The Derby Field Was Made for Tic Tac. But Who Else Excels on Grass in Wellington?
Ben. Maher and Tic Tac. Photo by SportFot
Week 2 of the Winter Equestrian Festival offers an early opportunity for horses to jump on a different surface. The grass derby field at the Stadium is one of the last of its kind in the United States, particularly after the fields at both the Hampton Classic and Old Salem Farm were reconstructed with synthetic surfaces over the course of the last two years.
There's no denying that a group of horses are targeted specifically to these classes—this, for a number of reasons, no less of which that the CSI5* $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix, the highlight of the now-13-week circuit, will be held on the grass for the third straight year in 2023.
But certain horses simply perform better on this surface, and they have established winning patterns on WEF's derby field, year after year. Grass offers a cushier, softer surface and, of course, more space for a horse that jumps best on an open gallop.
The grass narrative is one that has become associated with Ben Maher's (GBR) mount Tic Tac, who at 19 won the CSI3* Grand Prix on the grass a year ago at WEF 2022. To kick off his season at an incredible 20 years old, the pair won the very first grassy class of WEF 2023, the CSI3* 1.45m Speed—by more than two seconds.
“I think this arena is one of the nicest grass arenas in the world,” Maher said of Wellington's derby field. “It’s really old-school ground here, and I think as an older horse, he likes the brighter jumps and loves the ground.”
What other horses have proven to be grass specialists, according to the numbers? Prixview broke down the 20 best performing grass athletes in 2022 by average faults and average position.
Each of the horses included in the study made at least four international starts on the grass at WEF 2022, meaning that in all likelihood, they competed in at least two weeks of FEI competition on a grass surface.
Four horses did not touch a pole on the grass in international competition between January 1 and April 4, 2022 in Wellington, from a variety of backgrounds. Comedie de Talma produced the most clear efforts, 6. That 2012 mare, shown last year by Erynn Ballard (CAN), competed almost exclusively on grass last winter, including a pair of podium finishes in the CSI3* WEF Challenge Cup Round II and CSI3* 1.45m.
Of course, Tic Tac makes both lists, averaging just 1.3 faults from 6 starts on grass at WEF 2022 and an average finish position of 8. Those 6 starts were the only starts he made at WEF last season. It's worth noting that he also targeted the field for some national starts in Wellington during the quieter summer months.
“He stays here year-round; we don’t travel him to Europe," Maher said. "We’re very fortunate with the staff and team at home looking after him. He knows his job and he loves this arena."
The horse that had the best average finish was Ma Pomme de Tamerville, who in four starts at WEF 2022 with Anna Wilks (GBR), averaged a podium finish, competing exclusively in CSI3* and CSI2* competition. This exciting mare went on to win with Christian Coyle (IRL) at CSI Greenwich in the fall. That event, interestingly enough, is also held on grass.
But the most noteworthy here might relate not to a horse, but to a rider. Two of the four horses to produce those faultless averages were ridden by Karl Cook (USA). Kalinka van't Zorgvliet deserves special recognition, given that she also averaged a finish position among the top five while competing primarily at the five-star level. Kalinka would go on to win CSI5* Grand Prix events at the Hampton Classic and Desert Horse Park in 2022.
Of the top 20 horses, who made the most starts on grass at WEF 2022? That was was the 2010 gelding Kirlo van den Bosrand, who, from 14 grass starts, averaged just 1.5 faults and a finish position among the top 8.