TALES FROM THE TRAILS
It’s not easy mingling (well, maybe not mingling, but at least existing in the same space for a short period of time) with the upper crust. The first problem: What to wear?
When I found out that I’d be covering the second annual Trump Invitational $125,000 Grand Prix on Sunday, Jan. 5, I was thrilled. This one-of-a-kind event, the only horse show held in the Town of Palm Beach, featured some of the world’s leading riders, including Lauren Hough, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Margie Engle and Todd Minikus. Of course, you can watch these amazing riders most weekends at the Winter Equestrian Festival, but this was at Mar-a-Lago. It’s not every day you get to visit with Donald Trump at his home.
My closet, unfortunately, holds no Palm-Beach-esque outfits, so I opted for basic black and was relieved when I passed muster at media check-in and was allowed to board the bus.
The weather was cool and breezy, clouds off to the west. We meandered over to the pool beside the mansion for a cocktail party/press briefing. A string trio played classically. As the champagne corks started popping, I headed over to the portable stalls and warm-up area, remaining outside due to FEI rules, then strolled to the ring where riders walked the course. Clouds loomed closer, the Intracoastal a slate gray mirror.
Jennifer Santana, from Wellington, was excited to be part of the show. She and her coach and husband, Paulo, own Santana Stables.
“This year they added a second speed class for amateurs and juniors,” she explained. “Kendall, my mare, is small, but she doesn’t know it. She’s all heart. She gives me 200 percent. Speed is her forte. My strategy is to be quick and keep her in a steady rhythm. For sure, we have a chance of placing.”
Thirteen riders had entered the $5,000 Junior/Amateur Speed Exhibition class; 36 top professionals were slated for the Grand Prix.
As Mr. Trump arrived in his helicopter, the clouds dipped lower. Everyone was seated in the tents, which formed an L, bracketing the course. Buffets overflowed with seafood, salads, carved turkeys, desserts beyond count. Lovely white and yellow flower arrangements decorated each table and graced the walkways.
Mr. Trump, wife Melania, daughter Ivanka, Georgina Bloomberg and Mark Bellissimo formally welcomed everyone. Mr. Trump mentioned how he’d had his expert grounds supervisors replace four acres of grass, crown the field and improve drainage so the footing would be up to par. Singer/songwriter Hunter Hayes took his place on the stage and entertained for 15 minutes, finishing just as the temperature dropped and the wind gusted. The rain moved closer. Cameramen stationed around the field shrouded their gear in plastic covers and donned ponchos.
Next came an auction for the chance to play golf with Mr. Trump at Trump International, with the proceeds going toward the Great Charity Challenge. Two parties each won, bidding $40,000 each. This was a well-heeled crowd, to say the least. Individual event tickets to the event went for $1,750, and table sponsorships from $10,000 to $35,000. There was no general admission. But even that kind of money can’t control everything.
We stood for the national anthem as the rain gusted down, and by the time the class got underway at 1:10 p.m., there was a steady downpour. It never let up throughout the class, sometimes slowing a bit, sometimes coming so strongly that the Intracoastal vanished behind a silvery curtain. It gusted in on the guests as well, and the tables were pulled back. Somehow, the riders and horses, drenched through and through, kept going. By 2 p.m., the ground was so saturated that each hoof splashed at every stride. Despite the standing water, the turf held up beautifully, and there were very few slips.
Some riders withdrew, and seven who’d gone clear returned for the jump-off. Todd Minikus had the first clear ride in 38.88. Candice King, last to ride, also went clear in 38.76. But the winner was Kent Farrington, a repeat of his win last year on a different mount, who completed the course in 36.85 seconds.
The jump crew reconfigured the course, the riders walked it in the pouring rain, and the second class got underway at 3:15 p.m., again with a few withdrawals. Santana, unfortunately, had 12 faults to finish eighth. Cloe Hymowitz, the last rider on course, put in a thrilling ride on 75 Bon Vivant in 53.42 seconds to win the class. Heather Hooker on Perle, and Kira Kerkorian on 76 Rashmo, also completed clear rounds in slightly slower times.
As soon as the class ended, the rain finally let up. Happy, full, a little soggy, we all headed back down the covered walkway that led from the tent to the road. The red carpet, which had run the length of the walkway, was now doubled up over the soggier part, giving us slightly higher ground on which to tread. Valets pulled up in one expensive car after another. I headed over to the group awaiting the next bus back to the parking area, about ten minutes north.
It had been a great day, despite the weather. The horses and riders had performed like true professionals, and the crowd had been duly appreciative. All in all, a day to remember.