McLain Ward & Catoki. Photo © Sportfot.
The $75,000 Prestige Italia Grand Prix wrapped up Premiere Week in the International Arena on Sunday, January 7, at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). While there proved to be an exciting lineup of horses and riders, two-time U.S. Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward and the little bay superstar, Catoki, simply could not be caught.
The class consisted of twenty-six riders over a challenging thirteen-obstacle course designed by Eric Hasbrouck (USA), including a triple combination that caused several rails. The class started off with a bang, including several early clear trips, but as it unfolded the clear rate slowed. The first four to jump clear and make the time allowed were Chris Ewanouski (CAN), Matt Williams (AUS), Jimmy Torano (USA), and Ward. Richard Vogel (GER) and Michael Murphy (USA) in the latter half of the draw then joined the jump-off list.
McLain and his sportscar of a horse, Catoki (Catoki x Caretello B) owned by Marilla van Beuren and Bob Russell were the quickest and most precise by more than three full seconds in the jump-off, to land them with an exciting win. They crossed the timers in 29.003 seconds, while Australia’s Matt Williams finished second riding Meadowvale Cruise in 32.959 for owner Wyndmont.
“He’s feeling great,” said Ward of his 2009 Holsteiner gelding. “He’s always great after a little bit of rest. He’s won so much and goes so fast; he almost gets a little bit like a racehorse. So, we gave him a long break after Toronto and he came back a little more mellow.”
Jean Sheptoff’s Verdict Tops Hunt Ltd. 3’6” Amateur-Owner 36 & Over Hunter Division
The Hunt Ltd. 3’6” Amateur-Owner 36 & Over Hunter division was the exclamation point on hunter competition during WEF Premiere and saw Jean Sheptoff’s Verdict pinned as champion.
Verdict, a 2011 Zangersheide gelding by Verdi, earned two wins over fences in addition to a second and third-place ribbon for the tri-color at the conclusion of the week. “Verdict jumped beautifully this weekend,” she said of the mount, which is coming off a long break since indoor competition in the fall. “He’s feeling his best as we start to gear up for [WCHR] hunter week [during WEF 6].”
Sheptoff has had the ride on Verdict since he joined her string as a six-year-old pre-green horse. They have progressed into a solid partnership that is now earning champion honors in the highly competitive amateur-owner hunter ranks.
“The handy yesterday was a really fun course and my horse rises to the occasion in the handy, so that was a great day,” said Sheptoff of her handy victory on Saturday. “I have basically been the only one riding him since we got him, so he always tries hard for me.”