WELLINGTON, Fla. — For Louise Serio, contesting the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular is always special. And this year it was particularly rewarding when she piloted Jennifer Burger's Rock Harbor to victory, earning her third title in a class that she was instrumental in establishing back in 1997.
"You never know when you're going to get back here again," she said with a smile. "It's very rewarding. Jennifer Burger, who owns Rock Harbor, has been a wonderful client for a long time and she's been a big supporter, so to win on her horse is really nice."
Serio, of Kennett Square, Pa., and the 11-year-old, warmblood gelding led after the first round with a score of 89.50. She returned for the second round to post an 86.75 and 176.25, a total no one else could catch.
"My horse was awesome tonight," said Serio. "I thought he jumped really well. I've never done him in a night class under the lights, and I thought he was really on his game."
This is the third time Serio has won this class, first in 2005 with Costello and again in 2011 with Castle Rock. Burger purchased "Harry" six years ago as a 5-year-old, and he's steadily moved up the levels to the High Performance Hunter section. This week, he qualified for the Spectacular class in the 3'6" Performance Working Hunters.
"He's been such a fun horse to own," said Burger. "I'm on top of the world. Louise is an unbelievable rider, and she found me an amazing horse. Tonight was the crescendo of those two things coming together and the best it could be. We both love him. He's a great horse."
Scott Stewart and Catch Me came close to a "three-peat" after winning in 2016 and 2017 but couldn't quite edge Serio and Rock Harbor. The 10-year-old, Holsteiner gelding owned by Gochman Sport Horse LLC, leapfrogged up the standings from 11th after the first round to second place overall with the best second round score of 91, for 174.33.
"I had nothing to lose," said Stewart of the second round and his strategy. "I had a little bit of a funny jump in the first round, so I was really happy that I made it back at all in the second round. I sort of just went for it. It was probably one of the best rounds I've ever had, especially for the handy. Everything just worked. The jump that he took a little look at in the first round was the jump I really sliced in the handy, and he was perfect about it. It all just worked out great."
Tracy Fenney, of Flower Mound, Texas, finished third aboard MTM Outbid in her first appearance in the Spectacular class. The 8-year-old warmblood gelding, owned by MTM Farm, jumped to an 85.33 in the first round and sat seventh. A tidy and bold second round moved them up to third with a 174.16 total.
The $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular was a featured event of the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit Week 6. The Saturday night event drew 36 entries that qualified to compete after showing in the week's Junior, Amateur-Owner and Open Hunter sections.
Designer Steve Stephens set the courses for the two-round classic in the expansive International Ring. The six-member judging panel sat in pairs around the arena, including: Sissy Wickes/Chris Wynne at Panel 1; Rick Fancher/Shane George at Panel 2; and John French/Mary Lisa Leffler at Panel 3.
For their victory, Louise Serio and Rock Harbor were presented the Dark Continent Perpetual Trophy, donated by Jim Greene, as well as the Let's Dance Perpetual Trophy, donated by the late Gene Mische.
"This is a cool night and means so much. What's special to me is we actually started this class," said Serio, who was instrumental in establishing the WCHR with Geoff Teall in the early 1990s. "I remember asking Gene Mische if we could have the class here. Then I asked, 'Could we have a tent? And a refrigerator and some chairs?' He was so generous, and it's just grown from there."
The Mark Gregory Memorial Award, established by Susie Humes, for the best-conditioned horse in Round 1 was presented to Libertas Farm LLC's Chablis, ridden by Kelly Tropin and trained by Peter Lutz and Mary Manfredi of North Salem, N.Y.
Riders earning championships or reserve championships in the 3'6" and higher rated WCHR hunter sections qualified for the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, with additional riders qualifying based on points if the qualified riders chose not to compete or were pre-qualified. In addition, riders also qualified based on their 2017 standings in the WCHR national awards programs.
Other special awards presented included the week's high-score honors: professional — Scott Stewart with 94; amateur-owner, 3'6" — Lindsay Maxwell with 91; amateur-owner 3'3" and Adult Amateur — Martha Ingram with 92 and 90; junior 3'6"— tie, Daisy Farish and Emma Kurtz with 90; junior 3'3" — Ella Bostwick with 90. Developing Professional Christina Serio earned the Champion Equine Insurance Trophy for her high score of 88.
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