While the international competition at the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival last week was held at Equestrian Village, all eyes were on the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on Sunday, Jan. 23 for the $50,000 Marshall & Sterling/Great American Insurance Group National Grand Prix, part of the exciting Saturday Night Lights series. Laura Chapot delivered a thrilling performance as she and Chandon Blue raced through the timers for the win.
Forty-five entries contested the track set by Nick Granat, with 11 combinations jumping clear and returned to the jump-off.
First in the ring for the jump-off was Grand Prix Qualifier winner Cathleen Driscoll aboard her winning mount Flotylla, owned by Don Stewart. Driscoll duplicated her first-round clear performance, laying down a quick, clean effort in 37.07 seconds over the shortened course, which would hold up for fourth place.
A couple horses later, it was Nick Dello Joio and the Berry Group’s Cornet’s Cambridge that set the new time to beat at 36.33 seconds. That would ultimately be good enough for a third-place finish.
Dello Joio’s time was quickly slashed, as next in was Irish Olympian Shane Sweetnam, who finished the short course in 35.728 seconds with James Kann Cruz, owned by Gizmo Partners LLC. However, Sweetnam would have to settle for second place.
After watching their new target in Sweetnam and James Kann Cruz, Chapot and Chandon Blue went pedal to the metal, finishing in 34.485 seconds for the win.
It had been raining off and on all day and started up again when the jump-off got underway.
“I was really happy that it wasn’t pouring rain when I went in, because usually if it’s going to rain, it’s going to rain on me! So, I was fine with the lightness,” Chapot said.
Chandon Blue, a 17-year-old Oldenburg gelding, came to Chapot from Cian O’Connor, who has helped Chapot along the way with him. He had an extended break this past year when Chapot fractured her arm, necessitating surgery and the insertion of a metal plate.
“He’s a little bit overexuberant right now. He’s so glad to be back in action,” Chapot said. “He has always been a real trier, and he has got a huge, huge heart. I think that always helps keep the horses’ interest and keep them going strong.”
Chapot is thoughtful in her approach in order to maintain her horse’s longevity and successful career.
“We don’t work him too hard, but at the same time, he enjoys it down here in Florida, so I’d like to give him the opportunity to get him in some of the nice classes,” she said.
This is the only national Grand Prix during the circuit to be held under the lights, and Chapot jumped at the chance to compete in that environment.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for him, because I know he’s been under the lights before, and he loves the excitement and the crowds,” Chapot said. “He was so focused tonight. I was pleased because he was probably as rideable as he has been the whole time he has been down here.”
Chandon Blue, a horse Chapot owns with her mother, Mary Chapot, likes the love and attention not just from the crowds, but back in the barn as well. His sweet and kind personality make him a stand-out.
“He has a great personality. There are a few horses that really have strong personalities, and that’s what I tend to gravitate toward,” Chapot said. “Those are the horses that I like the most. It means a lot for me to have him win this class because he really deserves it.”
It was a meaningful win tonight for Chapot who, since her injury, has been working with Wendy Coren and David Lundquist for rehabilitation. Her sponsors and customers have rallied around her, so she was thrilled to punctuate her return with a Grand Prix victory.
“I feel like this is just a nice way to be like ‘I’m back.’ Tonight, [Chandon Blue] was really on a mission. It all came together, which is a great feeling when it all just happens like that,” she said.
The 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival runs for 13 weeks, concluding on April 3. Learn more at www.pbiec.com.