Stars Align for Grace Debney in 1/ST Racing CSI2* Grand Prix

February 11. 2024

A year of diligent work for 20-year-old British rider Grace Debney paid off in Sunday’s $62,500 1/ST Racing CSI2* Grand Prix with Jesprit H.S. The culmination of two-star competition during Week 5 at Wellington International’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) featured 44 qualified riders over courses designed by 2024 Olympic course builder Gregory Bodo (FRA).

Jesprit H.S joined Debney’s string a year ago, and the partnership has been growing ever since. “She's been a work in progress. She basically only jumps clear rounds, but it's taken a bit of work for me,” said Debney of the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Elforado vd Zeshoek x Carosso VDL) owned by Temple Equestrian. “This is honestly the first round I feel like I rode correctly. It feels good to finally be there with her. I think she's going to be a superstar, but she’s a true mare and that’s why I love her.”

Grace Debney & Jesprit H.S, winners of the $62,500 1/ST Racing CSI2* Grand Prix. Photo © Sportfot

Debney characterized Jesprit’s purchase in Europe as a happy accident. “I actually went to the barn to try a different horse and they told me about an eight-year-old that may work for someone in my barn,” recalled Debney. “I sat on her, and I was like ‘this is the one.’ I just knew.

“I tried her as a really nice 1.45m horse, but she turned out to be way more,” continued Debney. “She jumped some three-stars and 1.55m classes over the summer, but two-stars here [at WEF] are like three-stars everywhere else and I don't want to over-face her."

Nicky Galligan & VDL Nikita van de Leeuwerk. Photo © Sportfot

From a ten-horse jump-off, Debney shaved a second off pace-setter Nicky Galligan (IRL) and VDL Nikita van de Leeuwerk, owned by Santa Rose Group. Debney’s winning time of 37.77 seconds bested Galligan’s 38.95 and fellow Irishman Darragh Kerins, who stopped the clock at 39.67 seconds for third on Eve Job’s Lissino. 

Darragh Kerins & Lissino. Photo © Sportfot

At the conclusion of the day, Debney and Jesprit H.S were presented as winners of the !/ST Racing CSI2* Grand Prix by Aidan Butler, President, 1/ST.

1/ST is North America’s preeminent Thoroughbred racing and pari-mutuel wagering company and includes the 1/ST RACING & GAMING, 1/ST CONTENT, 1/ST TECHNOLOGY and 1/ST EXPERIENCE businesses, while advocating for and driving the 1/ST HORSE CARE mission. 1/ST represents The Stronach Group's continued movement toward redefining Thoroughbred racing and the ecosystem that drives it.

Grace Debney & Jesprit H.S are presented as winners of the $62,500 1/ST Racing CSI2* Grand Prix by Aidan Butler, President, 1/ST. Photo © Sportfot

“1/ST is proud to have been the title sponsor of the CSI2* week at the prestigious Wellington International during the 2024 Winter Equestrian Festival,” said Belinda Stronach, Chairwoman, Chief Executive Officer and President, 1/ST. “The connection between Thoroughbred racing and equestrian events reflects a shared commitment to excellence in sportsmanship and a passion for horses and riders. We look forward to building on this partnership and to connecting the worlds of Thoroughbred racing and equestrian sport in a way that has never been done before.”

While Debney’s regular trainers – Samantha Schaefer and Kate Conover – are on the road, Irish Olympian Shane Sweetnam stepped in to help her during the WEF 5 two-star. “Before I went in for the jump-off, Shane said, ‘just trust her.’ You've got to trust both your horse and yourself. If you don't trust each other then it's never really going to work, so I’m glad he said that because I kept thinking it during the whole course.

“When you win here it’s like you've won one of the bigger events across the country or even in the world,” concluded Debney about winning at WEF. “The courses are difficult; the numbers are big and the competition is top. I feel like basically everyone is here, so it always feels special to win [at WEF].”

Ben Maher and Point Break Garner Top Honors in $62,500 Hermès CSI5* 1.50m 

Five-star competition rounded out on Sunday with the $62,500 Hermès CSI5* 1.50m Classic. The Hermès 1.50m series returned for a fifth week in the International Arena, this time with fifty-two riders challenging the track designed by Gregory Bodo (FRA). 

Ben Maher & Point Break, winners of $62,500 Hermès CSI5* 1.50m. Photo © Sportfot

Keeping it in the family, Hermès sponsored rider and FEI world no. 2, Ben Maher (GBR), and Point Break, owned by Maher, Pamela Wright, and Charlotte Rossetter, took home the win. The pair beat out 10 other competitors in the jump-off, achieving a winning time of 38.12 seconds. 

“Point Break is ten now. We got him when he was six years old,” said Maher of the stallion. “His first time here was when he was seven in the young jumpers. We’ve developed him the last few years, he’s jumped a couple of five-star grand prixs at the end of last year and then we gave him a break. He just arrived here a few weeks ago and we’re getting him going for the season.”

As one of the final three to go in the jump-off, Maher had a time to catch of 38.26 seconds, set by the second place winner, Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Irandole Du Flot, owned by Seabrook LLC. 

“He has an unbelievable technique to be able to bend around the jump. So, I think that was where I was very quick,” said Maher. “There wasn't a lot else to do in the jump-off to be honest; it was a course where everybody did the same thing, but naturally he was just quicker today.” 

Ben Maher & Point Break are presented as winners of $62,500 Hermès CSI5* 1.50m by Leah Rogers Meierfeld, Client Development Manager, Equestrian for Hermès. Photo © Sportfot

Maher’s win was a star aligning moment for the hosting sponsor as Hermès and the British rider have been partnered for over a year now. “I've been with the family now for a year and it’s been an unbelievable experience,” stated Maher. “Most importantly, for the horses, the saddles and the equipment are really coming together, and they've really helped me to progress over the past year.” 

Closing out the podium was Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) and his own Pandora Van De Kruishoeve. The pair jumped a clear 39.03 seconds. 

The 2024 Hermès 1.50m Championship Jumper Series will take place weekly throughout WEF, culminating during Week 11’s Saturday Night Lights with $150,000 in prize money. 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.

Jumper action will continue with week six of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) beginning Thursday, February 15, on the grass derby field at Equestrian Village. For the full schedule, please click HERE.

Madison Olvert and Green Book Snag Blue in Bruno Delgrange Palm Beach Adult Medal

The Bruno Delgrange Palm Beach Adult Medal rounded out adult equitation divisions on Sunday to close out Week 5 of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at Wellington International. An even twenty riders took to the single-round medal, with the top eight returning for the under-saddle test. 

Madison Olvert & Green Book, winners of the Bruno Delgrange Palm Beach Adult Medal. Photo © Sportfot

Of the returning bunch, it was Madison Olvert of North Grafton, MA, and her own Green Book who took the win. The pair entered the test at the top of the division, scoring an 89 over the initial course. 

“We connect really well,” said Olvert. “He always has an ear on me, he just loves doing his job and always puts his best efforts in. He's very professional about everything and he is the biggest personality in the barn.”

Following Olvert in the line-up was Abigail Grace Kelley of Lone Tree, CO, and her own Cayman A.L. The pair held second throughout the first round and test, with an initial score of 88. Coming in third was Ellyn Fritz, of Bridgewater CT, and Luz De Luna, owned by Stephanie Clarke, who initially sat in fourth with an 83 score, but moved up to the podium after the test. 

“It's great being able to compete in the amateur equitation,” said Olvert. “There are so many different classes out there and it gives us a wonderful opportunity to continue our equitation careers instead of going straight into the jumper or the hunters.”