alongside riders representing the United States and Canada, three British-based New Zealand riders each rode two horses loaned by American owners, with an Australian completing the field.
A break from tradition
This was hardly a traditional event — it was held on the Global Dressage Festival grounds that are part of the Palm Beach International Equestrian center. A national dressage show and an under-25 team jumping competition shared the Global grounds at various times over the weekend, adding to the excitement and helping to create an upbeat and fun atmosphere.
The grass derby field, whose sole hill was built five years when the dressage grounds were created, was described by Buck Davidson, one of America’s top riders, as nicer than most golf greens he plays on.
The twist for the event was the course that went straight through the middle of the sold out VIP pavillion. There were well over 100 tables of spectators enjoying the near perfect South Florida winter climate as the horses galloped through their midst.
The idea came about after the 2015 inaugural event when Michael Stone, president of Mark Bellissimo’s Equestrian Sports Production company, joked that a way to add excitement would be to run the cross-country through the middle of the VIP pavilion.
Mark Bellissimo, who has turned horse sports in America upside down by not being afraid to try new things or ignore the way they’ve always been done, seized on the idea to bring the drama and excitement directly to the people.
Adding lots of good food, unlimited supplies of alcohol and an increase in prize money up to $75,000 from $50,000 last year, plus $10,000 for groom awards and a $10,000 bonus to go to the favorite charity of the winning owner served to electrified the atmosphere even more. Next year the prize money will be boosted to $100,000.
“Mark Bellissimo is an absolute mastermind when it comes to equestrian promotion, and together with Jim Wolf (former U.S. Equestrian Federation sports director who now works for Mark), they pulled off a fantastic weekend for fans, supporters, riders, sponsors and owners,” said Boyd Martin after the event.
These sentiments were echoed not just at the news conference, but enthusiastically by every rider, owner, sponsor and fan asked.
“This year was much more competitive, a higher standard, a little tougher, making it harder to win,” continued Boyd before saying he planned to come back for the next 30 years, even if it meant riding a donkey.