Coco Fath of Fairfield, CT, topped the field aboard Class Action, an entry of Hillside Farm LLC, in the 11th Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship. The class was held in the International Arena at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center under the lights on March 23 at the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, FL. Alexandra Worthington captured second, Ava Stearns secured third, and Daisy Farish finished up on the leaderboard in fourth place.
In the $35,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45m Jumpers, Richie Moloney (IRL) and Rocksy Music, owned by Equinimity, were victorious. In the WEF International Arena, Lexy Reed and Coppertone, Daniel Coyle and Khaleesi, and Andrew Ramsay and Gerlos won in the Developing Jumper Series Classics.
Highlights remaining in week 11, sponsored by CaptiveOne Advisors on March 21-25, include the $205,000 CaptiveOne Advisors Grand Prix CSI 4* at 11 a.m. on the grass derby field at Equestrian Village (13500 South Shore Blvd.) and the $132,000 Hollow Creek Farm 1.50m Classic Final at 6:30 p.m. in the WEF International Arena on Saturday, March 24, as well as the $50,000 Hermés Under 25 Grand Prix Series Final at 12 p.m. at the grass derby field on Sunday, March 25. WEF hosts hunter, jumper, and equitation competition until April 1 and offers more than $9 million in prize money.
The 11th Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship was held in three rounds with a grand total of 35 competitors in round one. The top 15 riders returned for round two in reverse order from the first round, and ultimately the leading four entered the International Arena for a third time to determine the final placings. Riders were required to turn in their cell phones before the start of the class and were prohibited from any contact with their trainers. Consequently, competitors were responsible for the management, warm-up, and schooling of their own horses with the assistance of one groom and conducted their course walk independently.
All of the under 18 junior riders received scores from two panels of judges and a schooling judge, who graded the competitors in the warm-up area with scores ranging from minus two to plus two. The first panel of judges consisted of Chris Kappler and Ralph Caristo, Panel Two was made up of Keri Kampsen and Sissy Wickes, and Karen Golding acted as schooling judge. The course was designed by Steve Stephens and featured a trot cavaletti line, three combination lines, and a demonstration of two flying lead changes in round one. Round two challenged riders with another tricky combination, a trot fence, and a simple change of lead mid-line. Final testing tasked the leading four with a counter-canter fence, hand gallop, and halt and back.
The team from Beacon Hill Show Stables along with Kelly Molinari and Janelle Debonzo of Equiline, ringmaster Steve Rector, trainer Stacia Madden, and Coco Fath with Class Action.
Seventeen-year-old Fath, who was fourth in the class last year, was leading both rounds going into round three with an 88.5 and a 90.5, for a grand total of 179 points. Worthington, Stearns, and Farish joined the young Connecticut native in the ring for final testing, of which final scores were not announced.
“This is a really great experience,” said Fath. “There is no other place like WEF to have a class like this, where you are able to do it by yourself and really rely on your teammates and everyone around you for help.”
Having had the blue in sight last year, Fath, who trains with Stacia Madden, commented on her thoughts going into round one for her second year of competition aboard the 19-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding.
“I was a little skeptical going into the course today because it seemed a little bit like [USEF Talent Search] Finals, but the first round was nice and [gave us] some standard elements, such as gymnastics and lines similar to what we see every day,” she explained. “It definitely brought some good technical things to the table. I was a little bit worried about the cavalettis because the two people before me stopped at them, but thankfully we were able to practice in the schooling area and my horse knows his job!”
Brand new to 2018, schooling took place in a separated section of the International Arena near the in-gate, and exhibitors rode straight into the show ring through a divider following their warm-up.
“At first, I didn’t love it,” said Fath of the new schooling set-up. “Everyone gets to see you warm-up and making a mistake can be embarrassing! However, I actually really liked it by the end because it was a much bigger area to work in, and I was able to still see what was going on in the ring. The warm-up is a big part of it, and I would take any schooling area any day to get to compete in the International Arena.”
Fath and Worthington are fellow teammates at Beacon Hill Show Stables and shared a congratulatory hug following their first and second place finishes. Although Worthington entered the test in fourth place aboard her mount, Outshine, with a 79.5 and 89 in the first two rounds, the pair took full advantage of the opportunity to highlight their finesse and finished with reserve honors. Following a masterful counter-canter to the first fence, the pair tackled the hand gallop, and impeccably executed the halt and back before returning to the line-up. Stearns finished in third with a total of 172.75 points, and Farish tested second to last to finish in fourth with 169.5. Fath was the last to face the challenges set in round three and secured her position at the top of the class.
“I don’t think it was my best test,” admitted Fath. “But, the first two rounds brought me high enough up that my total points were significantly above the other riders, and I just went in there trying to have a smooth round and tried not to make any major mistakes.”
Following the evening’s competition, prizes and special awards were presented by Equiline and the company’s sponsor presenter, Kelly Molinari. As champion, Fath received an Equiline “Kendall” embroidered jacket and custom Equiline cooler. Both Fath and Worthington’s families additionally received a gift certificate to Sportfot, WEF’s Official Sport Photographer, courtesy of Equiline, while Stacia Madden, as trainer of the champion, also received an Equiline “Kendall” embroidered jacket and gift certificate.
Waldo, an entry of Missy Clark & North Run and ridden by Sam Walker, received the award for Best Turned Out Horse, and his groom, Katie Williams, took home an embroidered Equiline “Kendall” jacket.
To end the evening, the prize for Best Equitation Horse went to Class Action, and Fath took home the award for the dashing grey gelding – an embroidered Equiline stall guard.
“I can’t think of a better horse. I knew that these were going to be my last two years as a junior, and I thought, ‘Why not have the most experienced horse ever?’ I owe everything in my equitation career to him. He is the horse of a lifetime,” said Fath.
Final Results: 11th George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation
Top four were tested in a third round to determine the final placings, and only scores from the first two courses were announced.
1. Coco Fath, Class Action, Hillside Farm LLC – 179
2. Alexandra Worthington, Outshine, Alexandra Worthington – 172.75
3. Ava Stearns, Eclipse, Missy Clark & North Run – 169.5
4. Daisy Farish, Capital Hamilton, Daisy Farish – 168.5
5. Kaitlyn Lovingfoss, Caracas 89, Elvenstar Farm – 167.75
6. Grace Boston, Any Given Sunday, Hays Investment Corp. – 166
7. Rachel Mcmullen, Centerfold K, Henge Hill Investments – 164.5
8. Grady Lyman, Cohiba Vdl, Ashland Farms – 162.75
9. Emma Fletcher, Conspicuous, Emma Fletcher – 162.5
10. Sam Walker, Waldo, Missy Clark & North Run – 160.25