Show jumping returned to Wollman Rink as it played host to the third day of competition at the second-annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show with the $212,000 U.S. Open CSI 3* Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, on Friday evening. Colombia’s Daniel Bluman has been waiting to win a coveted Rolex watch since the start of his career in show jumping, but the wait is over after he piloted Conconcreto Believe to a win Friday night under the lights of New York City. Also highlighting Friday competition in Central Park was a win for Jennifer Gates in the $5,000 Junior/Amateur 1.20m Speed Class, presented by PwC, and the start of U.S. Open Dressage.
In addition to the 3* victory, Bluman was crowned the U.S. Open’s leading rider after scores from his third-place finish in Thursday’s U.S. Open $40,000 FEI Speed, presented by Canadian Pacific Railway, were combined with Friday’s win. For the inaugural U.S. Open title, Bluman was presented with a $25,000 rider bonus in addition to his share of the grand prix purse.
International designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil built a 15-effort test for 26 contenders, but only two jumped clear for a two-horse duel in the jump-off. Bluman won over Sharn Wordley, of New Zealand, with the fastest of two double-clear efforts. Wordley notched a clear ride with Sky Group’s Barnetta from fifth in the original order before Bluman and his nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Ukato x Larista) guaranteed a tie-breaker for owners Blue Star Investments.
Returning first, Wordley was clean and tidy in 43.35 seconds, but Bluman stopped the timers almost two seconds faster in 41.39 for the win. Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Spy Coast Farm’s Chaqui Z picked up a single time fault in the first round to finish third. The top-placing American rider, Candice King, also left the ring with one fault on the clock just one second slower than Sweetnam for fourth on Bellissimo, LLC’s Kismet 50. After a win on Thursday night, Ireland’s Conor Swail rounded out the top five aboard Simba De La Roque as the fastest four-fault pair for owner Susan Grange
“To win the U.S. Open title and that watch in Central Park – it’s a crown for a champion, so I’m very pleased tonight,” said Bluman.
While Bluman was all smiles with his Rolex in hand, he admitted that he felt the pressure after Wordley’s clean trip over the short course. “I got to see Sharn go and he had a really beautiful round. My horse is naturally fast, so I pretty much just wanted to do the same thing that he did and keep the jumps up. She’s been having a great week and felt fantastic in the warm-up. I knew if I did my job she was going to do hers and it was going to be a good opportunity for us,” he added.”
Wordley didn’t leave the door open for Bluman and planned to use Barnetta’s skill in the corners to force him into the inside turns. “My strategy going in was to go medium fast and make Daniel do the turns and hope he slipped up and had a rail,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t outrun him and I just wanted to go clear.”
Conconcreto Believe’s speed was paramount, however, and delivered Bluman the win.
Sweetnam’s single time fault left him out of the jump-off, but he was proud to jump his nine-year-old Zangersheide stallion – Chaqui Z – to a top-three placing. “The atmosphere was great last year, but I think it was even better this year,” he said. “I’m delighted with my horse. The time fault was my fault and the course jumped world-class.”
A two-horse jump-off still proved to be exciting for the onlooking crowd and Jorge admits he was pleased with how the riders approached his track. “This happens in top show jumping – the level of the competitors are very high and if I had added a second in the time allowed we may have had eight or nine in the jump-off,” he said. “This venue calls for a horse that can pull from their experience, rise to the occasion and understands the situation.”
Mark Bellissimo, CEO of International Equestrian Group (IEG), spearheaded the U.S. Open format for the Rolex Central Park Horse Show and was happiest to see the excitement that filled Wollman Rink for its unveiling. “When Daniel won, he took off his helmet and showed great emotion. That is what the sport needs to get to the next level; athletes who are out there excited about winning,” he said. “We have a great international representation here tonight, and we believe that this U.S Open will turn into something spectacular.”
In its second year in an iconic location, the Rolex Central Park Horse Show won’t be the last competition of its kind for IEG, according to Bellissimo.
“This is a sport you have to bring to the people and I think you infiltrate that in large American cities and unique locations in order to elevate the interest,” he said. “This show was a dream many years ago and we brought it to a reality last year. Rolex took a very blind bet on us and it is very rare that they put their brand on anything that is unproven. I think on the banner out front there are 32 sponsors, most of which are corporate sponsors. We’re starting to see a transition from this being an exhibitor-financed sport to a corporate and commercial one. This could be the birthplace of modern, American, commercialized show jumping. It’s going to take a couple of years, but we’re well on our way.”
$5,000 Junior/Amateur 1.20M Speed Class
Jennifer Gates, at 19 years old, impressed in front of a New York City crowd earlier in the day on Friday with a win in the $5,000 Junior/Amateur 1.20M Speed Class, presented by PwC, in the irons of her own Everest De Muze.
The speed class converted faults to time and Gates’ clear effort in 58.817 seconds was good enough for first. Amateur Joyce Green and her own Cassidy were just shy of the lead to finish second on 61.09 seconds, while 14-year-old New York City native Francesca Dildabanian and her own Catika Van De Helle settled for third in 61.50 seconds.
Gates and her 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (For Pleasure x Walnut De Muze) topped 17 combinations, but she admitted she was battling nerves before riding into Wollman Rink beneath the Manhattan skyline.
“To be perfectly honest, I was a little bit nervous coming into the ring,” she said. “He’s generally a pretty hot horse and we were a little worried to bring him here, but I’m so proud with the way he handled himself.”
“He was very hot walking down, but once he got into the ring he put his game face on and was very good. He’s a high-energy horse and we knew he would get excited with the environment, but he gave it all to me, so I was thrilled,” she added.
Junior and Amateur riders took their turn in the spotlight amongst a week full of competition, and it’s a plan that show organizers will continue. “It’s great to see the young talent fly around the ring,” said Mark Bellissimo. “I really want to thank the riders for their participation, and PwC for being such a great supporter of the sport.”
Patrick Corridon, Director, Marketing and Sales at PricewaterhouseCoopers, shook the hands of the top three riders to mark their second year sponsoring the Rolex Central Park Horse Show. “We are super proud to be a part of this iconic New York event,” he said. “Mark came to us last year and we had a lot of faith based on his track record and we were totally on board to come back this second year. It seems to grow and grow and we’re very proud of that.”
U.S. Open Dressage Grand Prix
Dressage also made its debut at the 2015 Rolex Central Park Horse Show on Friday with the U.S. Open Dressage Grand Prix, presented by Breyer. The event was an exhibition competition showcasing some of the world’s best dressage talent, including Germany’s six-time Olympic Gold Medalist Isabell Werth and her mount El Santo NRW, which she owns with Madeleine Winter-Schulze.
Werth and El Santo NRW danced their way to top honors at the 2014 Rolex Central Park Horse Show and returned to familiar territory on Friday. Werth was one of seven dressage riders to perform in front of full grandstands in preparation for Saturday’s $75,000 Dressage Freestyle, presented by Axel Johnson Group. The Dressage Freestyle will serve as the pinnacle of Saturday competition, taking the stage at 7 p.m. and streaming live at centralparkhorseshow.com.
“It is amazing to show here – I don’t know how to explain how special the feeling is,” said Werth. “Today was a warm-up and I didn’t take the full risk of course. The weakest point of the test was the second piaffe, but I think the rest was serious and safe without any big mistakes. The changes were really nice and the zigzag was great.”
Werth joins fellow dressage stars, including the likes of number-one in the world Charlotte Dujardin, in Saturday’s Freestyle. “I hope tomorrow evening that we can take a little bit more risk, make the most of the atmosphere and have a really nice go,” added Werth.
The U.S. Open Dressage Grand Prix was proud to feature Breyer as the sponsor of expanded dressage offerings at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show this year. Jaime Potlalesky of Breyer Horses unveiled the latest additions to the Breyer collection with their new Valegro model, as well as a talking George H. Morris action figure. “We’re really happy to be involved – dressage has always been near and dear to Breyer’s heart and the level of competition here is just incredible,” she said. “We’re showcasing our new George Morris Action Figure, which came out of a nice collaboration.”
The 8-inch George Morris Talking Action Figure, an idea created by Mark Bellissimo, in association with George Morris and Stephanie Macejko of Breyer, was launched as a special edition as a means to raise funds for equestrian-based charities. With 20 of George’s classic quotes recorded, the model is being sold with 100 percent of the net proceeds going to the Chronicle Support Network’s Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.
The Rolex Central Park Horse Show continues through Sunday, September 27, with more multi-discipline equestrian sport. In addition to Arabians, the schedule includes the inaugural U.S. Open in the following categories: Jumpers, Dressage, Hunters, and U25 Jumpers. Select classes will be streamed live at www.centralparkhorseshow.com.