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McLain Ward won the first Grand Prix of the 2004 Winter Equestrian Festival with a victory in the $25,000 Nutrena/Western Hay WEF Challenge Cup

Press Release

January 30, 2004 -- The first winner in the nine-event WEF Challenge Cup Series and the first Hunter Championship winner picked up their blue ribbons today at the 32nd annual Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. The 2004 WEF runs from January 28 through March 21 in Wellington, and March 24 through April 3 in Tampa, Florida.

In the first Grand Prix of the 2004 WEF, McLain Ward, 28, of Brewster, NY, and Goldika topped a class of 50 entries in the Nutrena/Western Hay $25,000 WEF Challenge Cup Series - Round I, CSI** for the Paul Scriver Perpetual Memorial Trophy. Since the launch of the Challenge Cup Series in 1990, Ward has logged 10 victories in it and now holds the record for most wins.

Over the 15-effort first round track designed by Javier Fernandez, nine horses went clean for the jump-off. Ward qualified two horses and was first in the tiebreaker order aboard Hurricane owned by Turnabout Farm. The pair had a rail in 43 seconds and ended up sixth. However, Ward came back as the fifth rider in the order aboard Goldika, and blasted over the eight-effort short course in 41.52 seconds, well under the 58-second Time Allowed. The next four riders chased his time, but Ward could not be caught. All told, five riders put in double-clear performances today. Laura Chapot riding Little Big Man placed second, Federico Sztyrle riding Who Knows Lilly was third, Enchante with Clare Bronfman was fourth, and Ian Millar in the irons on Promise Me placed fifth.

"The horse has obviously started out great," said Ward of the 12-year-old bay Holsteiner German-bred mare owned by Double H Farm. "Goldika is a horse we purchased last summer and had some success with at the end of the year. Both horses jumped beautiful in the first round. In the jump-off I tried an inside cut with Hurricane and he did that very well, but unfortunately he had a later rail in the course. This mare's very fast and I knew with the likes of Ian Millar and Margie Engle behind me that I had to try to lay down a tough time. The mare went beautiful so I'm thrilled with her."

Ward pulled out all the stops going at the last fence of the jump-off, eliciting a gasp from spectators. "I think I made some time there," he said. "She was fast on the whole track but she is very careful. She doesn't like to touch the fences so I knew I could run at the last pretty hard. It was just a matter of whether I was going to come off the ground or not that far away."

Of his relatively new partnership with the Goldika, Ward called today's win "a start." Ward noted, "She was a very successful horse even before I had her and I hope to just continue it."

Shachine Belle, 30, of South Salem, New York, riding In Disguise won the Regular Conformation Hunter Championship. Over two days of competition, the duo won five of six classes in the division, placing first in the Model, third in the Under Saddle, and first in the four over-fences classes. It was their debut in the 4' division. "I was a little nervous. I wasn't sure, even though I never doubt him," Belle said, who admitted the jumps seemed high to her compared to the 3' 9" division. "But once we got in the ring, we were all set. Every class just got better, more relaxed. He's a horse you can count on. He never lets me down. Today I went in and felt totally confident."

Belle, who has been riding In Disguise for three years, also points out that his personality, especially in the Model class, contributes to their success. "The most important part about him is that he loves being the center of attention." The highest score the duo earned was 95 out of a possible 100 points in the second Regular Conformation class yesterday. "When he is relaxed and confident, he jumps so high, so round, and so slow, that he kind of stays there, like, 'Do you see me?' and then lands and just canters off," Belle explained. "You can't help but notice him."

In Disguise, whose barn name is 'Odie', is an eight-year-old, bay, 16-hand Dutch warmblood gelding owned by Ellen Toon and trained by her husband Jim Toon with help from Rodney Bross. "This is the most amazing horse we've ever had, " said Mrs. Toon, 46, of South Salem, NY, who purchased In Disguise as a three-year-old. "He just does it all naturally. There's really no training, it's mostly just fitness with him, from the day we got him." Mrs. Toon started competed lightly aboard In Disguise in the Adult Amateurs last year and she plans to show him this weekend in the Amateur/Owner Hunters. "This will be my first 'big time' with him," she said.