Ashlee Bond (ISR) recorded her first career five-star grand prix victory riding Donatello 141 in the $401,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate Grand Prix CSI5*, on Saturday, March 7, at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, FL.
Forty riders went to post in the “Saturday Night Lights” feature, four of which found the path to a clear round to advance to the jump-off over a course designed by Alan Wade of Ireland. Riding out of the first spot in the jump-off, Bond and Donatello 141 rocketed through the course in 39.64 seconds to set the winning pace.
“My horse felt like he really jumped the first round so beautifully and he is a naturally really fast horse, but he does have a bit of a smaller stride, so in this type of jump-off, Daniel had probably a bit of a bigger advantage,” Bond explained. “[Donatello] lightly rubbed the first jump and then I was like, ‘Oh okay, I can push it a bit more than I was originally planning to,’ and it worked out today.”
Following Bond, 23-year-old Lillie Keenan (USA) piloted Chansonette Farm LLC’s Fasther through the short course, stopping the timers in 40.61 seconds. They would finish in third place. Beezie Madden (USA) and Abigail Wexner’s Darry Lou put on the speed from the start, but an unfortunate rail for four faults in a time of 39.97 seconds relegated them to fourth place.
“I was really happy with how I rode the first round and I was really upset with myself for how I rode the jump-off,” admitted Keenan. “My horse is the best horse I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve ridden a lot of special horses. He’s ridiculously talented, brave, and has all of the ability. In the jump-off, I should have gone faster and believed in it a bit more, but I couldn’t have been happier.
“Six months ago, I never would have thought I’d be here with this horse,” she continued about the 10-year-old KWPN gelding by Vigo d’Arsouilles x Farmer. “Not for lack of his talent and ability, but my riding and my confidence level in this horse. I should have gone faster because I know the horse would have left all the jumps up, but I’m thrilled to be in third behind these two guys.”
Riding out of the final spot in the jump-off, fellow Israeli rider Daniel Bluman and Ladriano Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding by Lawito x Baloubet du Rouet owned by Over The Top Stables LLC, finished just off the pace in 39.96 seconds to settle for second place.
“I don’t think I rode very well the first round,” said Bluman. “I didn’t stick to my plan and I honestly just didn’t ride well. There are times you ride amazing and you have one down, and there are times you ride incredibly bad like I did tonight, and the jumps stay up. For the jump-off, I gave it a go, but I didn’t want to push the limit. I thought the horse had already covered for me in the first round and so I felt I needed to cover for him in the second round and give him a safe ride.”
For Bond, the ability to say she is now a five-star grand prix winner isn’t taken lightly. She said, “The feeling is surreal. It hasn’t really hit me, the emotions of tonight. Not only was it my first five-star grand prix win here, but it was my first five-star grand prix win ever. I’ve gone clear in a few, but winning it was not there yet.”
Bond rode Donatello 141, who is owned by her family’s Little Valley Farms, in the horse’s first five-star grand prix just a few weeks ago, but this was the first time she felt ready to push for speed. Thanks to their three-year relationship, Bond knew what she could ask for over the short course at this 1.60m level.
Daniel Bluman, Ashlee Bond, and Lillie Keenan with ringmaster Steve Rector, Scott Durkin, President and COO of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, and Don Langdon, Managing Broker Florida of Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Photo by Sportfot.
“He’s always been really level-headed and the height of the jump has never bothered him,” she explained. “As a young horse, every time I asked him to move up, it just took him a couple of tries and then it’s like he locks it in to his computer and does it easily. I just know him really well, so I took a risk. There were only four in it, so I figured if I’m fourth, I make good money so might as well gun it.”
“We got him at the beginning of his six-year-old year in March,” she said of the nine-year-old Westphalian gelding by Diarado x Lamoureux. “He did not turn left. He would just exit the ring, which was fun. My dad [Steve Bond] spent a lot of time working on his turning. He used to be my worst turner; now he’s become my best.”
For both Bond and Bluman, the strong result of two Israeli teammates was very meaningful.
“For a country that was not even part of the sport in the big picture a few years ago, to be getting the results were getting right now is very strong,” confirmed Bluman. “It hasn’t hit me that we ended up one-two in one of the most important grand prixs in the United States and in North America, but it’s great and we’re trying to do things well.”
“I think it’s incredible,” said Bond. “It’s what we’ve all dreamed of Israel to become and for it to happen like Daniel said, so quickly, is really impressive. I feel like the future is really bright for our team; we might not have the depth that other countries have, but the riders that we do have are really special and we have some really special horses so I expect great things from our country, like tonight.”
“This is a big night and I know it’s hard to quiet the mind and get in the zone, but you should be very proud of yourself,” said Don Langdon, Managing Broker, Florida of Douglas Elliman Real Estate to the top three riders. “I hope you sleep very well, or celebrate and then sleep well, and know we are proud of you and hope to continue to sponsor you for years to come.”
For their win, Bond and Donatello 141 were presented with the Herman “Kappy” Kaplan Perpetual Memorial Trophy, as well as received a two-night stay at the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach.
In a special award presentation, Beezie Madden was named the week nine Martha Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider after consistent top performances in the Saturday night grand prix and the Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 9 on Thursday, March 5.