(Photo © Taylor Renner)
Mexico’s Eugenio Garza made his Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF) debut during Week Five, claiming the top two spots in Friday’s $35,000 Welcome Stake CSI2* aboard Armani SL Z and Empire Van Wuitenshof, both owned by El Milagro.
Garza bested an original starting field of 29 entries to take the top prize with the 8-year-old Zangersheide stallion by Asca Z. As last in the jump-off and already in the lead, Garza outpaced his own time with Empire Van Wuitenshof to place one-two in the first FEI-rated class of the week.
“Darragh [Kerins] and Alma [Björklund] were nice enough to move up in the jump-off order to let me warm up my last horse,” said Garza. “[Empire Van Wuitenshof] and I were in the lead when I came back with my last one. [Armani SL Z] is an 8-year-old and these next two CSI2* weeks are going to be very educational for him. We wanted to try to start to run a little in the jump-offs with him and be competitive so that’s what we did today. He’s an amazing horse. He’s the nicest horse I’ve ever ridden.”
The 20-year-old rider from Wellington, Florida, has had Armani SL Z since the end of the 2015 Winter Equestrian Festival circuit and has been building a winning partnership with the talented stallion ever since. The pair has experienced great success thus far and many top placings over the past year and a half, most recently winning the $25,000 Under 25 Grand Prix during Week One of the Tryon Summer series in July.
“We’ve really been taking our time with him,” said Garza. “After a couple of weeks ago in Tryon and now here, I can really see all of our patience and hard work starting to pay off with him. It’s really, really nice.”
Michel Vaillancourt set a large first round track where a triple bar immediately followed by a triple combination collected faults for many riders, eliminating their chance to advance to the jump-off round.
Ten horses and riders returned for the short course in the Grand Prix Ring at Flintfields Horse Park. Chile’s Samuel Parot and his own Dazzle White were the first to tackle the jump-off track. An unfortunate rail garnered them 4 faults, but their speedy time of 37.280 seconds would go on to make them the fastest of the 4-faulters.
The first double clear round of the class wasn’t seen until two rounds later when Garza and Empire Van Wuitenshof, a 12-year-old Belgium Warmblood gelding, finished with no faults and set the pace to beat at 39.940 seconds.
The top four finishers of the class were all separated by only hundredths of a second. Two rounds after Garza, Nick Dello Joio (USA) and Contiki, owned by Wembley Farms Inc. Coker Farm and Watershed Farm, also jumped clear, but were 5/100th’s of a second too slow in 39.990 seconds to catch Garza’s lead.
Parot was the next exhibitor to produce a faultless round aboard his second mount of the jump-off, Quick Du Pottier, a 12-year-old Selle Français gelding owned by Parot, in 39.980 seconds to put him in second place with three left to go.
Darragh Kerins (IRL) and his own Thunder D’Amaury were the fourth to jump double clear as second to last in the order of go, but finished conservatively in 42.470 seconds to move behind Dello Joio in the standings.
Garza returned to the ring, having already secured the win with this first mount, and piloted Armani SL Z to an impressively speedy and fault-free effort to best his first time by 2/100th’s of a second in 39.920 seconds, thus clinching first and second place honors, while Parot took home the yellow ribbon for third place.
“The course was not easy,” said Parot. “I didn’t go too fast. I was careful to the triple bar, but I made some mistakes, which cost me the win. I was very happy with the horse; he’s a really top horse. He’s won a lot of grand prix events. I’m very happy.
“This is a good start to the week,” continued Parot. “I had three horses in the class and two went clear to jump-off. Dazzle White is faster, but had the one down in the jump-off, but it’s OK. [Quick Du Pottier] was great!”
Of the courses in Friday’s $35,000 Welcome Stake CSI2*, Garza said, “It was a really nice course. I thought the time was set just right. A second over and we probably would’ve had too many in the jump-off, but Michel really did nail it. It was a really nice course — a nice welcome. It was technical but not huge. I really enjoyed riding this course.
“The jump-off was amazing,” continued Garza. “It was one of those jump-offs where, for me, everything came up nice. It was just a pleasure to ride. He always builds a great track. We rode his courses at another show and again they were amazing. He always does an amazing job.”
Garza and Parot are both competing at GLEF for the first time this week and are so far thoroughly enjoying their time at Flintfields Horse Park.
“It’s an amazing horse show,” said Garza. “The facility here is amazing. This is also my first win here and hopefully not the last! I’ll be here all three weeks.”
“I love it so far,” said Parot. “It’s a really nice place. I’m thinking I’ll be here for two weeks, but if everything goes well, possibly the whole three weeks.”