The atmosphere in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center was charged with excitement Saturday, Jan. 14, as the women took victory over the men in the $75,000 Battle of the Sexes, presented by Wellington Regional Medical Center, during opening weekend of the 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival.
Teams of 10 men and 10 women battled it out for this year’s Battle of the Sexes title, with team captains Nicole Bellissimo and Charlie Jayne at the helm.
Bellissimo led Heather Caristo-Williams, Amanda Derbyshire, Abigail McArdle, Jessica Mendoza, Schuyler Riley, Haylie Rolfe, Mavis Spencer, Alexandra Welles and Julie Welles on her team.
Jayne’s team included David Blake, Daniel Bluman, Ernest Connell, Alex Granato, Darragh Kenny, Andy Kocher, Adam Prudent, Colin Syquia and Hardin Towell.
The contest was held in three phases, consisting of a faults converted speed round, a relay race and a match race. The men and women were pitted against each other in each phase over courses set by 2016 Olympic course designer Guilherme Jorge.
In round one, the men led the women 7-3 in the speed rounds. In round two’s relay races, the women picked up an additional 10 points, while the men earned just five, bringing the totals to 12 for the men and 13 for the women. With one point separating them, the men and women headed into the third and final round, where the women took a decisive 18 points to the men’s nine. The final tally of 31-21 gave the women the win.
The women have been victorious in the event eight out of nine years, with the 2015 battle ending in a tie.
Welles, representing the women for the first time in Battle of the Sexes competition, had a fantastic night with her mount Centalyon, owned by Ardencote Farm. The pair jumped fast and clear to help their team earn points in all three rounds. Welles is working for 2016 Olympic champion Nick Skelton and two-time Olympic team gold medalist Laura Kraut this year, and saw the night as a perfect opportunity to give her mount some experience in an electric atmosphere.
“It was so much fun,” Welles said. “The horse I rode is a lovely horse that Nick and Laura own. He was just unbelievable. I just kick, and off I went. I rode him last winter, and I had not ridden him since.”
Welles was proud of her team’s win.
“To be honest, we were a little nervous in the beginning because the boys had a pretty stacked team. If you look on paper, the boys should have won,” she said. “I guess I would say they got a little cocky after the first round when they kept beating us. Then we came back strong.”
Abigail McArdle was aboard Plain Bay Sales’ Comeback de la Manade for her second year competing in the Battle of the Sexes and also had a fun night.
“It was extremely thrilling,” McArdle said. “The girls went in losing in the first round, and my only feat was to beat Andy Kocher. I didn’t think I could. Everyone told me I couldn’t, and then sure enough we did! I thought that was a good inspiration early on for the girls in the last round.”
McArdle enjoys taking part in the Battle of the Sexes. “I think this is a fabulous event with great sponsors,” she said. “Everyone has a lot of fun every year, and I think it is a great thing to keep doing. We had a huge crowd; the horses and the people all feel the excitement.”
Charlie Jayne was a disappointed team captain for the men. He described his feelings after the class as “mixed emotions.”
“It was not a good night for us,” Jayne said. “We were up, we were down, and then we were so far away in the end. It’s fun for the crowd. It’s a very nice event for the sponsors — Wellington Regional Medical Center this year. We thank them every year, and we’ll keep coming back because of the sponsors and the spectators.”
The 12-week WEF circuit runs through April 2, featuring competition for hunters, jumpers and equitation, with more than $9 million in prize money up for grabs. For more info., visit www.pbiec.com.
ABOVE: The women’s team was victorious at last Saturday night’s event. Photo by Sportfot