Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 26, 2023 – Wellington International was brimming with horse sport fans on the edge of their seats Saturday night as top show jumping talent from across the globe jumped for the $425,000 Lugano Diamonds CSI5* Grand Prix title. The Winter Equestrian Festival’s (WEF) Week 7, sponsored by Lugano Diamonds, saw U.S. Olympic team silver medalist Laura Kraut and her Tokyo Games partner Baloutinue take the top spot.
From a seven-horse jump-off, the stage was set for a U.S. battle as Kraut, Brian Moggre and Mclain Ward were the final three to jump off. Course designer Steve Stephens (USA) tested them in true five-star fashion, which got the best of Moggre and longtime partner MTM Vivre le Reve as the pulled a brick from the wall to eventually finish fifth. Kraut’s winning time of 40.26 seconds stood after Ward gave his best aboard Contagious, but finished just three tenths shy of the winner’s mark.
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” said Kraut. “The track he built was big and the oxers were really wide. For me, I thought it was probably the scopiest course we had this year, and I was happy with what I saw.”
Ward settled for second behind his U.S. teammate, also in the irons of his 2020 Olympic mount, the 13-year-old Zwelbrücker gelding (Contagion x For Keeps) owned by Beechwood Stables, LLC. Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam set the clear-round standard in the jump-off aboard his superstar 10-year-old Irish-bred gelding, James Kann Cruz (Kannan x Cruising) and finished third for owners Gizmo Partners, LLC.
Jumping to fourth, fellow Irishman Daniel Coyle piloted Gisborne VDL to a career-high finish at the CSI5* level for the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (VDL Zirocco Blue x Goodtimes) owned by Ariel Grange.
Kraut beamed as she clinched a five-star victory in Wellington after knocking on the door several times recently. “I’ve not had many successful jump-offs and I’ve not jumped very many with him,” said Kraut of Baloutinue, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Balou du Rouet x Landor S) owned by St. Bride’s Farm. “I always try to go faster than I probably should, but he’s fast enough on his own, and tonight I just let him go his speed and that seemed to work better.
“He’s a trier, he’s elastic and he’s very careful,” she continued. “It was a fantastic crowd; the atmosphere here at night is as good as it gets. We feel like the crowd is really behind us; when I was clear it was an explosion.”
Kraut admitted that there was no resting easy outside the ring while Ward took to the track as the final rider in the jump-off order. Her lead held strong, however, after Ward noted that he gave it the best he had.
“I know that Laura’s horse is very quick, and Contagious is fast across the ground but a little slow in the air. I tried everything I could, and I didn’t leave anything on the table,” he said. “I did see one less to the second-to-last, looking through the gazebo, but it was such a blind turn and he has a tendency to go a little to the right. I thought it was too risky, and to be frank I thought maybe I had done enough already.
“You never want to win because someone else messed up, you want to win because you were the best and you did better,” continued Ward. “Contagious is incredible because he’s always very careful, but I never really expected him to do everything he’s done. I think at the end of the day the horse is a little bit of a lion. He rises and he fights with you, and he’s really been a great partner to me.”
Sweetnam rounded out the podium on a horse that’s 10 but brimming with potential. He noted that James Kann Cruz is only getting better, “I’m very happy with him. Every time I jump with him, I feel I have a chance, and every class I can go a bit quicker. We’re sat up here with two Olympic horses, so I couldn’t be happier.”
Speaking to the talent in course designers at WEF and the depth of field the venue attracts, Sweetnam concluded, “All the five-stars have different course designers that come over here and they want to prove something. Two weeks ago was an incredibly tough course and the standard was very high. Same again tonight, I thought there would be only three clear but it showed how good the standard was of the horses and riders. It proves that these are top five-star grand prix and you better bring you’re A-Game.”
Kraut was presented as winner of the $425,000 Lugano Diamonds CSI5* Grand Prix by Stuart Winston, Chief Experience Officer & Managing Director of Lugano Diamonds, and Sales Manager Jack Sharp. To close the evening, winning groom and Baloutinue’s caretaker Margo Thomas was honored with the $500 Grooms Award, presented by Double H Farm, by Claire Stevenson and Caroline McLeese of Double H Farm.
Lugano Diamonds CSI5* Grand Prix
1.Laura Kraut (USA) & Baloutinue: 2010 Hanoverian gelding (Balou du Rouet x Landor S) Owner: St. Bride’s Farm
2. Mclain Ward (USA) & Contagious: 2009 Zwelbrücker gelding (Contagion x For Keeps)
Owner: Beechwood Stables, LLC
3. Shane Sweetnam (IRL) & James Kann Cruz: 2013 Irish Sport Horse gelding (Kannan x Cruising) Owner: Gizmo Partners, LLC
4. Daniel Coyle (IRL) & Gisborne VDL: 2011 Dutch Warmblood stallion (VDL Zirocco Blue x Goodtimes) Owner: Ariel Grange
5. Brian Moggre (USA) & MTM Vivre le Reve: 2009 Westphalian gelding (Ustinov x Chello II) Owner: Major Wager, LLC
Laura Chapot Captures Ethel M. Chocolates CSI2* 1.45m Qualifier
Sixty-eight horse-and-rider duos took to the International Arena on Friday, all vying for a spot in Sunday’s $50,000 Ethel M. Chocolates CSI2* Grand Prix. The $39,000 CSI2* 1.45m Qualifier was the gateway to grand prix glory and saw Laura Chapot (USA) take top call riding Chandon Blue.
Seven riders representing seven unique nations battled it out over the tie-breaking jump-off track, but Chapot and her longtime partner Chandon Blue could not be caught.
“He really likes it down here in Florida; this is probably the one time of year he works the hardest, but he doesn’t need a lot of practice,” explained Chapot of her and Mary Chapot’s 18-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Chacco-Blue x Landcapitol). “He loves to compete. He gets bored when he is at home, and I wonder sometimes if something is wrong but then he gets to the show ring and just grows.”
The gelding has been one of Chapot’s top mounts for many years and proved to be as quick on his feet as ever after clocking in a double-clear effort in 35.75 seconds.
“I had a pretty solid plan in my mind today and I just had to watch the first horse to know if it was going to work or not,” added Chapot, who has experienced immense success in speed rounds in the International Arena at WEF. “He can sometimes get almost too enthusiastic in the show ring so the hardest thing with him is to keep him thinking and relaxed. Today he seemed settled, and he really couldn’t have ridden or jumped any better for me in this class.”
Bumped to runner-up, Luis Fernando Larrazabal (VEN) picked up second place aboard Victoria Heurtematte’s 11-year-old Mecklenburg mare Condara (Conthargos x Catapult 7). They produced two clear rounds with a short course finishing time of 36.06 seconds to just narrowly beat out Canada’s Alicia Gabdan-Lewis rider her own 11-year-old Oldenburg mare Beneficial into the third spot after stopping the clock in 36.73 seconds.
Swing Easy Glides to Win MARS Equestrian™ USHJA National Hunter Derby
Kristy Herrera and Swing Easy made their win look easy in the $10,000 MARS Equestrian™ USHJA National Hunter Derby on the grass derby field at Equestrian Village on Friday afternoon. The fitting Hunt & Go format suited them with a portion of the course showing off classic hunter style and the other section showcasing handiness.
Danny Moore designed the track for sixty-six pairs, giving each a chance to show off their horse’s strengths in both formats.
Swing Easy, a seven-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Safari D’Auge owned by Kate Ellis, was right at home on the expansive field and the judges noticed. Herrera combined a pair of 89s for a winning score of 178. Second and third place honors went to Tiffany Morrissey who rode Cullighan to the runner-up position for owner Claudia Millstone and Copernicus K, owned by Dr. Kathryn Withers, to third with scores totaling 177.25 and 176.75, respectively.
Herrera was ecstatic after her win and happily noted that age is just a number. “Swing Easy is a young horse and this was his first derby. I took a long time in the entrance to let him see the sights and where he was going, and then took it one jump at a time. I thought the course was really well put together; it had nice inviting approaches and some good options to be tidy in the handy parts.”
Herrera had only the best adjectives to describe Swing Easy, saying, “He’s like a couch to ride. He has a nice, slow, beautiful canter. He has a big stride and a really lofty and pretty jump. He’s got a wonderful mouth so it’s kind of up to me to keep it very subtle and let him float underneath me.”
As for mapping out the remainder of the season in Wellington, Herrera said, “We are letting him tell us what he wants to do. I think this certainly puts him on the schedule to do some more of these derbies, I would love to see him blossom in that and keep growing. He’s still young and young horses are so fun to develop because they tell us where they want to go.”