It’s not often that a speedboat pauses mid-cruise to allow its sunbathing occupants to watch a top-level grand prix, but that’s just what happened at the $100,000 Trump Invitational. But then again, it’s not every day that horses jump on the front lawn of Donald Trump’s magnificent estate Mar-A-Lago.
Ladies dressed in designer dresses dined on a fabulous spread sitting at tables overlooking the ring. Luxury cars sat perched on knolls around the lawn. Champagne flowed freely and the sunlight glanced off the Intracoastal Waterway. Cassadee Pope, winner of The Voice reality television show on Dec. 18, sang the National Anthem and a few other songs.
This wasn’t your ordinary grand prix.
Mark Bellissimo and Trump worked together to bring horses into the heart of Palm Beach, Fla. They set up a small, 160’ by 200’ grass ring on Mar-A-Lago’s front lawn, framed on one side by palm trees, two sides by luxury spectator tents, and on the fourth by the Intracoastal Waterway.
“The event had a great feel. You couldn’t ask for a better setting,” said Kent Farrington, who took home the top check on Dynamo. “This is good prize money, a great venue, and it’s special with a great crowd. I’d love to see more top-level show jumping events like this.”
The week before the start of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, 36 riders shipped their horses into the vortex of luxury, just a few blocks from the shopping mecca of Worth Avenue. For a few hours in the afternoon, they entertained a fashionable crowd. This wasn’t a grand prix to attract the ordinary spectator; tables and tickets were pricey and limited.
Anthony d'Ambrosio's course, given the close confines of the ring, was twisty and turning. “It was a big difference from showing in the International Ring in Wellington, where you have time to think about things in the corners and set up your lines the way you want,” said Rodrigo Pessoa, who claimed second on HH Let’s Fly. “Here, it was kind of like an indoor setup outside. Things came up very fast and you needed your horse to be very obedient and listen to you right away.”
Usually, riders rejoice when their names appear far down on the order of go; it’s advantageous to watch other riders go and to go late in the jump-off. But at the $100,000 Trump Invitational, going early was a boon. The grass footing certainly looked pretty as the class started, but as it unfolded, horses peeled up huge divots from the sod. The grass gave way around the turns, and at the take-off and landings of the jumps. Riders late in the order suffered; Reed Kessler pulled up after Ligist slid on the approach to an oxer and stopped. Bellissimo’s daughter, Nicole, was the last to go, had real problems with Combina slipping and retired on course.
But the riders were pragmatic about the problems. “It’s a lawn-type setting, and that’s the kind of footing you get in those situations,” said Schuyler Riley, who was fourth on Waterloo.
“Obviously, that field isn’t used for show jumping, so I thought they made the best they could for what they had today and still put on a great event,” said Farrington. In fact, Trump revealed that the area used for the class is part of a par-three golf course at Mar-A-Lago.
“It’s a very good root system, but it’s not meant for horses,” Trump said. He said that for next year’s event, they might expand the ring, flatten the ground, and work with footing specialists to improve the ground.
The shifting surface made for tentative jump-off rides. Pessoa went first on HH Let’s Fly, and did his best to balance risk with safety. “I just tried to find my way through without going too slow and making it easy for the other riders. I have to say, in these conditions, you can’t go as fast as you would normally. I tried to find some spots in the corners to get some good push off the ground,” he said. He left all the jumps up in a time of 44.31 seconds.
Riley and Charlie Jayne chased Pessoa, but rails hit the turf for both of them. Last to go was Farrington. He ran and turned as tight as he dared on Dynamo. “With the footing not being great, we weren’t at top speed. We were just trying to be fast enough to win,” he said. In the end, he was, stopping the timers in 42.62 seconds with a clean round.
Farrington doesn’t usually show Dynamo; he’s the ride of his student, Meagan Nusz. “She was very nice to let me borrow him for the day,” he said. “I was giving my horses a bit of a break after I showed them in Europe. I showed them pretty hard this fall, so I wanted to give them some down time. I knew the setting would be impressive here with the crowd and the water. I wanted to make sure I brought a horse that is brave and that I knew I could count on to walk out here and do it. It’s a sign of how nice he is that he was able to come to a class like this and win.”
The primary objective of the class wasn't to publicize the sport of show jumping to the masses; it was a fundraising event to support the FTI Consulting Great Charity Challenge, which takes place on Jan. 26 during WEF. The Charity Challenge pairs a team of riders (one world-class rider and two junior/amateur riders) with a local charity. In 2013, 32 Palm Beach County-area charities will particpate. Riders compete to win money for their charity, and online voting also helps determine who wins the most. Every charity involved will collect at least $10,000.