WELLINGTON — After competing in front of a near-empty venue because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2021, spectators are being welcomed back for the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival that begins Wednesday at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
The highlight of the season is the return of Saturday Night Lights, featuring 12 grand prix events. Those include: the Feb. 12 $406,000 Fidelity Investment Grand Prix CSI 5; Feb. 26 $406,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI 5 and March 12 $406,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix CSI 5. The April 2 $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5 will be held during the day on the grass field at Equestrian Village.
For the 13th year in a row, WEF will host the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments on Feb. 5. Co-founded by Mark Bellissimo and his daughter Paige, the event has distributed over $15.9 million to 276 Palm Beach County charities. The theme of this year's event is "Children's Story Books."
The world's largest and longest-running equestrian sports event features 13 weeks of top hunter, equitation and dressage competition featuring an estimated 8,000 horses and 250,000 spectators from around the world and $279 million economic impact on Palm Beach County. More than $12 million in prize money is being offered.
The first Saturday Night Lights event is this weekend's traditional $75,000 Battle of the Sexes, sponsored by the Wellington Regional Medical Center.
The 2020 U.S. Olympic show jumping silver medal team of McLain Ward, Laura Kraut Jessica Springsteen, and Kent Farrington heads a world-class field for the season. The trio of Ward, Kraut and Springsteen just missed gold in a tight jump-off against Sweden. 2020 Tokyo Olympic individual gold medalist Ben Maher of Great Britain will also return to WEF.
"WEF is a very unique place because it is just a wealth of opportunity ... it's really the hub and fantastic place that is pushing everyone to be the best," said U.S. rider Lillie Keenan, 25, a member of last year's $150,000 Nations Cup CSI4 at WEF along with Brian Moggre, Bliss Heers and Springsteen. "This is the only time of the year that we have a chance to master everything."
Since Andreas Helgstrand's Global Equestrian Group partnered with Wellington Equestrian Partners last July, several improvements to the facility have been made including re-doing the Mogavero Ring and new footing in the International Arena. More upgrades are in the process of being made during a five-year plan for the facility.
"The concentration of improvements were the horses and riders' experience rather than anything too cosmetic," said Equestrian Sports Productions President Michael Stone Tuesday during a virtual press conference kicking off the 2022 season.
"It's amazing how much has been achieved in a very short period of time," Stone said.
Gates open 6 p.m. through March 12 with the competition starting at 7 p.m. For the final three weeks, gates open 6:30 p.m. with the class beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Spectators are reminded to bring their facemasks to use in any indoor areas including bathrooms, restaurants and enclosed shopping areas. Live streaming is also being offered again this season at pbiec.coth.com.
Winter Equestrian Festival
General admission: Free.
Parking: $20 per car.
Location: 3400 Equestrian Club Drive, just off South Shore and Pierson Road.
For information: 561-793-5867
Saturday Night Light Schedule
January 8 – $75,000 Battle of the Sexes, Sponsored by Wellington Regional Medical
January 15 – $140,000 Southern Arches Grand Prix CSI3
January 22 – $50,000 Marshall &Sterling/Great American Insurance Group Grand Prix
January 29 – $216,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI4
February 5 – Great Charity Challenge Sponsored by Fidelity Investments
February 12 – $406,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5
February 19 – $100,000 WCHR Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular
February 26 – $406,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI5
March 5 – $150,000 Nations Cup Presented by Premier Equestrian
March 12 – $406,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix CSI5
March 19 – $216,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI4
March 26 – $140,000 CaptiveOne Advisors 1.50 Series Final Classic CSI4
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Saturday Night Lights back at 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival