Isabell Werth & El Santo Win Inaugural Central Park Challenge, Event Wins Acclaim
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
NEW YORK, Sept. 20, 2014–Awe for a special performance by Ravel, tears for the farewell of the Olympic celebrity mare Rafalca and such high praise that some riders were speechless after the inaugural Central Park Horse Show that wrapped up Saturday night with a dressage Grand Prix Freestyle challenge won by German superstar Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW.
With skyscrapers towering over the ice skating rink that has become a global icon featured in many movies but turned into a horse show with a sand competition arena at a cost of more than $3 million (€2.34 million), the event won Rolex as the title sponsor and a commitment from Sweden’s Antonio Ax:son Johnson to sponsor dressage for three years.
Isabell, making only her second ever visit to New York City and the first to ride, scored 82.042 per cent on El Santo, the 13-year-old Rhinelander gelding that she rode for Germany to win team silver at the 2011 European Championships.
Hans Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands rode Glock’s Flirt to second place on 78.833 per cent while the Canadian World Equestrian Games team combination of Karen Pavicic on Don Daiquiri were third on 73.500 per cent.
Neither Ravel nor Rafalca that were flown in specially for the event competed, but Steffen Peters and Jan Ebeling, the two German-born riders but long time American citizens, rode their mounts through the Freestyles for which the horses were best known.
Spectators and an audience for an Internet live stream were treated to more than the rides as Katrina Wüst of Germany and Stephen Clarke of Great Britain, two of the most highly respected judges in the world, gave a commentary from the judge’s perspective after each ride in the Freestyle that was not a recognized international competition. Linda Zang of the United States was the third member of the ground jury.
“I have to say thank you in the name of all riders for the great idea for this event,” said Isabell of the event. “In the beginning when I heard it, I couldn’t believe, but I was waiting to see if it was really coming true, and it really came true. I say a big thank you. It is a special event. If you go here through Central Park and if you arrive in New York, you can’t imagine that you will compete here in this arena. It was a lot of fun and a pleasure to be here.
“If you are in the ring and you look around, this is really unbelievable, especially when you come from Germany. It’s a completely different arena or event or atmosphere to a normal show. It is something special because you are in the middle of New York. We have no other show where it’s in the middle of skylines and atmosphere like this. This is really unique and special.”
Hans Peter described the arena as “really amazing.”
“Of course in Europe we have some great venues,” he said, “but the big difference is for our horses. You need a bit of a special horse. They came here this morning, and you’re not in the arena a lot. It’s tricky to go through the park, but my horse coped really well with it. I was very happy with the test. He had no mistakes, and he was really trying and going for it. For me, it was really wonderful to be here. It’s my first time in New York. As Isabell said, a big thank you to the organizers. We had a wonderful week, and it’s so nice to be in the city. I think we’ll definitely come back next year.”
The retirement ceremony for Rafalca, the mare that Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California, rode on the American team at the London Olympics in 2012 brought some spectators to tears.
The event in Central Park, world famous for its location in the heart of Manhattan and known for staging both high brow and low brow musical and theatrical performances, began Thursday night with a a CSI jumping event that aptly was won by Georgina Bloomberg, the daughter of New York’s former mayor.
Matinee performances during the day highlighted fun equestrian performances such as a children’s steeplechase and arena polo while the American WEG vaulting team opened the dressage night with a demonstration.
The competition arena squeezed into the skating rink left precious little room for horses to be ridden around two sides of the ring and enough room to fit in VIP and spectator stands with a total capacity of fewer than 2,000 people. The task of building the horse show grounds, stabling horses, constructing stands with just six weeks from approval and a book-sized list of rules to follow told the tale of why previous efforts to stage a horse show in Central Park here had fallen through.