Of the many endeavors supported by luxury automakers looking to align their brands with some form of gentlemanly sporting activity, the most authentic and effective is Land Rover’s backing of various high-end equestrian events. In North America Land Rover has now been at the heart of equestrian sport for over two decades, and its presence and influence in the top echelons of equestrian competition is second to none. The official vehicle of both the United States Equestrian Foundation and the U.S. Eventing Team, for the past several years it has also acted as presenting sponsor of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington (where the winner actually gets to take home a Range Rover) as well as partnering with the Winter Equestrian Festival and its marquee competition, the Land Rover Wellington Eventing Showcase.
The Palm Beach Winter Equestrian Festival is in its 38th year but with Land Rover on board the once little-known event has become the centerpiece of a rich equestrian culture in Wellington, a Palm Beach County community of posh horse farms and equestrian estates that attracts not only the wealthiest but most accomplished sportsmen. The Wellington sporting set, like their peers around the world, are of course nearly all Land Rover and Range Rover owners, and while there is certainly an element of status symbolism the indisputable fact is that these vehicles are, and always have been, the perfect ones for the sort of luxurious, horsey lifestyle epitomized by places like Palm Beach, and now Wellington as well.
The annual Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) now comprises 12 weeks, i.e. three full months, of top-class equestrian competition from January to April. The largest and longest-running equestrian circuit in the world, WEF awards over $9 million in prize money and riders from around the world come to compete. The fourth-week Land Rover Wellington Eventing Showcase has become one of the hottest competitions with $100,000 in prize money awarded to the highest scoring rider on the challenging cross-country course, dotted with Land Rovers and designed by Captain Mark Phillips, the famed British Olympic gold-medal-winning horseman and former husband of Anne, Princess Royal, second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
U.S. Eventing Team Rider Boyd Martin pulled off a seemingly impossible feat with a win at this year’s event, following his victories in both 2015 and 2016. To attain the “three-peat” Martin had to fight off stiff competition from Olympic riders and other world-class equestrians. The horse and rider combinations also demonstrated their skills in the dressage arena and the show jumping ring, while Captain Phillips also demonstrated his British sense of humor by having the final jump of the marquee competition literally go right through the VIP tent. On a walk-through of the course prior to the event Phillips, who has been affiliated with Land Rover for decades, said he simply enjoys driving the vehicles, which have of course long been the country conveyances of the British Royal Family.
“WEF is one of the biggest events on the equestrian calendar and offers a unique backdrop for us to showcase our latest Land Rover line-up,” notes Kim McCullough, Vice President of Marketing for Jaguar Land Rover North America. “Land Rover’s longstanding commitment to the equestrian community is firmly established and WEF provides the ideal opportunity for us to interact with the active equestrian audience that attends this incredible event year-after-year.” Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, the Winter Equestrian Festival’s management company, adds, “Land Rover is synonymous with the eventing discipline in equestrian sport and is the perfect partner of the Wellington Eventing Showcase.”
On our first visit to the Festival and the Land Rover event earlier this month we opted for total immersion into the Wellington equestrian lifestyle. Our base of operations was the stunning five-star Eau Palm Beach resort, one of the rare gems on that revered piece of coastline. Once the site of the Ritz-Carlton, the Eau Palm Beach was transformed in recent years into an uber-stylish retreat boasting seven acres of lush gardens and a private beach with the help of famed designer Jonathan Adler and others. The revived grande dame is now known as much for its beautiful, luxurious suites and sybaritic spa as its exquisite cuisine, headed up by its signature restaurant Angle, where Land Rover presented a to-die-for dinner with impeccable wine pairings.
The company has cause for celebration; Jaguar Land Rover, which at one time seemed destined for obsolescence, just set a new all-time U.S. sales record with a 24 percent increase for 2016, making it one of the most astonishing success stories in the industry and proving the faith of current owner Tata Motors, which has poured billions into revitalizing the two brands. Land Rover had its full line-up of vehicles on display at the Winter Equestrian Festival including the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Evoque, Discovery Sport and the recently debuted 2017 Land Rover Discovery (of which more later). In Palm Beach we continued our privileged experience with impressive drives of Jaguar Land Rover’s two coolest open-air rides—the revolutionary new Range Rover Evoque Convertible and the awesome Jaguar F-Type R Convertible.
The Range Rover Evoque Convertible, a “convertible for all seasons,” is the most versatile of vehicles combining the sporting credentials of an SUV with the open-topped pleasures of a retractible roof. Sexy in the city, commanding in the country, capable of traversing water, sand, snow and ice, the Evoque Convertible is a unique entry into the market that while totally cutting edge, also serves to remind us that the very first Land Rovers were roofless affairs. As luxurious as you’d expect from a Range Rover, the Evoque Convertible goes above and beyond with a four-wheel-drive system with electronic locking differential and Land Rover's Terrain Response System able to tackle anything you care to throw at it. Call it the ultimate escape plan.
The Jaguar F-Type R Convertible, which starts at $108,000, competes with the likes of Porsche and Aston Martin in a decidedly muscular but very well-bred way. Jaguar’s engineers have been much praised for the incredible throaty roar emitted by the F-Type, with the R specification adding an additional growl. Its 5.0 liter supercharged V8 engine produces 550 horsepower, accelerating from 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. The F-Type R also features Instinctive All Wheel Drive, an Electronic Active Differential, Jaguar Super Performance Braking System, and Sport Suspension with Adaptive Dynamics to complement design cues that hint at a quiet menace. It’s pure James Bond, a perfect gentleman when it needs to be but capable of striking with great force and precision when required. It wasn’t the flashiest car in Palm Beach but it did draw the most envious glances from those in the know.