While strong winds blew at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, an array of talented horse-and-rider combinations aimed for the top spot in the $50,000 Griffis Residential Grand Prix CSI2*. The final event on Sunday, March 8, at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) concluded week nine. WEF runs through March 29 featuring 12 weeks of competition and more than $13 million in prize money.
With a highly competitive field of 44 starters, 16 competed in the jump-off round. In the second round, there were 11 competitors from the USA, three from Ireland, and one each from Israel, Mexico, and Sri Lanka. Saving the best for last, Lacey Gilbertson (USA) piloted Seabrook LLC’s Baloppi to a fault-free round with a lightning fast time of 32.78 seconds, edging out Shawn Casady (USA) aboard Gotcha, owned by Rock Ridge Farms, who had held the top spot for most of the jump-off round with a time of 33.27 seconds. Close behind was Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Skara Glen’s 7 Pillars, owned by Hampton Farm and Skara Glen Stables, stopping the timers at 34.33 seconds.
“My horse is adjustable so that worked in our favor in the first round,” said 26-year-old Gilbertson. “In the jump-off, my initial plan was to add a stride in every line, but as the class progressed the numbers showed that wasn’t the right plan if you wanted to win.”
Turning to the second to the last jump, the crowd helped cheer her on to go faster. “It definitely helped keep me going,” added Gilbertson.
Having ridden the 13-year-old Danish Warmblood mare for three years, Gilbertson has moved up the ranks from the High Amateur-Owner Jumpers to the Under 25 division, to the international jumpers.
“She’s my soulmate,” affirmed Gilbertson. “Whatever you ask of her, she tries one hundred and fifty percent to do her best and she is very forgiving and very good at the job.”
Gilbertson has been competing at WEF since she was 16 and now calls Wellington home base, which makes it easy to show throughout the winter circuit. “It’s always exciting to win at WEF.
Everyone is so competitive, and nothing is a given. You have to go full-tilt to win and it’s very satisfying,” she said.
In second place, Shawn Casady (USA) and Gotcha were tough to beat and led the field for a majority of the jump-off. “I rode my horse as a four-year-old in Europe for Alan Waldman,” revealed Casady. “Hardin Towell had a broken foot in the fall, so I started riding her this January and showing at WEF. She has a great personality and knows when she is in the ring. This has been a super win for us and building up to this has been a great experience.” Casady currently rides with Hardin Towell and Darragh Kenny at Oakland Stables.
Third place finisher Paul O’Shea (IRL) shared his thoughts on his mount, the talented Skara Glen’s 7 Pillars. “This horse has always been good and won at a young age, winning the young horse final at the Hamptons as a seven-year-old,” said O’Shea.
Over the last two years the gelding has been consistent in the 1.40m and 1.50m classes. “He became a gelding last year and that was a good thing. He’s happier and has better concentration,” said O’Shea.
Bringing him back slowly in the ring has been paying off, showing that he is a careful jumper with a great attitude. O’Shea’s plan in the jump-off was not to go too wild and even if he had shaved a couple strides, he felt he still wouldn’t have beaten Gilbertson.
With a double-clear and a time of 35.10 seconds, Darragh Kerins (IRL) and Limbridge secured the fourth place ribbon with Rebecca Conway (USA) and Con Coleur, close behind with a double-clear and a time of 35.262 seconds, in fifth place.