Wellington, Fla. - For the fourth consecutive year, Victoria Colvin starred under the lights of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center's International Ring and claimed top honors in the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular. She's the first rider in the event's 19-year history to claim victory four times.
Colvin guided Betsee Parker's Ovation to an impressive third straight victory with 179.41 points, earning the top scores in each of the two rounds.
"I wasn't sure he was going to be able to come back and win for a third time, but he went in and went right around and was perfect," said Colvin of the 15-year-old warmblood. "The course wasn't spooky, and I was confident that it was going to go well. He [Ovation] is more of an open and flowing horse, and there weren't any exact lines in the course, so it suited him."
As she did last year, Colvin also claimed second-placed honors. This time she piloted Lyn Pedersen's 12-year-old Selle Francais Small Affair to 176.16 points.
The $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular was a featured event of the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit Week 6, the Salamander Hotels & Resorts WCHR CSI 3*. The Saturday night event drew 31 entries that qualified to compete after showing in the week's Junior, Amateur-Owner and Open Hunter sections.
Brady Mitchell, a rider/trainer at Heritage Farm, guided Cassanto to third place for owner Emily Perez. The impressive chestnut performed brilliantly in Round 2 to vault up the rankings from eighth after Round 1. Their second round scored 90 for an overall 175.33.
"I knew I had a lot to make up for, and I did what I could," said Mitchell, who thrilled the spectators with his tight turns and enthusiastic hand gallop to the final fence. "Andre [Dignelli] gave me some great advice to let his nose out a little, and it changed his jump in the second round. I wanted to get a good prize, and he's a trustworthy horse, so I went for it."
Colvin, 17, of Loxahatchee, FL, also trains with Heritage Farm and was prequalified as the winner of this class last year. This week she earned the Small Junior Hunter, 16-17, championship and the Grand Junior Hunter title aboard Ovation and the Large Junior Hunter, 16-17, championship with Small Affair as a prelude to the featured event.
As the leader after Round 1, Colvin returned aboard Ovation as the final rider in Round 2. She had only herself to beat.
"I knew Small Affair was on top, but I went tighter and handier on Ovation," she said. "I was a little faster to the hand gallop jump, and when I landed I was confident that he was going to be on top."
Mitchell, 30, of Katonah, NY, was thrilled with his top-three finish, one of the best performances of his hunter career so far. He also clinched the week's Second Year Green Hunter championship with Cassanto, an 8-year-old Holsteiner, to qualify for the class.
"I've been riding hunters for a long time, and this is the class that every hunter rider wants to ride in and do well in," he said. "It feels special to be here under the lights where hunters have the opportunity to take over Saturday night. I'm ecstatic to be third. Tori rode beautifully, and I'm happy to be third behind her. We kept it in the family tonight-Heritage Farm had a good night tonight being one-two-three."
Tara Metzner, of Rancho Santa Fe, CA, earned a bye in the class from her victory in the 2014 WCHR Pro Challenge. She brought Davlyn Farms, Inc.'s Come Monday, a 12-year-old Holsteiner mare, and jumped to fourth place with 174.82.
"She's a brave, awesome horse, so I knew there was nothing she was going to look at," said Metzner. "She's great in these conditions where things are more impressive, and I knew if I found the jumps she would give me all she's got."
With three appearances in the class under her belt and an 11th place last year, Metzner quipped, "I keep moving up, so Tori better watch out next year!"
Course designer Skip Bailey set the courses for the two-round classic in the expansive International Ring. Round 1 featured 10 jumping efforts and long gallops between obstacles with few related distances, while Round 2 had eight elements with handy options, including a trot fence and hand gallop to the final oxer.
The six-member judging panel sat in pairs around the arena, including: Chance Arakelian/Patrick Rodes; Scott Williamson/Mary Lisa Leffler; Karen Healey/James Clapperton.
Riders earning championships or reserve championships in the 3'6" and higher rated hunter sections qualified for the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, with additional riders qualifying based on points if the qualified riders chose not to compete or were pre-qualified. In addition, riders also qualified based on their 2014 standings in the WCHR national awards programs.
Other special awards presented included the week's high-score honors: professional-tie, Jennifer Bauersachs/Avignion and Havens Schatt/Bacardi with 91; amateur-owner, 3'6"-tie, Callie Seaman/Skorekeeper and John Ingram/Airport 48 with 90; amateur-owner 3'3"-tie, Caroline Moran/Bacardi and Missy Luczak Smith/Askaro with 90; junior 3'3"-tie, Raegan Rast/Peter Pan and Sabrina Kalimian/Latino with 85. Developing Professional Sarah Tyndall earned the Champion Equine Insurance Trophy for her high score of 86.75 in the Performance Working Hunter 3'6" section with Samba.
Following the first round of competition, A Million Reasons owned by Parker, was presented with the Mark Gregory Perpetual Trophy as the Best Conditioned horse in Round 1. This year's Best Turned Out Award was sponsored by Shapley's, and Sally Stith-Burdette presented Fernando Bonilla, A Million Reasons' groom, with a gift basket of products, a $100 prize and a commemorative ball cap.