Tampa, Fla. – Aug. 28, 2020 – Hunter and jumper competition at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center in Tampa, Florida picked back up Friday, August 28 for the second day of the 2020 Southeast Medal Finals. Buzzing with riders of all ages and levels, the sold-out horse show produced an exciting atmosphere during the $5,000 UpCountry Welcome Stake and the $3,000 3’0 Hunter Spectacular, presented by CWD, which took center stage that afternoon. Stiff competition in both classes made for great sport, but ultimately, it was Zoubair Bennani and Vishnou un Prince who bested the field to take home the top honors in the $5,000 UpCountry Welcome Stake, while Isaac Leffkowitz and Ever So Clever wore blue in the $3,000 3’0 Hunter Spectacular, presented by CWD.
Twenty-Seven athletes put their names forward for the $5,000 UpCountry Welcome Stake, all vying for the top honors and the lion’s share of money. Set in the Grand Prix Ring, the 1.25m speed track featured two combinations and bending lines that challenged riders to execute a tidy track while keeping all 11 obstacles intact. Hayley Waters and Harvest Moon were the pathfinders of the course, producing a clear effort and stopping the timers at 67.19 seconds. The speed format made for fast and furious competition as each athlete tried their best to pilot their way to a fault-free round. Soon after Water’s fierce ride, Megan Wexler jumped to the lead on a clear round time of 63.45 seconds. Four others would follow suit, clocking in with no faults, however, none were fast enough to beat Wexler.
As one of the final few partnerships to enter the ring, Bennani was cool, calm and collected as he found the first fence aboard Leah Garlan’s feisty 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding. With an original plan to ride a smooth and confident track, Bennani was soon on his way to a victorious finish as he raced through the timers in 61.70 seconds, leaving all of the fences up and blowing Wexler’s previous leading time out of the water. The Ocala based athlete was thrilled with the unexpected result, praising Vishnou un Prince for his quick step and scope. As a relatively new partnership, Bennani has high hopes for the future with Vishnou un Prince.
Over in the Stampede Covered Ring, Leffkowitz and Ever So Clever came out on top in the $3,000 3’0 Hunter Spectacular, presented by CWD. Thirty horse-and-rider combinations contended for the top honor, but the 9-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding proved to be unbeatable after leading the first round on a score of 86 and maintaining his lead with an 84 in the handy round for an overall score of 170. The Fat Chance Farm owned entry jumped in perfect form, showing his scope and adjustability throughout the two rounds to reign supreme on the judge’s card. Leffkowitz gained the ride on Ever So Clever, who was previously a jumper, a year and a half ago and has been campaigning him in the Green Hunters since then.
Completing the podium for the $3,000 3’0 Hunter Spectacular, presented by CWD, was Shannon Dickinson aboard My Way, who ended on a score of 168 overall for their two seamless rounds, and Patrick Miller riding ESH Corofino’s Legacy to a final score of 164.
In the $3,000 2’6 Hunter Spectacular, presented by CWD, it was Wexler and Despacito who earned first place for their beautiful trip. Taking second place was Kolby Pott and Val de Loir-Imoo, while Lauren Plante and Lancelot rounded out the top three.
Competition at the 2020 Southeast Medal Finals will resume Saturday, August 29 at 7:30 a.m. in the Grand Prix Ring with 0.75m and 0.95m Jumpers, and will culminate with the highlight class of the day, the $2,000 Gamblers Choice, presented by CWD. In the Stampede Covered Ring, the Pony Handy Hunter Classic will kick-off at 7:30 a.m., and the Equitation Team Challenge will wrap up the action-packed day.
For more information about the 2020 Southeast Medal Finals, click here.
Zoubair Bennani – $5,000 UpCountry Welcome Stake winner
On Vishnou un Prince:
“This horse is an 11-year-old Selle Francais, Vishnou un Prince. We bought him on Christmas Eve, my partner Leah Garlan and I, and we have big hopes for him. He jumped some big classes in Europe, but he is kind of a bit of a handful. I saw the video and I liked him. Richard Cheska said to me, ‘this is your horse, you should buy him!’ We were very lucky, we did quite a few classes in Ocala and he was successful. We were just trying to get to know him. We were third in Tryon, we went double clear in the $25,000 class and it was honestly unexpected. I had zero expectations. There were some really good riders and it just happened again! It is very interesting. He is very quiet, but he has a very interesting demeanor around other horses. He gets strong, but strong in a good way. I feel like I can always count on him. I am just impressed with him because we were in Tryon and we didn’t jump too much, but then we came straight here. We don’t really jump him between horse shows. He just stays very consistent. One thing that is keeping him great is the treadmill. We do that three to four times a week. It’s really been a game changer! ”
On the course:
“What is interesting is there was a similar class earlier at a smaller height that I did on a different horse. So I feel like I got a bit of the course, everyone was cutting it tight and I just thought to myself that I was going to gallop around, cut the inside to two. Because the win really was cutting inside to two and cutting after seven because it was a long way. There was a lot of galloping! But it paid off.”
On the future with Vishnou un Prince:
“Honestly, we got him because we wanted to jump the $1 Million [at HITS Ocala]. So we entered the $1 Million and then unfortunately with the Coronavirus they cancelled the last week, which was very upsetting. I tried to go to New York so I could get my feet wet. The owner was trying to promote him to sell him and now that he is doing better she said, ‘let’s see what we can do with him!’ But then we couldn’t go to New York because we had to quarantine for two weeks, so hopefully I guess we will come back here since there aren’t many options. He jumped the puissance in France, so I was hoping to jump the puissance in Washington D.C., but that was cancelled also. I plan a month or two ahead, I try not to do overdo it with him.”
On competing at South East Medal Finals:
“It’s been amazing. Everything is first class. Everything is extremely on time and the footing is unbelievable. I am really excited to be here! ”
Isaac Leffkowitz – $3,000 3’0 Hunter Spectacular winner
On Ever So Clever:
“This horse is owned by Joy Slader up in Pennsylvania. He was a jumper of hers and he didn’t really decide to be a jumper anymore, so we’ve been doing him in the hunters and he has really excelled. He always shows up and always tries hard. He is a wonderful partner to work with. I’ve had him now maybe a year and a half. ”
On the Handy:
“My plan in the handy was to try and stay smooth and just have nice turns, and if that was all going well then I decided that after the trot jump I would take a little risk. I could cut in for the inside turn back to the single vertical and it just all worked out for us!”
On competing at South East Medal Finals:
“I love it here. Every time I come here I am just super pleased with the people and the venue. It is really great!”