Israeli rider Ashlee Bond recorded her first career five-star Grand Prix victory riding Donatello 141 in the $401,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate Grand Prix CSI5* on Saturday, March 7 at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
Forty riders went to post in the Saturday Night Lights feature, four of which found the path to a clear round to advance to the jump-off over a course designed by Alan Wade. Riding out of the first spot in the jump-off, Bond and Donatello 141 rocketed through the course in 39.64 seconds to set the winning pace.
Following Bond, 23-year-old Lillie Keenan piloted Chansonette Farm LLC’s Fasther through the short course, stopping the timers in 40.61 seconds. They would finish in third place. Beezie Madden and Abigail Wexner’s Darry Lou put on the speed from the start, but an unfortunate rail for four faults in a time of 39.97 seconds relegated them to fourth place.
Riding out of the final spot in the jump-off, fellow Israeli rider Daniel Bluman and Ladriano Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding owned by Over The Top Stables LLC, finished just off the pace in 39.96 seconds to take second.
“I don’t think I rode very well the first round,” Bluman said. “I didn’t stick to my plan, and I honestly just didn’t ride well. There are times you ride amazing and you have one down, and there are times you ride incredibly bad, like I did tonight, and the jumps stay up. For the jump-off, I gave it a go, but I didn’t want to push the limit. I thought the horse had already covered for me in the first round, and so I needed to cover for him in the second round and give him a safe ride.”
For Bond, the ability to say she is now a five-star Grand Prix winner isn’t taken lightly. “The feeling is surreal. It hasn’t really hit me, the emotions of tonight. Not only was it my first five-star Grand Prix win here, but it was my first five-star Grand Prix win ever. I’ve gone clear in a few, but winning it was not there yet,” she said.
Bond rode Donatello 141, owned by her family’s Little Valley Farms, in the horse’s first five-star Grand Prix just a few weeks ago, but this was the first time she felt ready to push for speed. Thanks to their three-year relationship, Bond knew what she could ask for over the short course.
“He has always been really level-headed and the height of the jump has never bothered him,” she explained. “As a young horse, every time I asked him to move up, it just took him a couple of tries, and then it’s like he locks it in to his computer and does it easily. I just know him really well, so I took a risk. There were only four in it, so I figured if I’m fourth, I make good money, so might as well gun it.”
For both Bond and Bluman, the strong result of two Israeli teammates was very meaningful.
“For a country that was not even part of the sport in the big picture a few years ago, to be getting the results we’re getting right now is very strong,” Bluman said. “It hasn’t hit me that we ended up one-two in one of the most important Grand Prix events in the United States and in North America, but it’s great and we’re trying to do things well.”
“I think it’s incredible,” said Bond. “It’s what we’ve all dreamed of Israel to become… I feel like the future is really bright for our team. We might not have the depth that other countries have, but the riders that we do have are really special, and we have some really special horses, so I expect great things from our country.”