Japan’s Eiken Sato and Espyrante jumped to victory in the $82,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 3* last Saturday night during another exciting evening of international competition during week 10 of the 2013 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. In a jump-off of seven nations, Sato beat out riders from Great Britain, Ireland, Venezuela, Germany, Greece and the United States for his first big win at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Olaf Petersen Jr. of Germany set the course for last Saturday night’s Grand Prix with 40 entries competing at night under the lights. Ten riders representing seven different countries qualified for the jump-off and four went double clear over the short course.
Seventh to go, Venezuela’s Pablo Barrios and Zara Leandra, owned by the ZL Group Inc., were the first pair to jump the short course without fault and finished fourth with their time of 48.27 seconds. Up next, Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Jane Clark’s Urico cleared the course in 44.27 seconds to briefly take the lead. They were pushed into second by Japan’s Sato and Stephex Stables’ Espyrante, who stopped the clock in 42.79 seconds for the win. Last to go, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam and Eregast Van’t Kiezelhof, owned by Spy Coast Farm LLC, finished clear in 47.61 seconds to take the third place prize.
Sato, 27, has lived in Belgium for nine years and began riding for Stephex Stables two years ago. His mount, Espyrante, is a 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare that they got last year.
Sato went after a very fast round from Maher and Urico and explained that he did watch them go, but trusted his horse’s ability to be faster. “To be honest, I saw, but I tried not to see because he is such a fast rider,” Sato laughed. “The end I saw. My horse is naturally really fast, so I knew I needed to take risks, but I trust my horse, and she did a fantastic job.”
Sweetnam was showing his mount Eregast in the horse’s first Grand Prix as well as his first night class. Although the horse was a little green in the ring, Sweetnam was very happy with his performance.
“It’s his first Grand Prix of any sort. It’s his first Grand Prix here and WEF was his first 1.45m, and last week was his first 1.50m,” Sweetnam said. “Honestly, he wasn’t meant to be rushed as quickly, but with Siri getting injured, he had to step up and he has done a great job.”
In other WEF news, Walk the Line and Lillie Keenan clinched the championship title in the Antarés Large Junior Hunter 16-17 division during week 10. Keenan and Walk the Line were a force to be reckoned with over fences, winning three of four over fences rounds. Keenan and Don Stewart’s 14-year-old gelding were also fourth over fences during day one of competition for the division.
Reserve champion honors went to Norgan Inc.’s Capstone, ridden by Sydney Shulman. Shulman and Capstone were third and first over fences day one and placed third day two in all three classes, including an under saddle and two over fences rounds.
The owner-rider champion was Perfectionist and Cloe Hymowitz. Hymowitz also picked up reserve owner-rider honors with Garfield, co-owned by Alexandra Crown.
Keenan is currently at the top of the circuit standings with her other Large Junior mount, Madison, but considers Walk the Line to be equally as talented. “Madison tends to win the hacks, but Walk the Line has a very striking jump. When he goes over the fence, it almost makes you open your eyes a little more. There’s a ‘wow’ factor to how he goes over each fence,” Keenan said.
While Keenan dominates junior divisions in hunters, jumpers and equitation classes on a number of competitive mounts, she especially appreciates Walk the Line’s desire to be the best. “I know that every time he goes in the ring he wants to win. All of my horses are like that but it is especially true for him. It’s nice to know that every time you go in the ring, he wants to do well,” Keenan said.
The Winter Equestrian Festival features 12 weeks of competition. More than $6 million in prize money will be awarded through the circuit. For full results, visit www.showgroundslive.com. The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is located at 14440 Pierson Road in Wellington. For more information, visit www.equestriansport.com or call (561) 793-5867.
Above: Eiken Sato aboard Espyrante.