The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival supported by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission Began 12-Week Run
The 2009 Winter Equestrian Festival has opened in Wellington at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center after a $10 million makeover that took a year to finish. The festival runs through March 29, and features thousands of Hunters, Jumpers and Dressage horses from around the world, including Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Middle East.
Among the participants: members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medal jumping team, Laura Kraut, McLain Ward and Beezie Madden; 2008 Olympic individual gold medalist in jumping, Eric Lamaze. Ward and Madden were also on the 2004 Olympic gold medal show jumping team and winners of the 2008 Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame Presidents Award. Participants compete for about $6 million in prize money.
According to Palm Beach County Sports Commission President Don Dufresne, a partner at the law firm Greenspoon Marder, the Winter Equestrian Festival brings approximately 3,000 riders to compete from around the world. The Winter Equestrian Festival is estimated to have a $57 million economic impact to Palm Beach County, and brings in approximately 85,000 room nights. “This is the largest annual sporting event in Palm Beach County,” Dufresne said. “We are extremely proud to support this event through our grants program.”
Organizers of the WEF said they are taking steps to make the event a destination for both riders and spectators from all over the world. At a recent press conference, Ken Braddick of Equestrian Sport Productions, which took ownership of the shows in 2007, thanked WEF founder Gene Mische. “We all owe a huge thanks to Gene Mische for his vision 30 years ago in creating what is today the Winter Equestrian Festival, the premier winter circuit anywhere in the world, bar none,” Braddick said. “Gene is a great mentor.”
This year, WEF will feature a World Dressage Masters event Jan.28 – Feb.1, the first in a series of four, with others to follow in Europe. Equestrian Sport Productions is part owner of the World Dressage Masters event series. Competitors of this event include Anky van Grunsven, the most successful social freestyle competitor in the history of Dressage, World Cup finalists Edward Gal and U.S. Olympian Steffan Peters.
Another highlight competition of this year’s WEF will be the $400,000 FTI Grand Prix during Week 11, March 18 – 22.
The 2009 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival continues though March 29 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (1440 Pierson Road, Wellington). For tickets, visit www.equestriansport.com or call (561) 793-5867.