Earlier this year, on an afternoon in mid-February, I sat with Lorenzo De Luca on a fence at the edge of one of the arenas of the Winter Equestrian Festival showgrounds while he talked about what had brought a young Italian rider all the way to Florida.
He grew up in a small town in the south of Italy that had “never heard of horses.” He arrived in Rome for his for first big riding job with only a motorbike to his name, and soon had to sell that motorbike to get by. He was hardworking, motivated to prove to his father that he’d made the right career choice, and yes, people asked him about his military uniform all the time.
Read our profile on De Luca on page 22 of the Spring 2016 issue of NOELLE FLOYD Magazine.
Fast-forward to Sunday, July 24th. De Luca widened his eyes and blew his cheeks out in disbelief as he arrived at the press conference for the Longines International Grand Prix of Ireland at the Dublin Horse Show. He took his place behind a large silver trophy in the winner’s chair, and our eyes met. When we sat on that fence in Florida five months ago, did he ever dream he’d be here? “No chance, no chance!” he exclaimed.
You could say that De Luca spent the 2016 Royal Dublin Horse Show in a dream state, but he was too focused to be anything like a dreamer. All week long he found the place in riding where every distance comes up, where every horse is perfectly connected to the aids, where tight turns are intuitive and the finish line is always in the right place.
De Luca won a succession of six CSIO5* international classes at the RDS: the Sport Ireland Classic on Wednesday, July 20 with Limestone Grey; the Serpentine Speed Stakes with Limestone Grey and the Anglesea Stakes with Halifax ven het Kluizebos on Thursday, July 21; he jumped double clear for Italy aboard Ensor de Litrange Lxii in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup on Friday, July 22; the JLT Dublin Stakes with Limestone Grey on Saturday, July 23, and finally, the 200,000 Longines International Grand Prix of Ireland on Sunday, July 24 with Ensor de Litrange Lxii.
What a record for a guy who just a few years ago was selling his scooter to get by.
De Luca humbly credited his employer, Stephen Conter of Stephex Stables, for whom he’s worked for only since 2015, and provides the horses he’s found such success with.
He wouldn’t take the bait on suggestions by the press that his fellow Stephex rider Daniel Deusser was in danger of being outshone. The two riders run in the same circle but have different objectives; Deusser leaves for the Rio Olympics in 12 days, and De Luca heads to Hickstead CSIO5* this week to help Italy put in another strong performance to save their place in the Nations Cup Super League.
De Luca credited the six weeks he spent in Florida as an essential piece of the foundation for his massive success in Dublin. He was just getting to know Ensor and Limestone Grey when he took them to the Winter Equestrian Festival last January.
“I jumped six weeks there with him and he also won grand prix there, a three star,” De Luca described. “That was good because every week you’re a little bit in the same ring so you really get to know horses that you normally don’t know. That was really good for me to know really good the horse and then I jumped a few good classes in Europe and I feel really confident with him now actually; he’s fantastic, he’s a genius.
This week he takes that genius, and the on-form Irish Sport Horse, to what he hopes will be another big week at the Hickstead Horse Show. No matter what happens there, his week at Dublin has undoubtedly elevated the ranking the Longines World #55 rider. When updated rankings are released next week, it’s a virtual certainty that De Luca will have risen to one of the top 50, and possibly 30 in the world. That alone is an accomplishment worth calling home about. These days, De Luca’s father, not to mention his entire family, is surely proud of their son with the crazy dream.