Stillwater, New York, USA – June 25, 2023 – David O’Brien (IRL) and El Balou OLD claimed victory in the $30,000 Saratoga Grand Prix on Sunday during the final day of the Saratoga Classic II, held during the 25th anniversary of Saratoga Horse Shows at White Hollow Farm . The win marked the duo’s second consecutive week at the top of the grand prix podium.
Ken Krome (USA) designed a challenging first-round track for the competitive field of riders. O’Brien and El Balou OLD, owned by Leap Year Farm LLC, went toward the end of the order and were one of the five horse-and-rider combinations to manage a fault-free ride and secure a spot in the jump-off.
“The first course rode well,” shared O’Brien. “The time allowed was a little tighter than last week, so you had to be aware of that. The double near the ingate could be a little tough, which is what got my first horse Ideal. It was fair enough though and not too challenging where it could get people in trouble.”
Elizabeth Kirby (USA) and Elke Maria M, owned by E.K. Equestrian LLC, were first to return in the jump-off and set the pace with a quick time of 37.974 seconds. The pair held on to the lead until O’Brien and his mount produced a clear round just fractions of a second faster in 37.928 seconds.
“This week I wanted to leave out a few more strides in the jump-off,” explained O’Brien of his plan. “I left out a stride in the first and second lines. I also did the inside turn to the double because I wanted to get more mileage and practice doing that. Then I cantered home. All in all, it was just staying with the flow and seeing how he gets on.”
O’Brien has had the ride on El Balou OLD for the past two years and has built a strong relationship with the special gelding.
“He’s ultra-careful,” said O’Brien of the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding sired by Eldorado VD Zeshoek. “He has a big stride. My job with him is to keep him relaxed and patient. He sometimes has a bit of his own technique, but I just have to trust him. He’s a freak.
“Everything with him has been progressive,” continued O’Brien. “In the very beginning, it was getting around the courses smoothly without having too freaky of a jump. Then we were working on competing under the lights. When that got better it was jumping liverpools under the lights, and when that got better it was jumping a four-star with a bit more height. You think you’re nearly there and then there’s more to learn. He always keeps you on your toes a bit but in a good way. As we continue to move to the five-star classes, we always have to give a bit of time and learn to get comfortable at each new level.”
After a successful two weeks at Saratoga Horse Shows, O’Brien feels confident for the rest of the summer show season with El Balou OLD.
“It was nice to be able to practice and gallop him a bit these past two weeks and not put him under too much pressure,” commented O’Brien. “We have had really good course builders both weeks. The courses have been great. They kept the riders thinking, knowing where they were in the lines, and staying aware of the time allowed.”
Elizabeth Kirby (USA) and Elke Maria M ultimately finished in second place. Kirby also claimed third place aboard Disinaa, owned by E.K. Equestrian LLC.
Source: Press Release from Jump Media for Saratoga Horse Shows
Photo: © Shawn McMillen Photography