In the first five star Grand Prix of the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival circuit, Daniel Bluman of Israel and Ladriano Z, owned by Over The Top Stables LLC, rose to the top of the class in the $384,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington.
There were 40 entries in the Grand Prix, contesting a challenging course set by Kelvin Bywater in front of a packed stadium of show jumping fans. Just two were clear to advance to the jump-off.
First into the ring for the second round was FEI World Cup Finals winner and Olympic silver medalist Beat Mändli of Switzerland riding Dsarie, a 10-year-old KWPN mare owned by Grand Road Partners GmbH. They laid the gauntlet with a clear round in a time of 40.47 seconds, with Dsarie giving her customary bucks after going through the timers.
“She loves life, obviously,” Mändli said with a smile. “She’s a happy girl. She loves her bucks. I let her do it, because I don’t see why I should take it away from her. She’s very uncomplicated in any venue — indoors, outdoors, sand, grass — wherever you take her. So it makes life very easy for me. She just wants to please in anything that she does. She loves the venue here with the lights. I’m lucky to have her.”
Knowing what he had to beat, Bluman and Ladriano Z, a 10-year-old Zangersheide gelding, went for the win straight from the first fence. They shaved just enough time off to gallop home in a winning time of 39.43 seconds.
“This was the first time I ever had to go last or was in the last group in a five star Grand Prix,” Bluman said. “I walked the course. Actually, at the beginning, I thought the course was very nice, actually maybe too nice. I was thinking in my head that there was going to be a fast jump-off, and that was going to be the end of my chances of winning.”
Bluman had the luck of the draw to go last in both rounds and made his plan accordingly.
“I just thought the only spot to be faster and yet not take too much risk, was from one to two,” he said. “I did the one less [stride], which my horse covered the ground easily. Until the end, when I landed, I kicked a little. I looked up, and I was actually surprised that I had got him, because I got a lot of red lights coming out of different turns. I just didn’t think that it was enough.”
Third place went to Olympic bronze medalist Cian O’Connor of Ireland riding Armin Himmelreich’s Clenur. O’Connor and the 18-hand high Oldenburg gelding finished just over the time allowed for one time fault.
“He’s a very big horse to maneuver around,” O’Connor explained. “The big ring suits him. It’s only the fourth or fifth class that I’ve done with him here. He took a little bit of a wobble down the last line to the water tray vertical. I was clear then, and I just cantered it down. Maybe I could have been a little quicker coming to the third last [jump]. I was just over the time, but I’m very happy with my check.”
It was the second Grand Prix win in as many weeks for Bluman, who also led the victory gallop in the $205,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI 4* with Sancha LS. Bluman took over the ride on Ladriano Z from his cousin Ilan at the beginning of 2017, and they won the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix CSI 4* in September.
With tears in his eyes listening to the Israeli national anthem as the flag was raised, Bluman reflected on his victory and what it meant to him as a representative of Israel, having recently switched nationalities from Colombia.
“Israel does mean a lot to me,” he said. “Like I’ve said in the past, for me to change nationalities was a big thing. I’m a very proud Colombian as well. I’ve been blessed to have been able to listen to the Israeli anthem more in the last year since I changed than ever before, so I was just sort of reflecting on that and being thankful and just enjoying the moment.”
For her top finishes this week, Margie Engle was named the Martha Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider for WEF 5. The owners of Ladriano Z also received a stay in a luxury studio at the Brazilian Court Hotel.
The Saturday Night Lights series continues throughout the 12-week WEF circuit, held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. Hunter, jumper and equitation competition at WEF continues through April 1, offering more than $9 million in prize money. For more info., visit www.pbiec.com.