FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mary Hilton for Phelps Media Group, Inc.
MEDIA CONTACT: Mason Phelps, Jr. of Phelps Media Group, Inc. at (561) 753-3389 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
WEB SITE :Phelps Media Group, Inc. Press releases and Photos are available for download at http://phelpsmediagroup.com
Photo Credit: Steffen Peters and Debbie McDonald
Photo by Linda Wirtz
Social Scene: Challenge of the Americas and Gala Dinner Dance Get Dressage Crowd Rockin’
WELLINGTON, FL, March 12, 2005 – The dressage ring is known for its hushed atmosphere, allowing spectators to stay riveted on the action in total silence save for the breathing of the horse above sand-muffled hooves. But on March 12, 2005, the night of The Challenge of the Americas in Wellington, Florida, crowd reactions escalated during this six-hour marathon that started at 6:30 PM with cocktails and competition, moved on to a gala dinner, then ceremonies, a live auction, dancing, and ended after midnight, flavored throughout with an ambiance that was anything but subdued. Glamorously attired, 450 guests filled the top floor and terrace and lower patio of the Players Club at the Palm Beach Polo Club in support of this benefit for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Watching the competition, which included six individual musical freestyles and three quadrilles presented by teams from the United States, Canada, and Latin America, table-holders enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails amid themed décor – every white-linen-draped table was set with centerpieces of pale long-stemmed pink roses complemented by deep pink napkins. Additional seating for the event was provided ringside under a covered tent as well as standing room for general admission. No matter where they were situated, people were enraptured during the 90-minute spectacular of non-stop rides to music. Clapping, whistling, and cheering set the mood for the evening’s events that followed.
Competition concluded with a rousing standing ovation for the Canadian team, then guests moved on to the next phase of the fête – a luscious buffet dinner catered on both floors by the Players Club. Guests who hadn’t yet placed bids took time to stop by the room filled with fabulous silent auction items. Good food and wine had everyone in great spirits as the dessert trays came out and Judge Linda Zang kicked off the awards ceremony, using the club’s dance floor as center stage. A crew of youngsters trotted out big Tiffany boxes containing exquisite cut glass bowls for the riders. Wild cheering and clapping accompanied the announcement of every score. Leslie Morse of the U.S. won the Individual Freestyle and the Canadian team of Ashley Holzer, Lisetter Milner, Shannon Dueck, Jacqueline Brooks, Evi Strasser, Susanne Dutt-Roth, and Cheryl Meisner won the quadrille plus the overall score, giving them the title of “Dressage Team of the Americas,” which they celebrated by singing Canada’s National Anthem!
With the Players Club dance floor filled with the Challenge riders and officials, Mary Ross, the originator, organizer and Chairman of the event, gave a speech . Ross, who co-chaired the event for the fourth consecutive year with her husband, Dr. Stanley Ross, presented several honorary gifts, handing out Tiffany boxes to her Olympic guests Debbie McDonald and Steffen Peters, and President of Breast Cancer Research Foundation Myra Biblowit, who made an inspiring speech. Additional ‘thank-you’ gifts went to Silke Rembacz, who rode a demonstration ride prior to the competition, and Kathy Connelly who provided commentary. Mary Ross wrapped up the ceremonies by thanking all the sponsors who helped make the event possible and deserved the group’s applause.
It was perfect timing to turn the crowd over to Tony Coppola and Michael Barisone, who had the crowd in a raucous state in a matter of moments as they launched into a live auction.
While the bidders and auctioneers bantered, Terry Ciotti-Gallo of KlassicKur, who has been a part of this event since its inception and created the music tracks for both the U.S. and Latin American teams this year, took a break to reflect on the evening. “I think it was a wonderful night for dressage. It was groundbreaking here in this country because nothing like this has ever been done before. It exposes people, some of whom have never seen dressage, to the sport in a way that’s very wonderful – whether you understand the sport or not, you can come out and appreciate it.” Gallo was thrilled with the ambiance of the crowd and described their mood as “very excited - everybody was enthusiastic and cheering for their favorite teams.” Gallo pointed out that the event had evolved from a Pas de Trios (three riders) with a luncheon that was part of a dressage show to the stand-alone entity presented tonight with a total of 22 riders participating. “The most astounding part of all of this to me is that it was all volunteers,” Gallo said. “The riders who participated whether they did the quadrille or the individual, it showed something about the character of our riders – to give of themselves to a very good cause. They have been in rehearsals for weeks to make sure that it was a good show. It’s giving up their time and their talent to put that together, and that’s really wonderful. And they had fun doing it because it’s something different from what they do.”
Catching a breather from the electric atmosphere of the auction, out on the terrace Host Committee Member Carol Cohen was quick to point out that all those wonderful gift boxes were due to the generosity of Ashley Carter from Tiffany’s, which underwrote all of the trophies. The cut glass bowls were created in four levels with the riders exclusively receiving bowls engraved with “The Challenge of the Americas” and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation ribbon as a commemorative piece for this premier event. “This night is nothing short of spectacular,” Cohen said. “The excitement for our sport, for our athletes, and the future, culminated this evening in a charity for a great cause, to conquer breast cancer.” She noted that the mood of all – those who came for the stadium seating as well as the Players Club gala illustrated, “Absolute camaraderie and warmth of spirit from everyone.” During the freestyles, Cohen had been a lively participant ringside, dancing and clapping with friends. “Yes, a lot of people were shushing us, and we ignored them,” she said pleasantly and with a smile, then added, “The freestyle is self-expression and it’s about getting into the mood, the spirit and the entertainment of the sport. The freestyle is sheer entertainment, so rock on!”
The auctioneers wrapped up the bidding and turned over the dance floor to the disc jockey, letting the energetic crowd put their dancing shoes to use. A gracious Joli Burrell, who has served on committees for this event all four years and was on the Host Committee this year, commented, “Tonight was the biggest and the best out of all of them. I thought the talent was spectacular. I had friends in from New York, California, and Atlanta, who knew nothing about dressage and they were so impressed – the attention was there.” Burrell noted that The Challenge was successful far beyond their original vision when they reserved the upper floor of the Players Club. “We sold out this room before the invitations went out – about 250, so we booked the terrace as well. Then there was a big response after the invitations went out - we had about 450 people respond,” Burrell explained. She was also delighted to see the traditional staid dressage scene enlivened. “Whenever you put it to music, you capture the world. New for this year, we also sold stadium seats on the field next to the dressage ring, so we had a crowd around the actual ring, which also brought the excitement.” Summing up, Burrell said, “We’ve gone from a little luncheon, to a beautiful night event. Now we are on the map, we are a season event, and everybody looks forward to it. They have it on their calendar.”
As the clock ticked toward midnight, dancers were still on the floor, while others queued up to say good-bye and congratulate the ever-effervescent Mary Ross. Catching a moment to sit down and review her event, Ross talked first about the new format for guests. “My idea was, I wanted everybody to have cocktails and hors d’oeuvres during the Challenge because it is an hour-and-a-half, and I wanted them to be comfortable, so there was no way you could have dinner at the same time, plus in this room not everybody could see, and it wouldn’t have been as much fun. Then, with everything coming after dinner – I thought people were going to get tired because it’s a long night, but nobody was tired. They just kept saying, ‘What a wonderful fun event!’ Nobody cared that it was a long evening – they were so psyched about the horses and the riders. And the team from Canada singing their National Anthem - they wouldn’t stop!” she laughed.
Ross was keeping track of crowd reactions during the competition and noted that the type of music the riders used had noticeable effects. “Some of those songs were so good - it was fun to get people hyped up, but I think I would describe the people as enthralled, they were really watching. But then when the U.S. team came out, I don’t know if it was just because it was the U.S. team or the music (rock and roll) but it got people clapping and getting into the music, which is part of my goal,” she said. “My goal is to open dressage up so other people understand what a wonderful sport it is. You don’t have to be ‘Mr. or Mrs. Dressage’ to have a good time. It’s good healthy fun entertainment.”
Now an experienced event planner, Ross took note of her attendees. “We had a mix – we had a lot of dressage, but we pulled in a lot of the community from the surrounding areas. I noticed there were a lot of people I’d never seen before. We pulled in a lot of polo people because there was a polo match before this and they stayed. I saw some of the jumpers. I think we had people from across the whole Wellington community.”
Does Ross believe she can top tonight’s dazzling extravaganza? “Oh, absolutely. We’re going to get the Europeans to come to this,” she said, and then added wryly, “You know, actually, I think we consider it will be like a nations’ challenge – maybe Samsung wants to join us.” Ross was referring to the $50,000 Samsung Nations’ Cup presented by CN that was held the night before as part of the Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club, which showcased show jumping teams from nine countries.
Ross was thrilled with the benefits The Challenge is providing to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. “We haven’t counted the silent auction or auction yet, but just with ticket sales we’re at over $100,000. We’re going to be up there – it’s going to be a good year,” she smiled. “Next year is going to be better.