Daniel Bluman (ISR) has claimed wins on the North American League before, but with the 12-year-old mare Gemma W, he—on three occasions—held the role of the bridesmaid.
He and the remarkably consistent grey were runners-up a year ago in Toronto (CAN) and Washington (USA). A week ago, they were second again in Lexington (USA).
But on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Toronto's Royal Horse Show (CAN), Bluman and Gemma W broke through with a most well deserved victory, besting a five-horse jump-off.
Crossing the timers of Kelvin Bywater's (GBR) short course in 33.28 seconds, Bluman and "Gemma" forged ahead of eventual third-place finisher Kent Farrington (USA) with Greya (34.32 seconds) and held off a final chase from Jessica Mendoza (GBA) and I-Cap CL Z (33.60 seconds), who claimed second.
"I've always wanted to win this grand prix, one of the most traditional ones in North America...[Gemma W] deserves it, and she was magical tonight. I'm so happy."
Daniel Bluman (ISR)
Bywater set a stiff first round challenge for the competitive yet compact field of 20 that came forward, including four of the world's top 15 athletes. The triple combination was left as the final element on course, while five verticals rose above 1.60m, including a 1.63m plank midway through the track. In the jump-off, many of those tests remained.
"The initial plan [for the course], I had a few weeks ago," Bywater said. "You kick [the plan] around a bit, and then you kick it around a bit more, and then you watch these guys and you think, 'Yeah, they're pretty good.' So you kick it around a bit more and you eventually come up with something that you think is a fair test and you think is fair for the sport and what we've got here."
After jumping only clear rounds in Washington and Lexington, Rene Dittmer (GER) and Corsica X had a surprising rail as pathfinders on the short course. Vanessa Mannix (CAN) produced the first double-clear effort of the evening with Carmela Z, but it was Farrington who broke things open with Greya, a most exciting young horse in Farrington's string. That, however gave Bluman a target with Gemma. When the pair met that target, Mendoza could catch them.
"I don't know how many chances you get to win a grand prix like this one, and when you are given the chance, the minimum you can do is beat the time of the rider that went before you. My goal was to beat [Kent's] time. Hopefully the rails would stay up, and I could then put the pressure on Jess not to beat me tonight."
Daniel Bluman (ISR)
Bluman has produced Gemma W since the mare's five-year-old season, and he used her natural footspeed, along with a most efficient turn back to the penultimate vertical to secure his victory. But Bluman expressed that it was his horse's heart that was the greatest contributing factor.
"Gemma is all heart. She maybe lacks some of the physical ability to jump the big fences, but she will always give you everything," Bluman said. "When I walked the course today, I knew that I was on the limit. The verticals were big, and we had the triple combination to finish. But I had a good feeling that my mare was feeling good. I haven't jumped her too big this year and was trying to pick the right places for her. She felt amazing, and sometimes it just goes your way."
The victory moved Bluman to the top of the North American League standings with 43 points. Halfway through the season, Devin Ryan (USA) sits second with 30 points, ahead of Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with 28 points.
The North American League continues in Las Vegas (USA) on 18 November 2023.
Article courtesy of the FEI and written by: Catie Staszak