Luciana Diniz rode the light-footed Fit For Fun to an exciting win on Sunday, May 26th in the €200,000 Longines Grand Prix Port of Rotterdam CHIO5* during an unpredictable and unusual day of competition to close out CHIO Rotterdam 2016 in The Netherlands.
The rider for Portugal had plenty of reasons to smile extra when she topped a difficult jumpoff with her small, chestnut 12-year-old Hannoverian mare (For Pleasure x Fabriano). Diniz has been quietly producing clear rounds all weekend here in Holland with Fit For Fun and Lennox, but it wasn’t until today that she stepped into the spotlight.
A starting order of 50 produced 17 clears over a straightforward Round 1 course. In a repeat of Saturday’s feature class, the triple combination was set as the penultimate obstacle, and prior to that the track swept around Rotterdam’s main arena with many related distances and an open water included. An additional 11 riders jumped strong rounds with just one rail down.
Quite a few of the horses that jumped double clear in Friday’s Nations Cup returned for the jumpoff in the Grand Prix of Rotterdam. While Diniz’ horse was fresh (her nation didn’t compete on Friday), she had a heavyweight lineup to contend with in the jumpoff. But this is when the class started to take some unexpected turns, with a jumpoff that left some riders and their connections with a bad taste in their mouths.
Course designer Luis Knockx of Holland stepped up the difficulty level in a big way for the shortened track. Whether he intended to or not, the placement of the third-to-last fence along the far wall was just far enough away from the unused open water jump to create a sometimes successful, sometimes dangerous invitation for riders to make a right rollback turn on a thin strip of sand. It was a land and hit-the-brakes, channel a barrel horse kind of maneuver, and it dictated the end of the class.
Jeroen Dubbeldam and Carusso La Silla were among the first pairs to attempt it, but upon landing to make the rollback turn, the horse’s right rein snapped and Dubbeldam nearly rode through the water obstacle. He recovered his balance and pulled his horse up safely to retire; in fact he stayed in the saddle and rode out of the arena on one rein.
Ben Maher with Diva II, and Carlos Lopez with Admara 2, and others managed the turn but had rails down on course. Beezie Madden and Cortes ‘C’ made it work but lost their rhythm and picked up 8 faults at the following fences. Eight riders kept the rails up and the time quick, with Gerco Schroder and Marc Houtzager both taking over a temporarily lead to thrill their home crowd.
However it was when it came down to the final group of riders that things got even more interesting. Diniz picked up the reins of Fit For Fun’s loose ring snaffle and simply mastered the track, tackling every risk with confidence and balance for a time of 41.49 seconds.
“I’m very, very proud of my horse, and everything is fantastic,” Diniz said effervescently. “This win was very special. Thank you for all the public that’s been supporting me through the week, and my team who is here with me. Without all of you, this would not be possible.”
Kent Farrington is typically a master of any challenging track, and the American rider was right on the winning time with Creedance, but somewhere along the way he lost .46 of a second, and would finish a disappointing (to him) 2nd place.
“I never like it when I don’t win, but we have a very worthy winner today, and great competition all around,” he commented. “You have a top set of riders up here today, so you can’t be too disappointed with that.”
With Farrington coming up short by just the smallest margin, all eyes shifted to his teammate McLain Ward aboard HH Azur. The mare that’s the talk of the circuit this season would follow up on her double clear Nations Cup rounds with double clears in the Grand Prix.
However, when Ward approached the tight rollback turn, he chose not to risk it, instead taking the safe way around the water jump. That decision cost him the win, but there was no disappointment clouding his features as he discussed his last-minute decision.
“I was going to have a look at [the turn], I’m not going to say that I was giving it up,” Ward described. “I got the distance I wanted to the oxer where I thought maybe she could stall, and my plan was, if I looked at it and saw it, ok fine, but if it was going to have to be a major rearrangement like some of them had to do, I wasn’t going to do it. So I gave it a moment’s thought and then went around.
“I thought she was flawless. I’m thrilled with her.”
“But I thought she was flawless. I’m thrilled with her.”
Ward and HH Azur crossed the finish timers in 42.89 seconds—a time that was equal to that of Harrie Smolders with the foot-perfect stallion Emerald N.O.P., who also had a place in the clear-round club for the weekend. The two riders shared 3rd place prizegiving honors for a rare tie.
Penelope Leprevost and Flora de Mariposa ran into bad luck on the way to the third fence of the jumpoff, taking a scary fall through the fence with both horse and rider crashing to the ground. Flora de Mariposa quickly scrambled to her feet and let out a neigh as she trotted to the ingate, and Leprevost walked away unhurt as well.
Roger Yves-Bost and Sydney Une Prince earned a top finish for France in 5th place, and Houtzager finished in 6th. Schroder was 7th and Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum completed the top eight with Casello.
This grand prix was heavy with importance as an Olympic observation event for more than a few nations who participated, and Sunday’s performances will be analyzed and discussed with the Rio Olympics in mind. For Diniz, who is qualified to represent Portugal as an individual, she showed once again that she’s more than capable of handling —and winning— the world’s most difficult tracks. And no matter the challenge, she always does it with a smile on her face and affection for her horse.
View the complete results of the €200,000 Longines Grand Prix CHIO5* at this link.