Wilmington, Ohio – Feature competition kicked off at World Equestrian Center – Wilmington Winter in the Midwest Winter Classic #5 this week with the $10,000 WEC Welcome Stake. A decorated field of horse-and-athlete combinations took to FEI Level III course designer Anderson Lima’s (BRA) track with confidence as indoor competition commenced in the Sanctuary Arena. Of the 17 entered duos, it was Paul Halpern (CAN) and Esra (Bratt Z x Ulibra) that found their place at the top of the leaderboard.
Lima’s 11-obstacle first round track proved inviting for the group of athletes with ten qualifying for the immediate jump-off phase. The jump-off offered opportunities for the riders to utilize speed in the turns but the five-stride line to the vertical combination became a factor as numerous athletes earned four fault scores.
Halpern of Ecuries Nova Stables in Montreal, Quebec, guided Esra to two confident, accurate rounds, just coming off a second and third place in last week’s $10,000 Welcome Stake and $30,000 Tribute Grand Prix. The 11-year-old Holsteiner mare owned by Vanessa Lee is a longtime member of the team as she has been under the guidance and training of Ecuires Nova Stables since she was a baby.
“I have ridden her [Esra] since she was a baby and I have done everything since the very beginning. I can’t even explain how special she is. I love everything about her, she has all of the quality in the world, and all of the heart in the world. I have never known another horse like her, and I probably never will. My manager owns her, and she is a huge part of the team,” commented Halpern on his winning mount.
The duo jumped an effortlessly smooth first-round track and moved into the jump-off phase looking to find their place at the top of the podium during Winter Classic #5.
Halpern shared details on his perfectly executed jump-off plan, “I was second and third last week, so I clearly was not going fast enough! I had enough time to walk and really study the course. I opened up a big gallop to jump one and the mare turns so easily I knew I could trust her in her turns. Number two came up really well, so I did not really have to touch the reins and I was able to actually slow down in the eight to land and turn inside of the timer to oxer. By the time I came to the last jump I had a good feeling that I was ahead by enough, so I played it safe and slowed down to the last jump.”
Landing through the timers in 35.517 seconds, Halpern and Esra secured their win.
Earning the red ribbon was Rebecca Gutstein (USA) and her very own Completely Nuts (Cormint x Lioba). The pair was the first to go in the order and held an impressive lead until ultimately bested by Halpern. Gutstein, training out of Old Barrington Farm in North Barrington, Illinois, set an immediate quick pace aboard her 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding. The duo boasts an extensive list of top placings in the jumper ring and used all their experience to their advantage in the Sanctuary. In a jump-off time of 36.399 seconds, the duo ultimately secured their second-place finish.
Nicole Loochtan (USA) and her own Caiman Des Sequoias (Radco D’ Houtveld x Sublime De La Cour) rounded out the podium. The pair is familiar with the winner’s circle at WEC – Wilmington as they have accumulated many wins and top three placings in both the WEC Welcome Stakes and the WEC Grands Prix. The 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding was quick and careful to ensure two fault-free rounds. Their jump-off time of 38.11 seconds earned them a podium finish. Loochtan, owner and trainer of Stone Creek Stables in Lexington, Kentucky, also earned fourth place aboard her brand new nine-year-old Belgian Sport Horse stallion, It’s Me Du Bosquetiau (Dayton Sitte x Mirette Du Bosquetiau), paving the way for their incredibly bright future.
Photos courtesy of Winslow Photography.
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