The sold out WEC Invitational $15,000 Welcome Stake 1.35 m signified the commencement of our featured classes this evening in the Sanctuary Arena with a record 43 International entries. The 1.35m track was built by Steve Stephens and Nick Granat .
“This is a difficult group to build for because there is a mixed level of horses in this Welcome class tonight,” said course designer Nick Granat. “There are a lot of young horses and then some more experienced ones and the point is to get them all comfortable and get them ready for the Grand Prix.”
“We want to everyone to have a nice experience and finish the course with confidence,” he added.
“Designing here is like designing in most outdoor rings because it’s a massive ring. We have so much space and beautiful jump material and the footing is great. Building here is always a pleasure. The horses jump great here and you can’t beat the weather in here,” Granat said with a smile.
Fourteen of the forty-three entries jumped clear in the first round of the Welcome Stake with a time allowed of 73 seconds. One of the quickest of the clear first-rounders was 14th in the order of go, Fancy Girl, owned by Michelle Guardino and ridden by Ireland’s Willie Tynan. The pair crossed the timer at a time of 68.123 seconds, becoming the 5th entry to make it to the jump off. Another notable ride of the clear first-rounders was Wilhelm Genn and Van Gogh. The duo negotiated the course handily, crossing the timer at 70.999. Lisa Goldman rode three of her entries into the jump off, but it was Sovereign that who gave her a clear round and entry into the jump off. Sovereign cleared the first round in a time of 69.585 seconds.
Course designer Steve Stephens agreed with Granat on the different levels of the horses in the class, noting that his goal was for the horses that jumped the Welcome to be confident for the Grand Prix on Saturday night. That said, Stephens elected to raise the height of the fences in the jump off to 1.45m from the 1.35m height in the first round.
“There’ll be a little more jumping in the jump off, so it won’t be such a foot race for the horses that went clean in the first round,” explained Stephens.
Early in the jump off, Willie Tynan set an early pace with Fancy Girl, jumping a clear round in a time of 32.550. Though many tried, none bested Tynan and Fancy Girl’s time. Wilhelm Genn and Van Gogh were just over a second behind, finishing with a clear round in a time of 33.988 seconds, and Lisa and Sovereign weren’t far behind them with a clear round in 34.034 seconds.
We caught up with Willie after the Welcome Stake to chat about his ride. “She’s a younger mare, she’s only 8. This kind of jump off suited her because I could leave out the one step in the first line, and then she’s neat and tidy on her rollback. She’s naturally kind of quick, even though she’s a big mare,” Willie explained about his rounds with Fancy Girl. Fancy Girl had a large cheering section who were thrilled with the win and joined the pair in the ring for the awards.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.