The first five-star competition of the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival brought together top show jumpers to compete in the $391,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI 5* on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Martin Fuchs and Clooney 51, owned by Luigi Baleri, captured the victory.
Out of 40 entries in the Grand Prix, 18 were clear over the course designed by Kelvin Bywater of Great Britain. It was a footrace in the jump-off, with nine finding the path to double clear, but it would come down to who took the biggest chances to see who would stand atop the first five-star podium of the circuit.
The trailblazer in the jump-off was Wilton Porter on Sleepy P Ranch LLC’s Caletto Cabana. They set the clear round time at 34.97 seconds. Three horses later, Spencer Smith and Ashland Farms’ Theodore Manciais brought the leading time down to 34.89 seconds. Eight trips followed until Fuchs and Clooney 51 trotted into the ring.
Taking a gamble by leaving out a stride into the double combination and taking advantage of his horse’s giant stride, Fuchs made short work of the course, coming home in a time of 33.13 seconds.
“I knew my horse is in great shape. He has been great in the outdoor season over the past few months,” said Fuchs of the 13-year-old Westphalian gelding. “He’s very experienced, so it was good for him to bring him straight out here under the lights.”
Following Fuchs, Daniel Coyle and Ariel Grange’s Quintin were quick and clear in 34.90 seconds for sixth place. Richie Moloney and Rocksy Music, owned by Equinimity LLC, put on the afterburners for the final three jumps on course, but it would not be quite enough as they finished in 34.42 seconds for third place. Riding out of the second to last position, Conor Swail and Vanessa Mannix’s Flower were also quick in 34.69 seconds, which slotted them just off the podium in fourth place.
Stalking the leading time as the last to go in the jump-off, Kent Farrington and Gazelle, a horse he owns with Robin Parsky, went all out, banking on Gazelle’s inherent speed for the win. It was not quite enough, as they finished in 33.57 seconds for second place.
Fuchs noted that the jump-off course design suited Clooney.
“I knew I could make a nice turn from one to two, take all the risks for the double, and then just use his big stride which he has and trust in his jump and his carefulness,” he said. “I’m very happy with this win. Honestly, I was pretty sure Kent was going to be faster because we all know he is one of the fastest riders in this circuit. Obviously, I’m happy that for once he didn’t beat me and also gave the little Swiss guy a chance to win here in America.”