The first Saturday Night Lights event of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival was held Saturday, Jan. 8 featuring the $75,000 Battle of the Sexes, presented by Wellington Regional Medical Center.
The event was a highlight of the opening week of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival. The women’s team won for the 11th time in the event’s 13-year history, and the class made its return after a hiatus in 2021.
The women’s team for Battle of the Sexes consisted of team captain Kelly Soleau-Millar, Hayley Iannotti, Taylor Land, Caelinn Leahy, Samantha Mackenzie, Mia Mannis, Abigail McArdle, Jacqueline Steffens, Anna Wilks and Heather Caristo-Williams.
The men’s team, led by captain Charlie Jayne, also included David Blake, Christian Coyle, Daniel Coyle, Jordan Coyle, Luis Larrazabal, Simon McCarthy, Samuel Parot Jr., Michael Tokaruk and Hardin Towell.
The Battle of the Sexes consists of three phases, with the first being a Table C faults-converted speed course, where the riders go head-to-head over the same course, and the one with the fastest time gains a point for their team. Following the first phase, the score was tied with five points for each team. The standout was Caelinn Leahy with a scorching fast round.
In the second phase, each team had three relay groups, where the three riders in the relay each did a section of the course. The women’s team gained 10 more points with two wins out of the three groups, leading 15 to 10.
The final phase was a match race where riders competed over a course that mirrored itself in the ring, and they completed it at the same time. When the women won five of the first six rounds at three points each, they secured the victory, and the last four match races did not have to finish. Leahy sealed the deal for her team by taking the decisive victory over Michael Tokaruk, and the women won by a score of 30 to 13.
This was women’s team captain Soleau-Millar’s first time competing in the Battle of the Sexes. She took over the role from previous captain Nicole Jayne and had assistance from men’s team captain Charlie Jayne.
“It was an honor,” Soleau-Millar said. “It was some big shoes to fill from Nicole, but it was so exciting. We had an unbelievable team. There were great young riders, up-and-coming riders, professionals who have done it in the past, and we had a blast.”
Soleau-Millar was the very first rider into the ring for the Battle of the Sexes, and she won her speed round over Simon McCarthy.
“We’re hoping to step him up and hopefully get him into some of the two-star classes this year,” she said of her horse, owned by Rachel Wilks. “I’m very thankful that I have that, and it was very exciting. Simon, unfortunately, had a little bit of a mishap, and so my game plan changed a little. At first, I was going to go all out and do all the inside turns and leave out strides, but at the end, I just needed to do an efficient, clear round, and so it all worked out.”
Soleau-Millar echoed the sentiment of many of the riders in being back in the International Arena, under the lights, with a large crowd of enthusiastic spectators.
“It was amazing,” she said. “They do a fantastic job here at WEF. The energy was just incredible and so fun.”
In the midway break during the Battle of the Sexes, there was a drawing for the Great Charity Challenge, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, to select another charity to participate in the fundraising event that has distributed almost $16 million to 276 charities over the past 12 years. The selected charity joining others for the event on Saturday, Feb. 5 is Susan G. Komen South Florida.
The 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival runs for 13 weeks, concluding on April 3. Learn more at www.pbiec.com.