Twenty-four-year-old Lacey Gilbertson claimed a victory in the $35,000 Hermès Under 25 Semi-Final Grand Prix riding Baloppi under the lights in the International Arena on Friday, March 2, during week eight of the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival .
In Friday night’s class, 47 starters jumped the first-round track set by Ken Krome with seven pairs advancing to the jump-off. The top three finishers all posted fault-free rounds, making foot speed the deciding factor for the final placings. Gilbertson and Baloppi, an 11-year-old Danish Warmblood mare owned by Seabrook LLC, crossed the timers in a blistering 40.21 seconds for the win.
Second-place finisher, Ailish Cuniffe (USA) returned first in the jump-off to lay down an early pace in 41.70 seconds aboard Baloucento 2, a 13-year-old Oldenburg mare (Baloubet du Rouet x Cento) owned by Whipstick Farm, Ltd. Third place went to Ransome Rombauer (USA) and her own Emorkus RE, a nine-year-old KWPN gelding (Quasimodo van de Molendreef x Haarlem).
With the semi-final win, Gilbertson held on to her spot at the top of the Hermès Under 25 rankings at WEF after success in the division this season at WEF.
“I’ve been doing [the Under 25] for a few years, but I didn’t start doing the jumpers until I was about 18, so I started a little bit late,” said Gilbertson. “I didn’t jump bigger than 3’6” until then. So, even though I’ve done it for a few years, I still feel like this is the first year that I’ve actually been able to be competitive. It’s nice to be able to do stuff like this; go under the lights and jump across the street, and not have to show against the best in the world every time.”
Gilbertson returned sixth over the short course and praised Baloppi’s speed, saying, “I actually missed one of the inside turns, but luckily she’s really quick across the ground, so she covered it okay. Ailish is super fast, so I knew I was going to have to run her a bit if I wanted to win. Luckily, I was barely faster.
“She’s the most magnificent animal I think in the entire world,” continued Gilbertson of Baloppi. “She’s incredibly brave, very fast, careful. She has a lot of heart. She’s just amazing.”
Gilbertson bumped Cunniffe, a 20-year-old sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, to runner-up by just over one second.
“Going into the jump-off, my plan was to put pressure on because you don’t always know how fast everyone else will go, so you basically just have to go as neat and as fast as you can without making any mistakes,” said Cunniffe, who has been competing in the Under 25 division for three years. “It’s a great division for up-and-coming riders. You get to show in all different arenas and all different formats which I think is helpful for us to know things like Nations’ Cup format and riding the open water.”
In third, Rombauer, who also attends Southern Methodist University as a freshman, made her debut in Under 25 competition with a new mount on Friday, saying, “I got Emorkus at Spruce Meadows from Eric Lamaze. Spencer Smith helped me find him, and this was both of our first time under the lights. He was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for him to be better. I was nervous going in, but he really helped me fight and held my hand throughout the course.”
The Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix Series concludes with the top 30 riders in the point standings advancing to the $50,0000 Grand Prix Final, which will take place on the grass derby field of Equestrian Village during Week 11 of WEF on Sunday, March 25.