When the gates opened for the second event of the 2019 Palm Beach Masters Series, it was a momentous occasion.
The CSIO5* Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup USA at Deeridge Farms brought the only qualifier in the country for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final back to Wellington for the first time in five years. Moreover, it brought five-star competition to the Palm Beach Masters Series for the first time in its four-year history.
It didn’t take long for Deeridge Farms to firmly cement itself as one of the most luxurious horse show venues on the circuit, but the 300-acre estate—the private home of the Jacobs family, who made their shows series into a 501(c)3 non-profit organization this year, benefiting the United States Equestrian Team Foundation—unquestionably upped its game in 2019, as six nations congregated at the event for equestrian sport’s most historic team challenge.
Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Ireland, Israel and the United States squared off before a full house as competition kicked off in the flawless grass arena. Young fans sported faces painted with team flags as they led dwarf miniature horse rescues from the lovable Peeps Foundation that were dressed in matching team colors.
Every custom Palm Beach Masters Series copper cup—the vessel of choice for Moscow Mules— along with each flower ornament in the Berkshire Bank VIP Club, hand selected by family matriarch Peggy Jacobs, was garnished with six team flags, and the menu prepared by the chefs from Delaware North’s Patina Group—including the executive chefs of the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills and Morimoto Disney—was culturally diverse. On course, there was a custom jump for each nation—from Team USA’s Discovery rockets and Canada’s CN Tower vertical to Mexico’s Aztec temple planks, and Nations Cup banners ads lined ESPN.com beside Super Bowl recaps and NBC trade deadline rumors, setting the tone for a serious athletic event. As competitors sailed down length of the arena, the FEI’s #BeProud campaign was a constant reminder of the honor that comes with representing one’s country.
The Sand Arena featured CSIO Children, Junior and Young Rider competition, which was swept by the home nation. New LED signage created a modern, European flare to the arena fencing, while the U.S.A. Fan Zone became the epicenter of the Boardwalk Boutiques, and the Taylor Harris Beach Bar became home to the team owners party.
The real party, however, was the Nations Cup victory gallop. Mexico—whose team averaged 24.5 years of age—shocked a stacked American team of Beezie Madden, Lucy Deslauriers, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward to claim victory. Fernando Martinez Sommer, Eugenio Garza Perez, Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado and Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane finished the first round on a perfect 0 score and added just 4 faults in round two, with Garza Perez and Gonzalez Dufrane producing double-clear performances for their team.
“It feels amazing. This is my first Nations Cup, so it is just unbelievable for me,” said Gonzalez Dufrane, 24.
Lead by Chef d’Equipe Stanny van Paesschen, Team Mexico rode home to the most ecstatic of celebrations, with teammates greeting Gonzalez Dufrane with welcoming arms as he excited the arena as the anchor ride of the second round. Team Israel, fielding their first ever team for a five-star Nations Cup, also produced a historic runner-up finish, with Team USA third.
“We knew that we had a good team—a great team,” said Garza Perez, 22. “These three riders are amazing. They ride much more than their age, and we really pulled together and pulled out the win.”
You couldn’t have rehearsed a better champagne spray at the top of the podium, but even that wasn’t wet enough for Team Mexico. The rider quartet took a celebratory swim in the Deeridge Farms lake after the press conference, which ended with resounding chants of “Olé!”
“It’s a beautiful venue, [and] the ring is absolutely fantastic,” said van Paesschen. “It’s like a home garden, as it’s really well kept. It’s beautiful. We are not used to places like this in Europe. In Mexico, they also have great places, but this is a great venue and among the best in the world.”
As the legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”
That was the first ever Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup day at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters Series.