Thermal, California, USA – February 17, 2023 – Gregory Wathelet (BEL) proved his dominance of the desert once again Friday of Desert Circuit VI, claiming another victory, this time in the $145,100 Pomponio Ranch Welcome Prix CSI 4* 1.50m. With Berline du Maillet Z, his first of two mounts to jump clear over Alan Wade’s (IRL) track, he sped to the win against perhaps the toughest jump-off field yet during Desert Circuit.
The competition wasn’t light, as 15 pairs jumped clear out of 43 international starters. Going early in the jump-off with Berline du Maillet Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide mare (Berlin x Action-Breaker), Wathelet left nothing to chance, securing a double-clear effort of 36.34 seconds.
“It was a good jump-off,” Wathelet reflected. “It was big, with many clears, and maybe the time allowed was a bit too easy. But it was not an easy class. With 15 riders we knew it was going to be fast.”
He had faith in his partner, however. “That mare is very fast,” he continued. “I saw Conor’s jump-off but I knew I could take him because [I did] the same amount of strides. I can push with my mare and go a bit faster. I took a big risk one to two. I chose the eight [strides] down the last line. I could have done the seven but I chose to play it safe.”
Conor Swail (IRL) had the lead at the time with Theo 160, and ended up second, with a time of 38.80 seconds.
Tiffany Foster (CAN) came in blazing as the very last to go, just missing Swail’s time by three one-hundredths of a second, taking third with Brighton, owned by Artisan Farms, LLC.
The week of CSI 4* action in Thermal has brought big North American names to the desert, including Kent Farrington (USA), Tiffany Foster (CAN), and Erynn Ballard (CAN), among others who have been on the roster in weeks prior.
When asked if he had changed his preparation in anticipation of steeper competition, Wathelet coolly responded, “Not really. I’m used to it in Europe, where we compete every week at this level. The horses have gone well here, so I won’t change anything.”
His mare’s development through the California circuit has worked perfectly to plan, peaking just in time for this specific class he aimed her at. His top pick for Sunday’s Grand Prix CSI 4* is Clarity, but could potentially jump Berline du Maillet Z as well.
This class marks the first FEI class under the lights during Desert Circuit, and the first since the CSI5* Grand Prix in December. The atmosphere bodes well for Wathelet and his mounts. “For these late classes, there are crowds and a good atmosphere. It’s really good for us to ride. It’s nice to have people around, and it gives a good idea of the sport for people who come to watch. It can be a good time,” he shared.
Part of Wathelet’s jump-off strategy, and general strategy when starting his courses, is to pick up the canter and build the rhythm far enough away from fence one, sometimes gathering momentum from the other side of the Grand Prix Arena. “I’m the kind of rider who likes to ride with rhythm,” he explained. “The first round I always put them a bit forward, not pulling or waiting. After that I slow down.
“When it’s a jump-off, I start from far away to get the rhythm because I find that, depending on the horse, if you start too late they get a bit confused. If I start 50 meters before they’re awake and you can start with the rhythm and keep it,” he said.
Show jumping continues Saturday with the $38,700 Pomponio Ranch Classic CSI 4* 1.45m and the $50,000 Whittier Trust National Grand Prix.
Final Results – $145,100 Pomponio Ranch Welcome Prix CSI 4* – 1.50m
1) Gregory Wathelet (BEL) & Berline du Maillet Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Berlin x Action-Breaker, Mambour Delphine – 0 / 0 – 36.34
2) Conor Swail (IRL) & Theo 160: 2012 HOLST gelding by Christian 25 x Calando IV, Team Philippaerts – 0 / 0 – 38.80
3) Tiffany Foster (CAN) & Brighton: 2006 KWPN gelding by Contendro x Quick Star, Artisan Farms LLC –0 / 0 –38.83
4) Katie Laurie (AUS) & McCaw MVNZ: 2011 NZWB gelding by Corofino II x Cassini II, Carissa McCall – 0 / 0 – 40.66
5) Tiffany Foster (CAN) & Northern Light: 2011 SWB mare by Plot Blue x Contender, Artisan Farms, LLC – 0 / 0 – 40.87
6) Kaitlin Campbell (USA) & Emir: 2009 KWPN gelding by Eurocommerce Dubai x Cardento, SWS Training & Sales: 0/0/43.98
7) Alison Robitaille (USA) & Oakingham Lira: 2013 mare by Tornesch x Del Piero P&B, Alison Firestone LLC – 0 / 4 – 39.61
8) Erynn Ballard (CAN) & Coconet: 2014 mare by Colman x Cornet’s Stern, Wight Show Stables – 0 / 4 – 40.48
9) Jamie Gornall (GBR) & Chagolou: 2012 OS stallion by Chacco Blue x Conthargos, Gornall Equestrian – 0 / 4 – 40.68
10) Katie Laurie (AUS) & Django II: 2011 gelding by Lordano x Brilliant Invader, Katie Laurie – 0 / 4 – 43.33
11) Natalie Dean (USA) & Chadora Lady: 2013 OS mare by Chacco-Blue x Nintender, Marigold Sporthorses, LLC – 0 / 8 – 37.16
12) Vanessa Mannix (USA) & Kingston: 2013 AES gelding by Ustinov x Insider, Vanessa Mannix – 0 / 12 – 41.58
Source: Press Release by Tori Bilas for Desert International Horse Park (DIHP)
Photos: © DIHP / HD – High Desert Photo / MG / ON