TAMPA — Jeffery Welles and his horse, Armani, won the $200,000 Eugene Mische American Invitational on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
Welles, Peter Leone and Mac Cone were the only riders among 25 to complete Steve Stephens' course of 16 jumps without a knockdown or time fault.
Welles, 47, and Armani, a 15-year-old warmblood gelding, then went clean in the jump-off, finishing in 44.36 seconds. He praised his horse for its scope, or ability to jump fences easily.
"I didn't want to be silly and go flat out," he said of his race against the clock. "I can sit quiet knowing I have the scope behind me."
Riding after him, Leone, 49, and his mount, Select, went clean but finished .51 seconds slower than Welles.
"I'm really proud to even have gotten one-half second within Jeffrey's time," Leone said.
Of his 10-year-old Dutch-bred gelding, he said, "He's scopey, brave. I think he's quite careful."
Cone, 57, said his horse, Ole, "jumped beautifully" in the first round. In the jump-off, three fences came down, and they finished in 46 seconds.
"It's always been a real pressure class," Leone said of the Invitational, one of the most demanding events on the tour.
Welles earned $60,000, Leone $44,000 and Cone $26,000.
Every jump came down at least once with a double-water obstacle being the most troublesome spot. It came down nine times. Close behind was a white vertical that fell seven times.
Six of the 25 riders made it through the course with only one knockdown. Leslie Howard on Lennox Lewis 2 placed fourth. Nicole Simpson on Tristan was fifth followed by Cara Raether on Ublesco, Georgina Bloomberg on Cim Christo, Michael Morrissey on Crelido and Hugh Graham on Fifth Estate 3E.
Winners in hunter classes during the two-week Tampa Equestrian Festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds also were announced Saturday and included Lauren Muller, a student of Georgann Powers of Foxwood Farm in Pinellas Park. She was named low hunter champion and low children's champion.