Wellington, Florida – January 29, 2022 – The highlight of the week, the $216,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI 4* at the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL, provided excitement in chilly temperatures for the fourth installment of the “Saturday Night Lights” series. Andrew Bourns (IRL) and Sea Topblue, owned by Andrew Bourns Sport Horses, were victorious in the grand prix. WEF 3, sponsored by NetJets, concludes on Sunday, January 30, and WEF continues through April 3 with top jumper, hunter, and equitation competition.
There were 44 entries in the grand prix, and they competed over a course set by Peter Grant of Canada. Of those entries, 14 found the path to a clear round and continued to the jump-off.
“To be honest when I initially walked the course, I didn’t think there would be as many clear rounds,” said Bourns. “I thought the course was big enough and reasonably technical and, in the end, it just shows the strength of the field and the amount of good horses and riders at WEF this time of year. I think we were all a bit surprised to have so many clear rounds.”
The early pacesetter was Olympian Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) and his own Moya VD Bisschop, who were the second to go in the jump-off and set the time to beat at 39.25 seconds.
Philippaerts said of his jump-off effort, “There were quite a few in the jump-off, so I went in and tried to give it a go. She did a fantastic job. She’s very new at this level so I’m very happy she jumped very good for the first time under the lights as well. I knew there were many quick ones behind me, so I tried to give it everything. The Irish were just too strong today.”
Moya vd Bisschop, a 10-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare (Darco x Utrillo Van De Heffinck), jumped in her first five-star grand prix just one month ago in La Coruña, Spain. Philippaerts added, “This is only the third grand prix she’s jumped at this level so she’s quite new, but she’s very careful and has a lot of scope so I think she will be a nice horse for the future. Hopefully she can have a good season here.”
Philippaerts will stay at WEF through the final week and will bring out his top horse, Katanga v/h Dingeshof, for the five-star events.
“I think we are very fortunate at the moment to be able to ride every week here because everything in Europe is getting canceled,” he said. “As a rider it’s fantastic here. There’s so much crowd and atmosphere that it motivates you extra. I’m very happy to be here for the season.”
Nine horses after Philippaerts, WEF newcomer Mark McAuley (IRL) and Jasco VD Bisschop, a 13-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding by Dulf van den Bisschop x Krunch de Breve, lowered the winning time to 38.94 seconds.
McAuley noted that jumping at night outdoors under the lights is not common in Europe.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” he noted. “My horse was a bit tense and spooky when he went into the ring, a little bit overwhelmed, but he manned up quite well. I was quite proud of him actually.”
McAuley has ridden Jasco vd Bisschop since the horse was seven years old, and it has become his top horse. The pair represented Ireland in the 2021 European Championships, and McAuley has this year’s World Championships “in the back of his mind.”
“He’s been my best horse for the last few years, and obviously I’ll be aiming him now for the five star here in a fortnight’s time,” said McAuley.
As the final entry in the jump-off, Bourns was able to squeak by his countryman and cross the timers in 38.76 seconds for the win.
“I had a plan made for the jump-off and went in a little bit the mindset that I have a lot I still want to do with this horse this year so if it was fast enough, great, but I had a plan and was going to stick to it,” said Bourns of his jump-off ride.
Slotting into fourth place was Hector Florentino (DOM) riding Wyndmont’s ABC Quantum Cruise in 39.32 seconds. Just behind in 39.39 seconds was Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) riding F One USA for Poden Farms in fifth place. Alessandra Volpi (USA) and her own Berlinda were sixth in 39.74 seconds. Volpi also took home the Martha W. Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider Award.
It was a special win for Bourns on this horse that means so much to his family. The 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Chacco-blue has been with the Bourns since Andrew’s mother, Deirdre, bought him as a foal at an auction in Cavan, Ireland.
It has been a steady progression for the talented horse. Bourns explained, “The height of the jumps were never an issue for him, or scope, or ability, or even speed has never been a problem. It was really the rideability, and if the track got technical, that was almost the first thing to catch him out. I’ve worked very hard on him, and we’ve worked with a lot of different bits, but I have the rideability better now. I don’t have to ride him so defensively anymore. I can move forward a little bit and actually ride the course the way it should be ridden instead of trying to protect him or trying to avoid a fight with him. Now he’s much easier to ride and much more agreeable, and it makes him a much more effective horse.”
He added with a smile, “This is probably his biggest win to date and one of mine too, so I’m pretty happy about that.”
Final Results – $216,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI 4*
1) Andrew Bourns (IRL) & Sea Topblue – 0 / 0 -38.76
2) Mark McAuley (IRL) & Jasco vd Bisschop – 0 / 0 – 38.94
3) Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) & Moya vd Bisschop – 0 / 0 – 39.25
Source: Press Release from Jennifer Wood Media Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions / WEF – Winter Equestrian Festival
Photos: © Sportfot