Let The Games Begin An Inside View Of The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Let The Games Begin An Inside View Of The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

By Annan Hepner

All eyes were on Tokyo last summer as the Olympic Games were held following an unprecedented one-year delay. It was a record-setting showing for the United States Equestrian Team and its amazing squad of riders and coaches, most with deep ties to the Wellington community. The dressage team of Adrienne Lyle riding Salvino, Steffen Peters aboard Suppenkasper and Sabine Schut-Kery with Sanceo rode to an incredible silver medal victory. Not to be outdone, the show jumping team of Laura Kraut with Baloutinue, Jessica Springsteen aboard Don Juan van de Donkhoeve and McLain Ward riding Contagious competed in a thrilling gold medal jump-off with the Swedish riders, taking silver by just the narrowest of margins. We are pleased to partner with Annan Hepner of the Phelps Media Group to bring our readers this fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to cover equestrian events at an Olympic Games unlike any other.

All eyes were on Tokyo last summer as the Olympic Games were held following an unprecedented one-year delay. It was a record-setting showing for the United States Equestrian Team and its amazing squad of riders and coaches, most with deep ties to the Wellington community. The dressage team of Adrienne Lyle riding Salvino, Steffen Peters aboard Suppenkasper and Sabine Schut-Kery with Sanceo rode to an incredible silver medal victory. Not to be outdone, the show jumping team of Laura Kraut with Baloutinue, Jessica Springsteen aboard Don Juan van de Donkhoeve and McLain Ward riding Contagious competed in a thrilling gold medal jump-off with the Swedish riders, taking silver by just the narrowest of margins. We are pleased to partner with Annan Hepner of the Phelps Media Group to bring our readers this fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to cover equestrian events at an Olympic Games unlike any other.

When my official press credential arrived in the mail in early June, it marked more than three years of applying and tediously filling out paperwork for a chance to venture to Tokyo. During a normal Olympic Games, the logistics are quite robust, but with the year-long postponement due to the pandemic, preparing for Tokyo 2020 (despite being held in 2021, this was the official name of the games) was a mountainous undertaking.

Japanese culture is renowned for its attention to detail, but the pandemic threw a major wrench into everything. The organizers jumped through new hoops every week to attempt to mitigate as much risk as possible while dramatic headlines caused a frenzy: Will the games be canceled? Should they be canceled? What about the 11,000 athletes who had trained their entire lives for this moment? It certainly was a chaotic runup to the Olympics, but as they say, “The show must go on.” And it certainly did, with impressive processing, tracking and maneuvering of the estimated 80,000 people who flew into Tokyo as participants.

There is still a contentious debate on whether the games were an overall success, but they were not the disaster that many anticipated.

Only 430 positive cases occurred throughout the games, and there were countless spectacular moments in sports with records smashed and inspirational performances wowing TV viewers. However, with travel into Japan banned other than for credentialed participants, and Japanese ticket holders refunded due to the state of emergency, the losses were significant. Postponing a year cost the organizing committee more than $2.8 billion, and the absence of spectators robbed the Japanese not only of tourism dollars, but the opportunity to showcase their culture.

Despite the controversies, my goal here is to shed a little light on what it was like covering the games as an equestrian photographer.

The Prep — While the pandemic logistics for athletes and coaches were primarily handled by their national governing body, members of the press were responsible for filing every additional piece of paperwork correctly, or risk not being granted entry. Pre-COVID-19, I was beyond thrilled for the chance to represent Phelps Media Group at the most prestigious sporting event in the world. It was a distinct accomplishment in my career, and as an avid traveler, I was unfazed at the thought of flying alone to the opposite side of the globe. Yet as the pandemic raged on, it became a marathon of solving one logistical nightmare after another.

Hotel and flight rebooking was the easiest part of the postponement. We waited until the spring to purchase new tickets when we were more confident that Tokyo 2020 was happening, whether the world was ready or not. Every day leading up to my flight, I received e-mails with additional obligations and forms I needed to submit. Since I was the only staff member representing my company in Tokyo, I was also responsible for training as a COVID-19 liaison officer, which was a mandatory assignment to comply with the restrictions. Hundred-page-long playbooks full of strict rules plagued my dreams.

Prior to taking off from Fort Lauderdale to Haneda International Airport, I had an overflowing folder with my official credential, passport, two negative COVID-19 PCR certificates, additional health insurance, a 14-day report of daily temperature monitoring, an immigration QR code and hard copies of all the required forms. The most nerve-wracking part of the preparation was waiting for the approval of my required 14-Day Activity Plan. It highlighted the few locations I was allowed to visit while in Tokyo. It was approved only hours before my flight.

A 20-Hour Journey — Fortunately, the trip itself to Tokyo went off without a hitch! I spent the journey organizing my Adobe Lightroom photography catalog, reading an entire book and attempting to get a bit of sleep. When I landed in Haneda, all credentialed passengers were escorted to a private section of the airport to begin the three-hour immigration process. Because my activity plan was approved in time, I was able to breeze through many steps of the check-in procedure. Other passengers were not as lucky.

From the moment I landed, the friendliness and hospitality of the Japanese staff was unprecedented. While the logistics were insane, their openness to everyone arriving made the experience pleasant. They ensured the health-monitoring app on my phone was set up correctly, an addition necessary to track everyone’s movements throughout the games. The hotel, sports venue and main press center were the only locations I was allowed to go, and face masks were required everywhere. The app would also alert you if you happened to come in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in order for you to go into isolation as a precaution. This was followed by a final COVID-19 test and an hour-long wait until my vial number was listed on the negative-results screen.

The next few steps were a bit of a blur as jet lag was setting in, but the volunteers ushered me into a taxi to deliver me to my hotel. It was about a 45-minute drive through the city to arrive in Shinjuku, a bustling Tokyo burrow. After a confusing check-in process with my lifesaving Google Translate, I toured what would be my abode for the next 20 days — a miniature room with an even tinier bathroom, featuring a breathtaking view, hot water and a functioning AC. What more could I need for the work trip of a lifetime?

Let The Games Begin — My first full day in Tokyo involved figuring out the complex bus shuttle system with precise timetables and touring the main press center. I picked up taxi vouchers, a camera rain guard from the Canon store and my photographer bib. What it lacked in fashion sense, it certainly made up for with the amount of useful pockets. I also was given 10 self-testing COVID-19 kits, as we had to submit saliva samples daily for the first three days, and then every four days following.

As I was only covering the equestrian disciplines, I familiarized myself with the stunning BajiKoen Equestrian Complex and the traditionally decorated stadium. Following the initial horse health inspection and schooling session, my work assignments kicked off full tilt.

My personal favorite, the dressage competition, was the first discipline to take to the arena, and despite the lack of spectators, the environment was electric. I witnessed some less-than-stellar performances, but I also was privileged to watch some of the most harmonious tests I’ve seen in my career. Fan-favorite riders including Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, Charlotte Dujardin, Isabell Werth and Cathrine Dufour laid down beautiful rides, but as an American, witnessing Sabine Schut-Kery’s rides throughout the week on Sanceo was magical. It was her Olympic debut beside veterans Steffen Peters and Adrienne Lyle, and she wowed everyone with personal bests!

She said it best following the U.S. Dressage Team’s historic silver medal win. “I’m so proud of my horse, my team, my owners and the coaches,” Schut-Kery said. “This is my first Olympics, and it has been a really great experience. I’m still a little bit speechless. I am filled with joy and pride, but it’s such a team effort. To deliver for the whole team, not just the riders, but for my coaches and owners, that’s everything. It was a big relief and happiness.”

Once the dressage team and individual medals were awarded, three-day eventing athletes took to the ring. Covering the cross-country course alone in Tokyo was quite the experience — a 4 a.m. wake-up call to shuttle to the course, temperatures over 100 degrees and running around the vast course to get shots wiped me out. However, the photos offered stunning views of Tokyo Bay and the city’s skyline — and all the American riders crossed the finish line safely.

The four days of show jumping competition wrapped up my whirlwind trip, and the competition kept everyone on their toes. The Swedish team was foot perfect, with its riders not touching a single rail. Following the first round of the team final, they were propelled into an unprecedented gold medal jump-off with the U.S.

In the end, all three athletes from each country cleared the track, and just 1.3 seconds would separate the two nations, as Sweden clinched the gold medal while the U.S. brought home the silver. It was mind-blowing to be shooting the action live while colleagues back home were texting their excitement!

The youngest team rider, Jessica Springsteen, explained it best: “I thought all three of our horses jumped great, so I had really high hopes coming into the final, especially with Laura [Kraut] and McLain [Ward] on the team. It really gave me a lot of confidence and gave me the ability to have big dreams riding with them.”

Reflections Through My Lens — As the final medal ceremony faded into the Tokyo skyline, my eyes welled with tears as it hit me how fast the time flew by and how special the experience was. Though I was apprehensive about delivering high-quality coverage for our readers and clients back home, funny enough, the most difficult part of my routine was acquiring food. Since we were not allowed to go out to eat for the first 14 days, UberEats was the only reasonable source of food, but the app did not translate menus to English. It was a daily adventure ordering food and meeting the Japanese bike deliverers in the hotel lobby.

A few days before my flight home, I received the “all clear” message on my tracking app, granting me permission to move more freely around the city. Though I only had one day to explore between my coverage schedule, I took full advantage of the opportunity.

I spent the day with a photographer friend, hopping onto the metro, wandering the streets and fitting in as many historic stops as I could, including Asakusa Temple, the Imperial Palace and Meiji Jingu Shrine.

After boarding the plane home, I racked my brain thinking back on all the professional tricks of the trade I learned from photographers with decades of experience and how grateful I was for the opportunity to shoot alongside the best of the best. I was surprised by how the isolation of traveling and working alone affected me, but the journalists and photographers I befriended in Tokyo made it a rewarding experience.

What a privilege it was to photograph the games, and it is such an honor to hear from athletes who’ve seen my work thank me for immortalizing their experience. As anxiety-inducing as the lead up to Tokyo was, taking the leap to attend was well worth it. Here’s to seizing every opportunity and surviving to tell the tale!


International Polo Club Palm Beach’s 2022 Season Will Feature Thrilling Polo Action And Refined Hospitality

International Polo Club Palm Beach’s 2022 Season Will Feature Thrilling Polo Action And Refined Hospitality

By Elaine Wessel

The International Polo Club Palm Beach is one of the top polo destinations in the world, and it is located right in the heart of Wellington’s horse country. Every winter from January through April, the venue hosts the world’s best high-goal teams and the most prestigious polo tournaments in the United States.

World-renowned players and polo enthusiasts alike come to town each winter to enjoy their love of the sport at the largest and most spectator-friendly polo facility in the country. The 2022 high-goal polo season at IPC is right around the corner, opening in January and continuing until a thrilling finale in April.

IPC includes seven state-of-the-art tournament fields that can accommodate multiple games simultaneously, ensuring that the action continues from the first to the last game of the day.

The flagship events of the IPC polo season are undoubtedly the feature polo matches every Sunday afternoon from January through the end of April. The thrill of the game, paired with the elegance of the outfits and the wonderful hospitality offerings, combine for a uniquely memorable experience for everyone, regardless of their knowledge of the sport.

“We are proud to host some of the most exciting polo tournaments in the world at IPC. With so many competitive teams, the IPC polo season gives them an incentive to play at their best, which ultimately helps to provide the best experience possible to both casual and serious fans of the sport,” said Paul Regal, vice president of operations and catering services at IPC.

Members can take advantage of prime viewing of the matches from their assigned boxes, but non-members also have many options available to them, all close to the action. On the east side of the field, the Pavilion hosts a very popular ticketed champagne brunch on the covered patio. For those looking to customize their experience with their favorite food and drinks, tailgates are available alongside the edge of the field, and the casual fan is welcome to seats in the grandstands.

As if four months of polo is not enough, IPC will be extending its season with the IPC Spring Series, which is slated to run for four weeks into May and will feature amateur polo tournaments. The spring extension will be run by the on-site International Polo School, which allows fans of all ages and skill levels — even beginners — to learn the rules of the game and play on an experienced school horse with individual lessons and team practices. The school employs USPA-certified instructors to teach the basics of riding, stick-and-ball techniques, and the overall strategy of a four-on-four match.

“Many of our clients derive from a background in the hunter/jumper discipline or are completely new to the sport,” said Gates Gridley, head trainer at the International Polo School. “We are unique to other local polo clubs because we offer an opportunity for teams to practice as part of their participation in league tournaments. We pride ourselves in offering a fun, competitive and social environment for clients, and our field-side authentic Argentine asados can’t be beat.”

Another feather in IPC’s cap, the Florida Festivals & Events Association recently announced the winners of its annual SUNsational Awards, and IPC was honored with an award for the “Adaptation of an Event” category. A total of 170 events submitted materials for consideration, and out of all the entries in the category, IPC was awarded third place overall. The facility and its team were recognized for the extensive Reopening Guide that was produced and implemented to combat the risks of COVID-19 during the 2021 high-goal polo season.

“The 2021 preparation and execution of the polo season was undoubtedly the most challenging one we have faced, but I am so proud of our team for what they were able to accomplish in spite of many hardships and new situations. To receive official recognition for our efforts is quite an honor. Though IPC hopes there will not be a need to implement the full COVID-19 protocol for the 2022 season, the team is now well prepared to do so should it be prudent,” said Vaneli Bojkova, vice president of event operations at IPC.

While polo is the cornerstone of IPC, the facility also offers annual memberships for locals and seasonal memberships for those in town only for the winter in order to take advantage of its amenities that include a luxurious pool and spa area, dining options, tennis courts and more.

Events such as meetings, parties, weddings and other celebrations are hosted at IPC throughout the year, bolstered by the delicious and creative on-site catering.

The International Polo Club is located at 3667 120th Avenue South in Wellington. For more info., including how to buy tickets, inquire about event space, become a member or schedule a polo lesson, call (561) 204-5687 or visit www.internationalpoloclub.com.


Iconic Winter Equestrian Festival Will Return In 2022 With New Partners, Upgrades And An Award

Iconic Winter Equestrian Festival Will Return In 2022 With New Partners, Upgrades And An Award

By Elaine Wessel

The iconic Winter Equestrian Festival will return to Wellington for its annual three-month run starting in January 2022. Hunter, jumper and equitation classes will showcase equestrian talent of all levels from Jan. 5 through April 3, 2022. The highlight class of the entire series, the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*, will take place as the grand finale.

As the world’s largest and longest-running equestrian sports event, WEF will attract 4,000 families, 7,000 horses and thousands of competitors from across the globe to Wellington to compete for more than $12 million in prize money.

The upcoming winter season will come hot on the heels of two big announcements from the WEF team, including a major new investing partner and an award for event safety following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2021, it was announced that Andreas Helgstrand, CEO of Global Equestrian Group (GEG), and Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP), formed an unprecedented partnership focused on developing international equestrian sport in Wellington.

Now with GEG onboard, the initiative will launch major investments in all areas of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center facility, while also increasing exposure in Europe, Asia and South America.

“The Winter Equestrian Festival and PBIEC are fantastic brands within international equestrian sport,” Helgstrand said. “Together, we will strengthen the offering and create a global market leader spreading our passion for equestrian sport and lifestyle to new markets.”

Ludger Beerbaum, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in show jumping, is also involved as GEG’s co-owner. “Our goal is to enhance equestrian sport by providing superior venues and top sport so riders across the world can live out their passions and dreams,” Beerbaum said. “With the acquisition of PBIEC, we now have the perfect setting to do this in the United States.”

Bellissimo looks forward to this unique international collaboration. “We are pleased to be collaborating with both Andreas and Ludger, whose passion and commitment to equestrian sport is extraordinary,” Bellissimo said. “Opportunities abound to take the sport to a new level.”

Perhaps the most recognizable equestrian sporting venue in the United States, PBIEC is operated by Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) and hosts 42 weeks of United States Equestrian Federation-rated competition from August through June, highlighted by WEF, the flagship event. This past summer, PBIEC started on its first round of improvements since the GEG investment, beginning with a series of riding rings that receive heavy traffic.

“Our competitors will appreciate all of the work that has been completed in the off-season to upgrade the facility, especially the riding rings,” said David Burton Jr., chief operating officer and competition manager. “Thanks to JTWG Inc. and Pro Equus, the footing in the Mogavero has been completely replaced, and Pro Equus OT-40 mats installed. This is just the start of improvements that will make for an even better experience in our competition arenas and will hopefully contribute to keeping horses safe and performing at their best, which has always been our priority.”

Following the acquisition announcement, there was another important development over the summer. In August, PBIEC was honored with a second place SUNsational Award in the “Event Safety Plan” category from the Florida Festivals & Events Association. Out of a total of 170 events that were nominated for various distinctions, PBIEC was one of a select group that was recognized with an award.

PBIEC was among the honorees due to its extensive and industry-leading COVID-19 Action Plan that was produced and implemented for the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival. The nearly 20-page plan was all-encompassing and outlined new operating procedures across all areas in order to safely bring horse shows back amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was PBIEC one of the only horse shows to successfully run its entire show circuit in 2021, but it simultaneously increased digital spectator engagement and viewership, while ensuring that those industry professionals who rely on the sport were able to continue their livelihood.

“The entire team at PBIEC contributed to the success of the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival, and thus this honor,” ESP President Michael Stone said. “We are so pleased to have our collective efforts recognized, and we will continue to work diligently to offer award-winning horse shows for years to come.”

At this time, WEF plans to open its doors to the public for the 2022 season, much to the delight of the local community. The general public will be welcomed each day, but the Saturday Night Lights series is the biggest showcase, as spectators are invited to join for evening Grand Prix competition, family-friendly activities and entertainment. While on-site, visitors can revel in the multitude of vendors both for equestrians and non-equestrians. Whether you are looking for the season’s cutest clothing, a new puppy to adopt or a saddle for your horse, the shopping experience at PBIEC is not to be missed.

For any individuals or groups looking for an especially unique or elevated experience, PBIEC also offers extensive hospitality options. Seating options during WEF include offerings such as ringside boxes and VIP tables, while private tours and event spaces are also available to host a meeting, conference or special event.

Mark your calendars and save your weekends for the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival, which gets underway the first week in January.

The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is located at 3400 Equestrian Club Drive in Wellington. For more info., call (561) 793-5867 or visit www.pbiec.com.


The 2022 Adequan Global Dressage Festival Welcomes Back New Olympic Medalists While Hosting Key Qualifiers

The 2022 Adequan Global Dressage Festival Welcomes Back New Olympic Medalists While Hosting Key Qualifiers

By Elaine Wessel

Soon to be back for its 11th year, the Adequan Global Dressage Festival will showcase hundreds of top dressage partnerships at Equestrian Village in Wellington from Jan. 12 through April 3, 2022.

The AGDF is one of the world’s largest international and national dressage circuits, offering more than $600,000 in prize money, making it one of the richest dressage events in the world. The AGDF is also one of the few circuits in the United States to host a CPEDI, a qualifying event for para-dressage, which allows athletes with disabilities to compete and achieve their goals in equestrian sport.

The 2022 season will be on the heels of exciting performances during the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, which featured many of the competitors that will call Wellington home for the winter. The American team is expected to be welcomed back to much fanfare following its silver medal in the team competition.

That victory came thanks to impressive rides from Sabine Schut-Kery on Sanceo, Steffen Peters aboard Suppenkasper and Adrienne Lyle riding Salvino. Schut-Kery and Sanceo performed especially well, finishing in fifth place overall in the individual standings with a new personal best score of 84.300 percent.

With the Olympics now in the rear view, duos will look toward the upcoming championships to challenge the globe’s best.

“We are planning for an especially competitive and exciting winter season of dressage at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in 2022, considering the upcoming World Cup Finals and World Championships later in the year,” AGDF Director of Sport Thomas Baur said. “Now that the Olympics have concluded, we are also pleased to be able to host a number of Olympic teammates, especially those from the USA team, who earned a podium spot, to mark the first time the team has collected a team silver since the London Olympic Games in 1948.”

In 2022, the AGDF will feature 10 weeks of competition, eight of which will offer internationally rated classes. Week One, Week Five and Week Eight will include World Cup Qualifier classes, with competitors striving toward qualifications in the North American League for the FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany, immediately following the conclusion of the AGDF in April.

Over the course of the 2022 AGDF, dressage pairs will be aiming to show off their talents in order to earn a spot on their nations’ respective teams for the World Championships in Herning, Denmark, in August 2022.

Week Seven will serve as the highlight week of the series with CDI5* classes in the International Ring. In 2021, Schut-Kery and Sanceo nabbed victory in the Grand Prix Special CDI5* and Grand Prix CDI5*, while Peters and Suppenkasper earned a win in the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI5*.

“I feel so much joy and have happy tears,” Schut-Kery said after her back-to-back successes. “It’s very emotional. To ride the test, you are focused in the ring, of course, but it’s also joyful. It’s an amazing feeling to have an animal like that respond to you with such small aids and cues. That amazing feeling is still there for me after 30-plus years, how we can communicate with an animal like that.”

Fans of the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, where riders pilot unfamiliar horses in a knockout competition, will be pleased to know it is returning again during Week Eight. Germany’s Christoph Koschel once again proved that he is the “king of the derby” in 2021 after notching his fifth win in a row, having won derbies in Hamburg, Munich and Palm Beach.

If doors are opened to spectators, the best time to visit is during Friday Night Stars, which is a select set of Friday evenings when some of the best dressage combinations in the world will complete tests to music choreographed especially for them and their horses. Spectators will hear everything from classic orchestral pieces to the latest pop hits.

“The 2021 season was a challenge due to necessary COVID-19 protocols in place, but all of us at the AGDF hope that we are able to reopen the facility to spectators this upcoming winter. We love having the public join us to experience the beauty and elegance of dressage,” Baur said. “It truly is a special experience, and there is not a bad seat in the house. We love having dressage experts, as well as people who have never seen the sport before.”

Some of dressage’s best up-and-coming riders will be put to the test in a series of Under 25 classes, which will showcase the next generation of talent. On the equine side of things, the Lövsta Future Challenge/Young Horse Grand Prix Series and Future Challenge/Young Horse Prix St. George Series will help horses aged eight to 10 years old develop their skills. In addition to top-level sport, the AGDF will have an entire range of classes available for pony, junior and amateur dressage riders in USEF-rated national events throughout the circuit.

For more information about the 2022 Adequan Global Dressage Festival, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.


A Movement Of Community Resilience At The 2022 Great Charity Challenge, Presented By Fidelity Investments

A Movement Of Community Resilience At The 2022 Great Charity Challenge, Presented By Fidelity Investments

By Anne Caroline Valtin

What have we learned from living through a pandemic? For the 2021 Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, an event founded by the father/daughter team of Mark and Paige Bellissimo in 2009, COVID-19 highlighted that nonprofit organizations stood at the core of our community’s resilience.

“We simply can’t imagine what our world would have looked like without charities stepping up to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors were fed, had a roof over their heads and had access to the most basic services during the pandemic,” GCC Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin said.

The GCC is an exciting show jumping event that combines equestrian sports and philanthropy, bringing hope to Palm Beach County charities every year. Teams of professional and amateur riders are paired with randomly selected Palm Beach County charities, which they represent during the costumed relay-style race against the clock over colorful jumps in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. The event will return for its 13th year on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, at PBIEC, home of the Winter Equestrian Festival, with the goal to distribute an additional $1 million-plus purse to local charities.

In the GCC’s first year, the event generated more than $400,000, benefiting 24 local charities. The 2021 edition distributed $1.1 million to 49 organizations, thanks to the generous support from 69 sponsors and partners. Through the support of the equestrian industry and the community at large, the GCC has acted as a catalyst for charitable giving over the last 12 years, distributing a total of $15.9 million to 276 Palm Beach County nonprofit organizations.

Even through the uncertainty of this past year, the GCC and its management team stood by its vision and found creative ways to push the event forward in February 2021. As a growing organization and movement, the event was able to quickly respond to the devastating effects of COVID-19 by shifting a majority of its funding priorities toward local nonprofits who were directly supporting and assisting the most vulnerable and affected populations in Palm Beach County.

In addition to fund disbursements, the GCC’s strategy involves capacity building, enabling invaluable partnerships, as well as concentrating on amplifying the event’s impact. By guaranteeing that the event will not only support those who provide immediate needs in the community, but also those who work toward long-term, sustainable change, the upcoming 2022 edition will once again highlight innovation on behalf of its team and supporters.

If you know of a deserving Palm Beach County-based charity, invite them to visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com for additional information regarding application requirements and the event’s unique selection process.

The application process for the 2021 GCC opened Monday, Oct. 25, and will remain active through 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 15. At stake is a chance to win up to $100,000!

For additional event information, including information about the application process and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com. Follow the GCC on social media at @greatcharitychallenge on Facebook and @great_charity_challenge on Instagram.


Exciting 2022 Season Planned At The Grand Champions Polo Club

Exciting 2022 Season Planned At The Grand Champions Polo Club

The 2022 winter/spring season at the Grand Champions Polo Club will include some of the most exciting polo matches available in Wellington.

Just when you think that they couldn’t possibly recreate the exciting experiences from the previous season, Melissa Ganzi and her team at Grand Champions have plans to surpass all expectations.

“Spectators at the Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington can look forward to truly being entertained and impressed by the majestic equine athletes,” Ganzi said. “2022 will be filled with excitement, surprises and unforgettable polo.”

Grand Champions will host a full season of exhilarating polo matches, fabulous cuisine, entertainment, and “Worth Avenue West,” a shopping village featuring exquisite shops from the famed Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.

If you have yet to visit, the Grand Champions Polo Club features the only 26-goal polo matches in Wellington, which is the highest level of the sport played outside of Argentina. It showcases the world’s best equine athletes in a sport where 80 percent of the game is based on the horses. To play the highest level of polo, the players need the most exceptional equine partners.

The club will offer polo at a wide array of levels in 2022.

26 Goal World Polo League — The All-Star Challenge runs from Feb. 4 through Feb. 20; the Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial runs from Feb. 16 through Feb. 27; the Founders Cup runs from Feb. 23 through March 13; the Palm Beach Open runs from March 9 through March 27; the Triple Crown of Polo runs from March 23 through April 16; and the Beach Polo World Cup Miami Beach will be held April 22 through April 24.

High Goal — The Sterling Cup runs from Jan. 18 through Jan. 30; the $100,000 World Cup will be held Jan. 28 through Feb. 12; and the Santa Rita Abierto is set for March 1 through March 13.

16 Goal — The Grand Champions Cup runs from Feb. 14 through March 5; the Power Horse Invitational is set for March 8 to March 26; and the Pedro Morrison Memorial will be held March 29 through April 16.

12 Goal — The Limited Edition 12 Goal Series runs from Jan. 25 through Feb. 12. It will be followed by the Sieber Memorial Trophy from Feb. 15 through March 5; the $50,000 National 12 Goal from Feb. 16 through Feb. 27; and the Top Pony 12 Goal from March 8 through March 26.

8 Goal — The Aspen Valley Cup runs from Jan. 14 through Jan. 30; the Top Pony 8 Goal will be held Feb. 15 through March 5; and the Limited Edition 8 Goal is set for March 8 through March 26.

6 Goal — The Metropolitan Cup runs from Jan. 25 through Feb. 12; the Halo Polo Trophy will follow from Feb. 15 through March 5; and the Madelon Bourdieu Memorial will be held March 8 through March 26.

Also at Grand Champions, the Polo School Women’s League is held every Wednesday from Jan. 12 through April 13, and the WCT Finals run March 30 through April 3.

In addition to the scheduled season matches, Grand Champions will host spectacular special events, including “Chukkers and Cocktails at Sunset,” a series created for all levels of polo enthusiasts.

If you would like to become a virtual spectator, all matches can be viewed online through ChukkerTV, the premier source to watch polo live and on demand. Since 2014, ChukkerTV has made history in the polo and technology worlds with live streaming, instant replay, team challenges and team reviews to help improve the game and officiating while bringing the sport to the masses.

The 2022 season follows on the heels of an exciting conclusion to the 2021 spring season at Grand Champions.

The spring season closed on a high note, introducing “World Polo Pride” to Wellington. This event kickstarted pride month, which is traditionally held during the month of June, by hosting a spectacular dinner and polo match to promote the values of equality and diversity, and to celebrate the LGBTQ community.

The pride events began Friday evening with a dinner staged at the Santa Rita Polo Farm. Following delicacies including a crispy skin duck breast, yellowfin tuna tart and Colorado lamb chops, each paired with a carefully curated wine selection, guests enjoyed a panel discussion on “Inclusion and Healing” moderated by ESPN West Palm broadcaster and personality Josh Cohen.

Panel participants included Violet Camacho, author and communications director for Mr. Hospitality; Dani Campbell, a firefighter/paramedic for BSO Fire Rescue and a reality TV personality; Marc Ganzi, CEO of Digital Colony, president and CEO of Colony Capital and co-founder of the World Polo League; Omar Hernandez, founder of Omar’s La Boite, Omar’s at Vauvluse and the Saxony at Faena Miami Beach; and Sidra Smith, producer and founder of Gate Pass Entertainment.

On Saturday afternoon, teams from Grand Champions and Seminole Casino Coconut Creek met for a spirited polo match. Actress Rebel Wilson, a close friend of player/actor Sterling Jones and Melissa Ganzi, was on hand to award the prizes to the winner and runner-up.

The Grand Champions Polo Club is located at 13444 Southfields Road in Wellington and includes a polo school, world-class umpires, 12 championship fields, livestreamed games and polo on demand. For more information about the upcoming season, visit www.gcpolo.com.


Global Brand Ambassador Matt Coppola Professional Polo Player And Wellington Native Teams Up With Lifestyle Brand U.S. Polo Assn.

Global Brand Ambassador Matt Coppola  Professional Polo Player And Wellington Native Teams Up With Lifestyle Brand U.S. Polo Assn.

Story by Stacey Kovalsky | Photos by USPA Global Licensing

U.S. Polo Assn., the official brand of the United States Polo Association (USPA), has selected American polo player Matt Coppola as the multi-billion-dollar, sport-inspired brand’s newest global ambassador.

Now 26, Coppola has been playing professionally since he was 14 years old and played in the semifinals of the 2011 U.S. Open Polo Championship at the age of 16. Today, he is one of the highest handicapped American players.

As part of its authentic brand history and connection to the USPA, U.S. Polo Assn. selects polo players as brand ambassadors to shine the spotlight on the dynamic crop of young and talented players coming up through the ranks. The scope of Coppola’s year-long role as global brand ambassador is designed to help connect the brand and the sport through his outstanding performance on the field as one of the top American polo players.

Coppola will be outfitted in U.S. Polo Assn. apparel and gear both on and off the field. He will also post regularly about his polo-related and other daily activities on social media and will engage in media requests for interviews and campaigns. He may also conduct interviews or participate in events on behalf of the U.S. Polo Assn. brand.

“U.S. Polo Assn. is proud to welcome professional polo player Matt Coppola to our outstanding roster of global brand ambassadors for 2021,” said J. Michael Prince, president and CEO of USPA Global Licensing, which manages the U.S. Polo Assn. brand. “Coppola is an exceptional polo player who has come up the ranks quickly in the U.S. He is an excellent representation of what our brand is all about — sport-inspired, youthful, vibrant and fun.”

Coppola competed in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Gauntlet of Polo competitions in Wellington and has triumphed in many of these prestigious tournaments. With a shooting accuracy of more than 70 percent, Coppola, who played for Las Monjitas, ranked second out of all the players in the 2019 Gauntlet and first for shooting accuracy in the U.S. Open Polo Championship.

In 2021, he played in the Gauntlet with Park Place, alongside Andre Borodin, Hilario Ulloa and Juan Britos, winning the prestigious C.V. Whitney Cup and making the finals of the U.S. Open Polo Championship. For this most notable championship, Coppola wore his branded U.S. Polo Assn. jersey and other player gear on and off the field. “I am honored to represent U.S. Polo Assn., with whom I have worked over the years through the brand’s sponsorship of the Gauntlet of Polo,” Coppola said. “As a professional polo player, it’s meaningful for me to represent a brand that’s authentically connected to polo and gives back to the sport and its players.”

Born and raised in Wellington by show jumper Jesse Coppola and professional polo player Tony Coppola, he developed a love for horses at a young age. Today, Coppola travels the United States and Argentina to play professional polo throughout the year and works with his father to help give racehorses a second career in polo. Coppola is also a graduating member of Team USPA, a prominent program developed and managed by the USPA to develop young American polo players for the highest levels of competition.

U.S. Polo Assn. is the official brand of the United States Polo Association, the nonprofit governing body for the sport of polo in the United States, and one of the oldest sports governing bodies, dating back to 1890. With a multi-billion-dollar global footprint and worldwide distribution through some 1,100 U.S. Polo Assn. retail stores, department stores, sporting goods channels, independent retailers and e-commerce, U.S. Polo Assn. offers apparel for men, women and children, as well as accessories, footwear, travel and home goods in 180 countries worldwide. Recently ranked the fifth-largest sports licensor in License Global magazine’s 2020 list of “Top 150 Global Licensors,” U.S. Polo Assn. is named alongside such iconic sports brands as the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

To learn more about Coppola and to see him play, visit www.globalpolo.com. Learn more about the U.S. Polo Assn. brand at www.uspoloassnglobal.com.


Keeping Residents Safe & Sound Jay Hart Uses His Unique Life Experience In Law Enforcement To Provide Personal Security

Keeping Residents Safe & Sound
 Hart Uses His Unique Life Experience In
Law Enforcement To Provide Personal Security

By Lenore Phillips

Wellington resident Jay Hart has built his personal security business, Gold Shield Industries, on the foundation of his passion for law enforcement and personal security. His reputation for establishing respectful and secure relationships with his clients has helped him to become the go-to protection detail for some of Wellington’s most well-known residents.

Gold Shield Industries is the culmination of Hart’s life in law enforcement and his ability to take the lessons he learned as a police officer and utilize them to better serve the residents in his community who need his skillset the most.

Originally from Illinois, Hart did not have the intention of becoming a police officer. It was not until he graduated from college and moved to South Florida that he was exposed to the inner workings of life as an officer through his brother. After spending an evening on duty with his brother, then an officer in Fort Lauderdale, Hart joined the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in 1987.

“Growing up in Illinois, in the Midwest, it’s somewhat rural, and I did not have much contact with police officers,” Hart recalled. “Because of this, I did not have any aspirations of becoming a cop. But then when I rode with my brother Jeff, we were in a car chase, we had a burglary in progress, we had a dog bite. We did so many exciting things that it appealed to me.”

After graduating from the academy, Hart spent the next 10 years as a patrol officer with a two-year stint in the mounted unit. Hart had never been around horses, but his time in the mounted unit gave him a crash course in how to ride, care for and form a meaningful relationship with his equine partners. To this day, it is the passion for horses that allows him to relate to and work effectively for his Wellington equestrian clients.

In his career, Hart continued to achieve important recognition in the law enforcement community. His ambition afforded him the opportunity to compete in the United States Police & Fire Championships, known as the Police Olympics, and he eventually transitioned into the narcotics division, where he worked in the vice unit, gambling and racketeering, and later on Columbian money laundering cases.

Hart’s natural talent and ambition helped him get promoted to lieutenant and then captain. He was the PBSO’s District 3 commander in northern Palm Beach County and later transferred to the Wellington district. He served here for a total of 10 years — five as a lieutenant and five as the district commander, prior to his retirement.

As Hart’s time in active duty was winding down, he was serendipitously approached by a community connection, who inquired about his ability to offer private security services. This request would lead to Gold Shield Industries.

“I was approached by a very wealthy family, and they asked me if I knew of anyone who could help monitor their estate in Palm Beach,” Hart recalled. “Because I had several other cop friends who also did security work, I knew I had a team of people who could assist me with that. One client led to another client, which led to another client.”

In December 2016, Hart formally retired from the PBSO. His varied and successful career had given him not only the knowledge that he needed to succeed in the private security business, but also the relationships with other experienced offers to immediately hire an effective team.

“The fact that I have so many retired cops who I’ve known for 25 to 30 years working for me is so important,” he said. “I’m able to hire based on a performance that I can understand and review as a former officer, and I know each employees’ personality and dependability.”

Today, Gold Shield Industries is committed to providing the highest quality professional services, such as secure transportation, executive/VIP protection and VIP personal assistance. The business has provided top-notch security to high-net-worth individuals, celebrities, senior executives and dignitaries. Most recently, Hart had the opportunity to provide security for professional baseball players and their families during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction.

Many Wellington residents might not immediately understand how these services are utilized in their quiet South Florida community, and as a resident himself, Hart can relate. However, when the winter equestrian season ramps up, and some of Wellington’s most notable residents return to compete, his training and personal experience becomes ever more meaningful.

“Wellington is a close community, and people communicate with each other here and live easily alongside one another,” Hart said. “Because I am a former equestrian myself, and I understand the equestrian community, I have been able to develop a reputation where people know me and know what I can do to help them protect themselves and their families.”

Although Gold Shield Industries does offer services for high-net-worth clients, its services are also available for corporate business and events that take place in Wellington and throughout Palm Beach County. Hart and his team of professionals can offer one-on-one advice on whether or not corporate event security is appropriate for their clients and can help them make the best decision based on their needs. While still operating Gold Shield Industries full time, Hart is also the founder of My Community Alert, which is a critical alert service that keeps gated communities connected and their respective residents safe and up to date on security concerns in their specific neighborhoods.

“What I love most about living in Wellington is that even though high-profile individuals live here, I feel they come here not just for the equestrian events, but for all of the other things that the community has to offer, like restaurants, schools and businesses,” Hart said. “It does have a hometown feel to it. I have a lot of pride since I am fortunate enough to live in this town, where I know so many people, and I’m trusted by so many people to protect them and their loved ones. I hope to be able to do this for a long time and continue to watch Wellington grow.”

Visit www.jay-hart.com to learn more about Jay Hart and his business ventures.


Classic Flavors And So Much More Chicken Salad Chick Brings A Taste Of Home To New Location In Wellington

Classic Flavors And So Much More Chicken Salad Chick Brings A Taste Of Home To New Location In Wellington

By Callie Sharkey

In the land of endless summer, finding a fresh spot to enjoy light but filling food is a prize worth seeking. Now that Chicken Salad Chick has opened in Wellington, the chain’s first location in Palm Beach County, the search is over. This restaurant is more than just traditional chicken salad — it offers 12 different varieties throughout the year, plus seasonal versions of the classic dish.

How can there possibly be more than a dozen versions of chicken salad? Allie Royal has the answer.

“Most homemade recipes are just a version of our classic chicken salad, which is chicken, mayonnaise, finely minced celery and seasoning. Sometimes at home, you’ll add grapes or pecans, but we have something really different, like buffalo chicken salad,” she said. “You don’t normally make that, or a barbecue chicken salad, at home. People can be intimidated by that sometimes, but I tell them, ‘Just try it. I promise it will surprise you.’ More often than not, they fall in love with flavors that they weren’t coming in to order.”

All the versions of chicken salad found at Chicken Salad Chick have unique namesakes. Each flavor profile is inspired by a real-life “chick” too. Traditional styles are the Classic Carol and Olivia’s Old South — the latter embracing southern flavors, including sweet pickles and egg.

“The Kickin’ Kay Lynne is the one I normally get,” co-owner Bryan Royal said without hesitation.

He loves the spicy mix of buffalo sauce, ranch, bacon, shredded cheese, jalapeño and sriracha. Other spicy options include the Jalapeño Holly.

Allie is partial to the Fancy Nancy and Lauryn’s Lemon Basil. The Fancy Nancy is a sweet concoction with the crunch of apples and pecans paired with the sweetness of seedless grapes. Lauryn’s Lemon Basil is on the savory side with basil and lemon flavors.

But there is more to Chicken Salad Chick than, well, just chicken salad. Every day there are hot and fresh soups to choose from, including loaded potato and a rotation of other comforting flavors, such as tomato bisque and broccoli cheese. Not in the mood for chicken? You can also enjoy grape, pasta or egg salads, and mac n’ cheese.

Patrons aren’t likely to get bored anytime soon with the option to take their favorite flavors and have them served as a scoop with crackers, atop a salad or on a sandwich. Dressings range from their signature poppy seed to classics like ranch and Italian.

One great feature of the restaurant is the Quick Chick — a spot where guests can grab various-sized containers of any version of chicken salad, pimento cheese or one of the other salad options, to go.

“Even if it’s not out there [at the Quick Chick kiosk], we can make it for you fresh and fast. If your favorite flavor is sold out, don’t worry. Just let us know what you want, and we will make it just for you,” Allie said.

Founded in Auburn, Alabama, by Stacy and Kevin Brown in 2008, Chicken Salad Chick has grown to more than 200 restaurants in 17 states.

Bryan and Allie Royal met in college at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Allie was familiar with the brand and loved it, but Bryan wasn’t introduced to it until much later. Now the couple has settled back in Florida with their three children, not far from Bryan’s roots in Belle Glade.

Joining them in the business is brother Kevin Royal, who also operates a Chicken Salad Chick location in Gainesville.

“It’s a total family business,” Bryan said. “Siblings, parents, in-laws, cousins — you never know which Royal family member you’ll see when you come in.”

As a Palm Beach County native, Bryan now lives minutes away from the new franchise store and can’t deny the great location. “Our brand fits the Palm Beach market well. It’s close distance-wise from our main office, so it made sense to start here before we expand into north county or south county,” he said.

The Royals are also looking forward to adding a full catering service in the future.

Chicken Salad Chick is located at 12792 W. Forest Hill Blvd. in front of the original Wellington Mall. It offers dine-in, drive through and takeout orders both by phone and online. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, and to check out the lively menu, visit www.chickensaladchick.com or call (561) 623-3437.





Although the Wellington Community Foundation hosted a very successful virtual fundraising event last November during the height of the pandemic, it is now time for the return to in-person festivities. Now in its sixth year, the tradition will continue as the Wellington Community Foundation honors Wellington heroes. “A Salute to Our Heroes” returns to the Wellington National Golf Club on Friday, Nov. 12 beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The foundation’s mission continues to grow and remains the solid steps toward helping their neighbors. With nearly $100,000 earmarked for assistance in the upcoming 2022 budget year, the foundation’s board members have dedicated themselves to raising the much-needed funds. This includes sponsorships, which this year again features the Diamond Sponsorship of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith; Emerald Sponsorship of Tom & Regis Wenham; and Ruby Sponsorship of Wellington Regional Medical Center. Table sponsors also make up a big part of the night, and to date include Seacoast National Bank, Dr. & Mrs. Edward Becker, Mr. & Mrs. Jim Sackett, Palm Beach Urology Associates and Wellington The Magazine/the Town-Crier newspaper.

The Wellington Community Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization committed to benefiting Wellington residents by supporting and improving their quality of life, particularly for children, seniors and veterans.

WCF Chair Tom Wenham explained that all the necessary protocols have been taken to ensure a safe event for all who attend. He is happy how the event is shaping up to be bigger, better and even more fun than originally thought just a few months ago.

“Our goal is to make sure that everyone feels comfortable,” Wenham said. “With respect for those who wish to wear a mask at this special event, complimentary, event-inspired masks will be provided to all attendees. The choice to wear the mask is yours.”

He reminded potential attendees of the more laid-back nature of the event. “It is cocktails, dinner and a dance. It’s red, white and blue jeans, with the emphasis on jeans,” Wenham said. “It is a casual event. There’s no need to get dressed up. Just choose something red, white and blue, and get ready for a good time.”

Board Member Mickey Smith echoed that sentiment. “This event is just plain, laid-back fun,” he said. “An added bonus is the fact that all the money raised will stay right here in Wellington to help our children, seniors and veterans. It’s truly a win-win situation.”

The Red, White & Blue Jeans event is the one of the most anticipated events on Wellington’s annual calendar. It is a must-attend event for anyone who wants to see Wellington prosper.

Tickets are $100 per person, and table sponsorships are $1,250 and include one table and eight tickets. For additional information, or to charge your tickets by phone, call Tom Wenham at (561) 333-9843 or visit www.wellingtoncommunityfoundation.org.


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