Pessoa Shines Under Saturday Night Lights

January 20. 2024

It was once again time to shine under the ‘Saturday Night Lights’ of Wellington International for the $50,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic Grand Prix during week two of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The International Arena came alive for a win from Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa from a field of forty-five over tracks built by course designer Ana Catalina “Catsy” Cruz (MEX). 

Eleven horses returned for the jump-off, concluding with a true international podium. It was Pessoa and Gonzalo (Viceroy T x Londontimes), owned by Paseo Farms, LLC, that took home the winning title. The 2004 Olympic champion took the victory with a jump-off time of 38.421 seconds.

Rodrigo Pessoa & Gonzalo, winners of the $50,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic Grand Prix. Photo © Sportfot

Ireland’s Darragh Kenny and Eddy Blue (El Dorado vd Zeshoek x Chacco-Blue), owned by Kerry Anne, LLC, took the second spot with a clear and close 38.574 second round, and Spain’s Gonzalo Busca closed out the podium riding his own Cristiano Obolensky (Cornet Obolensky x Stakkato) in 39.386 seconds. 

Gonzalo is the former mount of Irish rider Trevor Breen and recently joined Pessoa’s stable under the ownership of his student Rachel Penner. 

“Unfortunately, Rachel had an injury so I’ve been keeping the horses running until she’s back. We got Gonzalo last summer, and have been pleased with him so far, especially tonight,” said Pessoa, who was keen to get the gelding back in the atmosphere of a big class. “He’s thirteen-years-old now and has a lot of experience, so it was no mystery to us what he could do. We wanted to put him under the lights tonight for possibilities later in the season when he goes back to Rachel.” 

Rodrigo Pessoa & Gonzalo, presented as winners of the $50,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic Grand Prix by (left to right) Dr. Cecilia Calestani, Dr. Ellie McLay, Dr. Richard Wheeler, Dr, Michelle Maguire, Dr. Carina Sola, Dr. Anna Czylok, Dr. Jorge Gomez, and Dr. Scott Swerdlin. Photo © Sportfot

Wellington turned out despite a chilly evening to support horse sport in their backyard, and the stands were filled with local show jumping fans to watch Gonzalo show off. 

“He had a bit of an advantage tonight as he has jumped under these circumstances before but it’s nice to have classes like this at the beginning of the circuit,” said Pessoa. “It allows riders to bring out younger horses, not jump too big, and give them a round with this atmosphere.” 

Darragh Kenny & Eddy Blue in the $50,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic Grand Prix. Photo © Sportfot

Of the high caliber of horses and riders who have ascended upon WEF for the winter season, Pessoa noted, “Whether it’s a national grand prix, two-star, or five-star the competition is always tough here, and people come to win so it keeps you on your toes no matter what level.”

WEF 2 comes to a close on Sunday when the $140,000 Keyflow Feeds USA CSI3* Grand Prix takes to the turf as the featured class on the grass derby field at Equestrian Village.

Gonzalo Busca & Cristiano Obolensky in the $50,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic Grand Prix. Photo © Sportfot

Jordan Coyle and For Gold Kick Off Season with Hermès 1.50m Win

The $32,000 Hermès CSI3* 1.50m Classic shifted to the grass derby field at Equestrian Village for week two of the Winter Equestrian Festival. Forty-three competitors took to Olaf Petersen Jr’s course, with nine returning for the short track.

Of the return contenders, it was Ireland’s Jordan Coyle, and For Gold (For Fashion x Heraldik), owned by Falkirk Farm, LLC, who took the win. Fellow Irishman, Cian O’Connor, who ended up third, set a fast pace for Coyle to follow, completing the short track in 42.75 seconds with his mount Kilkenny (Cardento 933 x Guidam), owned by Susan Magnier.

Jordan Coyle & For Gold, winners of the $32,000 Hermès CSI3* 1.50m Classic. Photo © Sportfot

Although Coyle didn’t have the win in mind today, he managed to knock nearly a second off O’Connor’s time, winning with a blazing 41.97 seconds. “This was his [For Gold’s] first show since November,” mentioned Coyle of the thirteen-year-old gelding. “My plan wasn’t to go crazy fast, as this is his first show back, but we did end up picking up a pretty quick pace. Each jump came up with that rhythm; he’s so talented, it all came together.”

Coyle not only recognizes For Gold’s talent, but admires it. “I’ve had him now for about ten months. He’s been nothing but incredible so far, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a horse like him,” admitted Coyle. “He’s unbelievably smart, for sure the smartest horse I’ve ever had. He has a great temperament about him; he focuses on getting over the jumps and the rest of him stays calm, whether that’s at home, in the warmup or in the ring. He’s all-around lovely to ride.”

Taking second place, between the two Irishmen on the podium, was USA’s Alison Robitaille, and Ester De Maugre (Vigo Cece x Ogano Sitte), owned by Alison Firestone, LLC. The pair separated the placings by just fractions of a second, coming in at a clear 42.16 seconds. 

Jordan Coyle & For Gold presented as winners of the $32,000 Hermès CSI3* 1.50m Classic by Kate McNamee, Equestrian Account Executive, Hermès. Photo © Sportfot

For the rest of the season, Coyle hopes to repeat the success For Gold had in 2023. “We took him to Mexico last year where he placed top-three in three 5* grand prixs,” said Coyle. “If we can get him back in that shape for this season, I truly believe he can do anything.” 

The 2024 Hermès 1.50m Championship Jumper Series will take place weekly throughout WEF, culminating during Week 11’s Saturday Night Lights. Riders who consistently compete in the series will accumulate points towards the series’ title, a $10,000 Hermès store credit and a bespoke Hermès horse rug.

Friday’s derby field action continued with the BrainJuice U25 Welcome. A large field of seventy-three young riders took to the speed course to compete against the clock. 

Ansgar Holtgers Jr (USA) and Kennedy Z (Kashmir Van Schuttershof x Drosselklang II), owned by Gut Einhaus, LLC, secured the top spot early on in the class with a clear 57.83 seconds and remained victorious. Going twenty-third in the order, Holtgers and the thirteen-year-old gelding had a need for speed. “I’m riding another horse in the Grand Prix tomorrow and we knew that Kennedy was the horse for speed so the goal was to be competitive, and fortunately, it worked out,” said Holtgers.

Ansgar Holtgers Jr. & Kennedy Z, winners of the BrainJuice U25 Welcome. Photo © Sportfot

Following the lead was Ireland’s Tom Wachman and Cathalina S, owned by Coolmore Showjumping. The pair secured second with a clear 59.36 seconds. Taking third was USA’s Alexa Elle Lignelli and Fayuri, owned by Skyline Sporthorses LLC, trailing close behind Wachman with a time of 59.92 seconds. 

The BrainJuice U25 series will continue throughout the Winter Equestrian Festival as a competitive opportunity for young riders. “It’s a great opportunity for upcoming riders and extremely competitive,” said Holtgers Jr. “If you win a class [in the division], you know you’re doing something right. I’ve started this series off strong now and would love to continue the success.” 

Ansgar Holtgers Jr. & Kennedy Z are presented as winners of the BrainJuice U25 Welcome by Lisa Ellis, CEO of BrainJuice. Photo © Sportfot

Malnik Makes Victorious Return with In Writing

Weekend hunter competition at Wellington International sprung into action Saturday Morning as the Voltaire Large Junior Hunter 3’6” 16-17 division saw 11 entries present their final rounds. Having earned a first, two seconds, and a third throughout her over fences rounds, Sterling Malnik of Ocean Ridge, FL, claimed the coveted tricolor ribbon aboard her longtime partner, In Writing. 

“He is just breathtaking to watch and he has such a fantastic brain,” Malnik commented of the 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Quirado she’s had as her partner for the past four years. “He answers all of the questions that are asked on course so well, and he’s just a winner. He truly has the heart for it and he wants to win, which is just so special.”

Sterling Malnik & In Writing, champions of the Voltaire Large Junior Hunter 3’6” 16-17 division. Photo © Sportfot

The pair only reunited to prepare for their return to the show ring in October after Malnik said the gelding had a well-deserved long break while she focused solely on her jumper career. 

“This was our first show back together in over a year,” she explained. “I’ve been really focusing on the jumpers and I spent the summer in Europe riding solely jumpers, so we had no expectations for this week. 

“When a horse like him knows and loves his job, it’s really hard for him to forget it,” she continued. “He was so happy to be back in the show ring and in the atmosphere; he lives for it. I was raised primarily in the hunter ring so to come back to it feels like coming home; it was a great start to the weekend.” 

Sterling Malnik & In Writing in their winning presentation for the Voltaire Large Junior Hunter 3’6” 16-17 division. Photo © Sportfot

Emma Vandenhouten piloted her own 11-year-old Westphalian Verdi gelding, Verified, to Reserve Champion honors with jumping rounds that earned them a first, two seconds, and a fifth for over-fences placings.