As the only clear round of the night, 21-year-old Spencer Smith of Wellington and Theodore Manciais, owned by Ashland Farms, won the $132,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 3* on Saturday, March 17. It was the highlight event of Week 10 at the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
There were 44 entries, but only one of them was able to find the key to a clear round over the track by Pan American Games course designer Michel Vaillancourt of Canada.
Smith and Theodore Manciais, an 11-year-old Selle Français gelding, went sixth in the order. They finished clear in 75.09 seconds, and Smith, who trains with Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze of Canada, watched as rail after rail fell for the following 38 riders.
“I think the course was difficult,” Smith said. “I think I had an advantage going early and not knowing how the course was unfolding. I just kind of went in and did the plan that Eric and Yann [Candele] told me exactly.”
He has been training with Lamaze for about a year a half. “I really have to say that he has changed not just my riding, but my life forever. I’m indebted to him for the rest of my life for sure,” Smith said.
The young rider not only won his first international Grand Prix, but his first ever FEI ranking class.
“This is amazing and unreal to be here,” he said. “To be showing in these competitions anyway is a dream come true. To win one like this is amazing.”
With an early rail on course, Canadian legend and Olympic team silver medalist Ian Millar picked up the pace with Ariel Grange’s Dixson to finish second with four faults in 72.23 seconds.
“Dixson had a regrettable early rail,” Millar said. “Actually that turned into an advantage, because then I knew I really had to pick it up to get to be a fast four-faulter. It was a very uncharacteristic rail for him. It was just one of those things that happens.”
Nevertheless, Millar enjoyed the course.
“The course was quite excellent. I’m a big fan of Michel Vaillancourt,” he said. “We saw so many faults at the liverpool and the plank, the last few jumps; you wonder what set that off. I suspect that the effort required at the triple combination, even if they jumped it well, was a bit of a fraying effect on the horses mentally.”
Georgina Bloomberg and Manodie II H, owned by Gotham Enterprizes LLC, were also quick in 73.53 seconds with four faults to finish third. With their additional third place in last Thursday’s Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup, Bloomberg was named the Martha Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider in memory of Dale Lawler.
Bloomberg is getting onto a rhythm in the later weeks of the Winter Equestrian Festival after a late start to the season.
“I was up in New York for my son to finish school,” she said. “So, it took a little bit longer for me to get back in the groove and get back to jumping bigger jumps.”
She was pleased with Manodie II H, a 13-year-old Oldenburg mare she started riding in the spring of 2016. This was their first Grand Prix under the lights together.
“I don’t have a solid Grand Prix horse at the moment, so she’s my best horse,” Bloomberg said. “I think that she will take that next step up, but she just needs a little bit more time.”
Both Millar and Bloomberg were happy to see Smith take his first Grand Prix win.
“I’ve always said that I believe in the future of the sport,” Bloomberg said. “I know that people have said that there’s a gap coming and the future is doomed. I’ve always said that I completely disagree. I’m a big supporter of the [FEI North American] Young Rider Championships and the next generation. I think this proves it. It’s really just wonderful to see younger riders coming up and showing what the next generation is going to have.”
“I couldn’t be happier for anybody than I am for this young man tonight,” he said. “I know what this means to him, and I talked to his grandparents and to his father. It probably means more to them even than it means to him.”
The Saturday Night Lights series continues throughout the 12-week WEF circuit, held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. Hunter, jumper and equitation competition at WEF continues through April 1, offering more than $9 million in prize money. For more info., visit www.pbiec.com.