High stakes and high drama! In a class that will be talked about for many weeks to come, Israel’s Daniel Bluman rode Ladriano Z to an electrifying win under lights in Wellington in the $384,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5* on Saturday, February 10, 2018.
Abnormal for typical grand prix proceedings of this level, the second round featured only two riders. Switzerland’s Beat Mandli and Bluman produced the only clear Round 1 efforts, engaging them in a two-man duel for the class’ top honors.
Mandli set the time to beat in the jump-off, riding the 10-year-old KWPN mare Dsarie (Veron x Tinette) to their second clear round of the night in 40.47 seconds. But in similar fashion to the first round, Bluman would jump last making it his night to come out on top taking the lead in 39.43 seconds.
“I had the luck on my side because I had to go after [Beat]. So I got to see exactly what he did,” Bluman commented after his win. “Kent Farrington was in the warm-up watching him with me. He said, ‘just do the same thing he did and pick a place where you think you can be faster.’ I just thought the only place that had left for me, a spot to be faster and yet not take too much risk, was from one to two. I did the one less, which my horse covered the ground easily.”
“[Beat] could have done it also. I was lucky,” he continued. “He made the decision to do seven. I said, ‘okay, I think I can go on the diagonal in six.’ After that, I just tried to copy everything that he did. I felt in a couple of turns that I was slower than him. 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.”
Although finishing in second, Mandli was more than pleased with his talented mare’s performance in both rounds.
“You kind of set the strategy before you go in with only two horses. I thought I’d done enough,” said Mandli. “When I came out I knew I had the seven to No. 2. Obviously, that was what Daniel just said where he was faster. I’m super happy with the horse anyway. Second place was great.”
Scopey and carfeul, Dsarie, who also rode to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington title last October, has had a successful transition thus far coming out of indoor competition.
“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. I’m lucky to have her,” he continued.
Saturday night’s event was the definition of a star-studded line-up. The first five-star grand prix of the 12-week winter circuit in West Palm Beach attracted 40 of showjumping’s best and brightest combinations with a buzzing nighttime audience packed full to the brim in the stands of the International Arena.
The 13-obstacle track designed by Great Britain’s Kelvin Bywater, was by all accounts, an appropriate challenge for the field. The coveted clear round eluded near the entire class as Bywater’s decision to place the tallest fences directly after shorter turns, caught out many of the original starters.
The skinny at fence No. 3, the A element of the combination at 9ab set with a plank top rail directly followed in four strides to the Lugano vertical with a water tray at No. 10, proved the course’s most influential obstacles.
The 73 second time allowed also played a significant role; the USA’s Peter Lutz riding the 12-year-old Selle Francais gelding Robin De Ponthual (Elf D’Or x Io De La Grange) to a faultless trip but accruing a single time fault in 73.28 seconds making it so that by the class’s halfway mark, there had yet to be a true clear round.
The first pair back in the ring, Mandli and Dsarie left all the poles in place, crossing the timers well inside the time at 71.18 seconds.
Following Mandli’s clear was a string of upsets. Fresh off of two victories earlier in the week, McLain Ward, as well as fellow class favorites to win, Kent Farrington and Eric Lamaze, effectively saw themselves out of contention with uncharacteristic faults marking their rounds.
Eventual third place finishers Cian O’Connor and the 12-year-old OS gelding Clenur (Carinue x Fernando) looked to be the pair that would ensure a jump-off round; however, a devastatingly slim time fault in 73.04 seconds would keep them from advancing.
“It’s only the fourth or fifth class that I’ve done with him here,” O’Connor commented on Clenur. “I just got him after Christmas. He stepped up very nicely, and he jumped the round well today. 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. I was just over the time. I’m very happy. These two horses are jumping really well, so it would have probably been a tough task anyway. I’m happy with my check!”
Last but certainly not least, Bluman entered the ring as the last rider on course. As the 10-year-old Zangersheide gelding Ladriano Z (Lawito x Baloubet Du Rouet) cleared the final oxer, thunderous applause and a quick glance at the time confirmed to Bluman that there would indeed be a second round.
“It’s the first time I ever had to go last or was the last group in a five-star grand prix. So I was just focusing on making my plan,” Bluman shared. ” When Beat went into the ring, I figured he was going to jump a clear round. I have a lot of respect for him, and I love the horse he’s riding. I’ve been following it for the past year, and he rode a beautiful round and was the first one to actually do the lines the way that I thought I could do them to be inside of the time allowed. My plan was just pretty much replicate his round and trust my horse because I think he’s really one of the best out there. He delivered, so I’m very happy.”
His second grand prix win in two weeks, Bluman now rides a high after also claiming the $205,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI4* with Sancha LS last Saturday on the grass derby field at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival facility.
Full results of Saturday’s CSI5* $384,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix here.
All photos ©Meghan Basco for NF.com