The pinnacle event of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday, April 2. Olympian Ashlee Bond and Karoline of Ballmore ascended to the top of the podium after an exciting five-horse jump-off in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*.
Course designer Guilherme Jorge set a large and technical course befitting a five-star event for the 40 entries that qualified for the class.
“It’s always very special to build this Grand Prix,” Jorge said. “I’ve been coming to Wellington since 1999. This is the fifth time in a row I’ve designed the Rolex Grand Prix. Wellington is home now, so for me it feels very special.”
As a late addition to the starting order due to a scratch in the original order, Spencer Smith and Quibelle, a 13-year-old Hanoverian mare owned by Gotham Enterprizes, were first into the ring for both the opening round and the jump-off. Over the shortened course, they had an unfortunate rail for four faults in 45.68 seconds, which would leave them in fifth place at the end of the class.
Chloe Reid was next to contest with Live Oak Plantation’s Souper Shuttle. She and the 11-year-old Hanoverian mare put in an efficient clear round in a time of 47.63 seconds to take the lead, but with two more double clear rides after her, she would land in the third-place position on the podium.
“I felt fortunate that we got to jump this class last year,” Reid said. “I think that helped because I walked the course and felt confident today, whereas last year I was definitely nervous for the track. She’s everything I love in a horse. She has a lot of blood, a lot of character, she’s super smart, and she really tried everything for me today.”
Always a threat in the jump-off, Daniel Coyle piloted Legacy, a 12-year-old Zangersheide mare owned by Ariel Grange, to the fastest time of the jump-off in 43.88 seconds, but a downed jump for four faults gave them fourth place at the end of the class.
Bond and Karoline of Ballmore, competing in their first jump-off together, were able to blaze through the jump-off course in 44.09 seconds and leave all of the jumps up to take the lead.
“I thought this course really suited a big-strided horse, or a horse like Chloe’s where you can do all the add strides,” Bond said. “It seemed like a really nice course to me. I just had to make sure to come really slow into the triple combination, but she was so rideable and just zipped around there, so it felt really nice.”
Daniel Bluman, winner of the event’s 2012 edition, was clear and just off the winning pace in 44.29 seconds with Ladriano Z, owned by Over The Top Stables.
“He’s a really special horse, so I’m really grateful to have him back. He has been really phenomenal since his comeback,” said Bluman of the 14-year-old Zangersheide gelding, who dealt with an injury in 2020. “When you have a horse like this, where we’ve had a partnership already for many years, and he’s been a very successful horse, you learn to appreciate those types of partnerships. When I realized there was actually a chance of a comeback, I made it clear to my team that the idea was to get the horse back in good shape and aim him for the Grands Prix that we enjoy jumping and that we wish to win.”
Bluman has now finished in second place three times in the finale of WEF, and he felt the conditions for the day were amazing. “The field looked beautiful, and I think that the Rolex Grand Prix has to feel different than the others we jump at in Wellington,” he said.
Bond only started riding “Korra” five weeks ago. The horse previously competed with Belgian Olympian Nicola Philippaerts.
“In the short time I’ve known her, I don’t think I’ve ever sat on a horse so brave,” said Bond of the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare. “I jumped almost at the tops of the standards in the warm-up, adding so many strides and going so slow, and she jumps a foot over it. She’s like a rocket, like a ball of power.”
Bond felt her win was “super surreal” but was validation for her team for “all of the hard times and all of the times you’re unsure of what you are doing.”
“You just keep plugging along and trusting in your team and believing you will come out of the other side better,” she said. “I think it really showed that our perseverance through the circuit, coming together, and fighting through the hard times, really works toward the good. Today really proved that.”
The 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival concluded competition on Sunday, April 3.