By Michele Dargan

Daily News Staff Writer

WELLINGTON — Capturing his biggest grand prix win on U.S. soil, Brazilian Paulo Santana aboard Taloubet put in two flawless rounds in the $50,000 Holiday and Horses FEI World Cup Grand Prix Saturday night.

Charlie Jayne and Athena finished second, and Kate Levy aboard Lirving Du Volsin placed third under the lights at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

Thirty-five entries attempted Anthony D’Ambrosio’s course with only three emerging clean for the jump-off.

Santana, 35, said he, his wife Jennifer and their two children moved to Wellington last year so that he could compete with riders who are among the best in the world.

After tallying 30 faults in Thursday’s grand prix with Taloubet, Santana wasn’t sure of his chances on Saturday.

“He had a meltdown

[Thursday],” Santana said. “But my crew and my wife always supportive said you should go in [Saturday] … you can win … And they were right.”

An offspring of the famous Baloubet de Rouet, Taloubet felt good while schooling before the class, Santana said.

Going first in the jump-off, Santana knew he would have to set a speedy pace, because Levy and Jayne are both fast riders.

“I decided to run fast and took the risk at the double combination, which I thought would be my problem, and when he went clear there … I just had to run at the end,” he said.

Santana crossed the timers clean in 44.44 seconds. Next up, Levy pulled rails at 5 and 7B, tallying eight faults in 49.69 seconds. Last to go, Jayne was a bit behind the pace early on. He left all the rails up, but finished off the pace in 45.02 seconds.

“I was just a little behind the wheel on 1, 2, 3 and I think I opened her up just a second too late,” Jayne said. “My plan was to try to win it more from the turns rather than the actual galloping, and for the jump-off you need a little bit of both, and I underestimated that.”

Jayne, at 6 feet 4 inches tall, looks like an unlikely match for Athena, who stands only 15.1 hands high. The pair finished second at the HITS million-dollar grand prix in Saugerties, N.Y., in September.

‘Horsemen’s course’

Before the class, D’Ambrosio estimated four would jump clean over his challenging course.

Eleven horse/riders tallied double-digit faults, with four voluntary withdrawals on course and two eliminations.

“This is a World Cup qualifier, and there have to be some questions of rideability where you would expect things to come up a little quickly the way they would indoors,” D’Ambrosio said. “An international specification is called for tonight. Those World Cup points are on the line and those riders will be earning them. No one’s going to pick up 20 points here without working for them.”

D’Ambrosio wasn’t far off the mark, since a few seasoned vets at the bottom of the line-up had unlucky rails, including hometown favorite Margie Engle and Indigo, who finished sixth.

“I thought it was really a horsemen’s course,” Jayne said. “It was a careful course and you really had to ride your horse. If you did that and your horse was fit enough — because it was a long enough track — then I think you had a good chance.”

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