Hardin Towell and Jennifer Gates' Man In Black finished the day wearing blue after the $50,000 Ariat Grand Prix CSI2*, held February 2, in Wellington, Florida.
This was Hardin's biggest grand prix victory to date after he and Man In Black had been knocking at the door for the past six months.
Jennifer Wood Media, Inc., published an excellent press release on the class. Here's an excerpt:
Week four of the 2014 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) concluded with the exciting $50,000 Ariat® Grand Prix CSI 2* on Sunday afternoon held on the grass derby field at The Stadium at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). An exciting eight-horse jump-off finished with a win for Hardin Towell (USA) and Man in Black, with Andres Rodriguez (VEN) and Caballito in second and Lauren Hough (USA) aboard Ohlala finishing third.
Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela was the course designer for week four's finale event. There were 45 competitors on the beautiful grass derby field with eight clear trips in round one to advance to the tie-breaking jump-off. In the second round, four entries cleared the short course without fault.
Lauren Hough set the pace with her clear round in the jump-off aboard The Ohlala Group's Ohlala in 43.24 seconds to eventually finish third. Andres Rodriguez and Arao Enterprises LLC's Caballito upped the ante with their time of 42.94 seconds to end up in second place. Roosje Brouwer (NED) and Stal Heijligers and A. Vogels' SRI Aladdin also completed a clear round over the short course in a slower time of 49.56 seconds to earn fourth place honors. Last to go in the second round, Hardin Towell and Jennifer Gates' Man in Black got the winning edge, completing the course in 42.47 seconds.
Man in Black is a 12-year-old KWPN gelding by Gentleman x Calvados that Towell has been riding for one year. Gates showed the gelding in the Junior Jumpers last year and then handed him over to compete at the higher level with Towell. Sunday's win was the biggest of Towell's career - his second grand prix victory, and his first major win at the FTI WEF. The rider is 26 years old and from Camden, South Carolina.
"With him in the past year, probably starting last year in Thunderbird, I was really close in a lot of classes and I would go too fast," Towell said of his partnership with Man in Black. "On Thursday I was quite close to winning and I knew I should slow down, and I just kept running down the last line. I'm just glad I beat Andres, because in L.A. in November I was winning the World Cup class and was really fast, and everybody was like 'Congratulations you won!' and I said, 'No, Andres still has to go,' and he beat me by about one-tenth of a second. I think today was really close again, so I'm glad I could repay him the favor!"
"It feels very good (to win), and especially since I just started showing him," Towell noted. "He's a little bit strong. I have had a lot of trouble the last six months finding the right bit. I have changed a lot of bits and probably made a lot of mistakes using the wrong bits, but I think we have kind of figured it out. He's a really sweet horse. He is very brave, very scopey, and this is a great venue out in this grass field. He is always good at places like that. He is so brave that he is a little bit impressed out here sometimes, so today he jumped unbelievably. I could not ask for any more; he was fantastic."
Commenting on his winning round in the jump-off, Towell detailed, "I thought in the jump-off I was a little bit smarter. I thought about running and being crazy, and then I remembered, 'You know what, let's just try to be clean,' and I thought I was close enough. I landed and I actually saw a leave out to the last jump, which maybe six months ago or Thursday I would have done and knocked it down, but I decided to try to cut it close and win by just a little bit."
Towell got to compete at some different venues around North America this past year and explained that the experience has helped him grow as a rider.
"It helps a lot," he stated. "I went to different places and competed against different people. My whole life I have kind of stayed in the Southeast. I have never had that opportunity, so I met a lot of new people, and it was nice showing at Spruce Meadows and everywhere we went. I have had a great last year; it has been very lucky. Jennifer has been great the whole year and I want to thank Chris, my barn manager, and my mom and dad, and my sister. We just have a very good team."
To read about Hardin's victory in the Palm Beach Post, please click here.
Photos Courtesy of Sportfot
Finally Farm's ribbon count wasn't just limited to the Grand Prix ring this week. Brie Tiffany also collected top honors in her respective section, earning the Adult Amateur, 18-35, Hunter Championship in Section B aboard her MTM Cash.
"Brie rode him in the Pre-Greens this week, and he started out a little overwhelmed on Wednesday," said trainer Liza Boyd. "But she persevered and got him through, and by the weekend he just marched around the Grand Hunter Ring and won in the adults. They ended up champions, and I couldn't be more proud of her. It was the most amazing turnaround."
Brie purchased MTM Cash from Tracey Fenney last fall during the Capital Challenge and is still getting to know the now 7-year-old. "We are very excited and impressed by him and so happy for Brie," she added.
Liza also cheered on her friend and fellow professional Erynn Ballard as she guided some of the Finally Farm mounts in the open sections. Erynn showed Quatrain for the first time and picked up ribbons in the Performance Hunters.
"It was fun to watch him go with another professional," said Liza, who is pregnant and currently out of the saddle. "When I told her she was riding Quatrain, she said, 'Oh, that's a lot of pressure!' She did a great job, and it was fun to see how far he's come along and to just sit back and enjoy it. Quatrain and [owner] Laura Critz also earned excellent ribbons over the weekend in the Junior Hunters."
Hardin also picked up the ride this week on Emma Wilson's Ajax and earned top calls in the competitive Pre-Green Hunter section. "It was also fun to watch Hardin ride a hunter," said Liza with a laugh. "He was second and fifth the one day he showed [the second day was canceled due to torrential rain], and that was exciting to see this nice young horse that we imported last year step right in and get good prizes. Hardin hadn't ridden a hunter in a long time, but it all came back to him easily. I teased him and said, 'It was nice to see you bend over and give that horse a nice release!' "
In the Equitation, Addison Byrd jumped to an impressive eighth-place in the USEF Medal. "This is her first year in the big equitation, and she's doing wonderfully," said Liza. "It was a hard course, with a lot of tough questions, but she walked right in and nailed it."
Finally Farm's success went from tall to small this week, as Catherine Sharp continued her success in the Small Pony Hunters, taking ribbons on Church Mouse and I Candy, respectively.