Wellington, Florida, USA – November 27, 2020 – The ESP Holiday & Horses CSI 4* returned to the main stage at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) on Friday, November 27, with the $73,000 Holiday & Horses 1.50m Qualifier CSI 4*, presented by Premier Equestrian. Claiming a familiar place at the top of the leaderboard, Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) piloted Noche De Ronda, the horse he co-owns with Marilla Van Beuren and Bob Russell, to the fastest double-clear time of the contest. International competition will conclude Sunday, November 29, with the $214,000 Holiday & Horses Grand Prix CSI 4*, presented by Palm Beach County Sports Commission, on Sunday morning.
Friday’s field included 73 horse-and-rider pairs representing 13 countries, including the United States, Ireland, Switzerland, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Egypt, Chile, Japan, and Russia. Course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA) created a 16-effort track for competitors that produced 16 clear rounds from the starting order.
Trimmed down to eight fences, the jump-off pattern led to eight teams finishing on a second fault-free ride. Halfway through the class, Daniel Bluman (ISR) held the lead aboard Colestina H, owned by Blue Star Investments and Kim Douglas, with a foot-perfect time of 36.16 seconds.
Bliss Heers (USA) inched faster riding Bridgeside Farms LLC’s Antidote de Mars in 35.10 seconds, but the fifth-to-last partnership, Ward and Noche de Ronda, sliced even more time off the clock. The quick pair broke the beam with no faults in 34.26 seconds, a time that proved unbeatable for the remaining contenders. Heers and Antidote De Mars maintained the runner-up spot, followed by Ben Maher (GBR) on Deborah Perkins’ Day Dream in 35.53 seconds.
“The jump-off was fast, and it sometimes comes off the way you want,” reflected Ward of his jump-off ride. “I think after the double combination [we made up time]. Bliss’ horse is an incredible jumper and a very fast horse, but doesn’t have the stride that Ronda has, and I was able to do one stride less, maybe two less, across the diagonal after the double combination and for sure one less stride coming home. I think probably those two places most of all helped us. It was one of those jump-offs where the plan just worked.”
“Ronda has jumped well this year since Florida in the spring but has had a little bit of an unlucky four-fault streak in a few big grand prix classes though she has been performing well. She has always been great in this ring, and she was really in great form today,” Ward noted of his partner for the class, a 2009 Oldenburg mare by Quintender x Loves Corinth.
Ward and Noche de Ronda’s victory Friday added to their list of successes in Wellington after two grand prix victories in the span of a week in February 2020. The pair topped the $401,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5* during Week Five of the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival, then six days later earned the victory in the $213,300 Grand Prix CSIO5* during one of two Nations Cup weeks in Wellington.
“She’s going to jump this week and then in two weeks again. We will start back up a little later in the season this spring for some of the bigger classes,” Ward commented on his plans for Noche De Ronda through the remainder of the ESP Holiday Series and the upcoming 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival.
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Source: Press release from ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions
Photos: © Anne Gittins Photography