Temecula, California, USA – May 26, 2021 – The action returned to the Grand Prix Arena Wednesday evening for Nilforushan Equisport Events’ 1.35m Welcome Stake, sponsored by Train with Shelby at the Temecula Valley National II, presented by Interactive Mortgage. Kicking off the second week of the series, top jumper riders took to Manuel Esparza’s (MEX) 14-effort course in hopes of snagging the first podium of the week, and the lion’s share of the prize. It was ultimately Robert Blanchette (IRL) who prevailed over the other 26 horse-and-rider combinations to take top honors with Chardonnay, all while adding a cherry on top securing a second place podium with Coupis.
Following the USEF Table II, 2b format, riders took to the ring for a battle royale giving it all or nothing in hopes of advancing to the immediate 7-obstacle jump-off course. Jenny Calandra (USA) was the first to take to the ring aboard Shantonagh. The pioneering pair was the first of several rounds to struggle to make it around the course without a time penalty or a rail.
Robert Blanchette (IRL) was the first of the pack to go clear and within the time allowed aboard his own 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Coupis. Immediately advancing to the jump-off, Blanchette blazed around the course proving to be a successful pathfinder for the rest of the competitors as he secured a second clear round in a time of 36.702. Following the Irish rider’s impressive round, the time allowed was bumped up from 77 to 80 seconds.
Julia Nagler (USA) and Killossery Kuidam were the first pair to contend with Blanchette’s then unrivaled lead. She and Kenilworth Sport Horses LLC’s, 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, Killossery Kuidam, were on track with the current leading time as they attacked the fences and made haste in the tight corners. The duo left all the rails intact producing the second clear round in the jump-off, but tripped the timers a mere two-thousandths of a second behind Blanchette, clocking in at 36.704. The pair settled into a very close second place early on in the lineup.
Though the time allowed was raised in an effort to assist the riders in making it to the jump-off, Esparza’s highly technical track proved difficult for the riders as it presented them with several varying questions. In a cruel twist of events, it was the final fence on course that claimed the most 4-fault victims stealing away their chance at a podium at the very end of their round.
Only eight other riders would go clear over their first round, with six of them going clear over the shortened course. No other rider could come close to Blanchette’s leading time aside from Allison Kroff (USA) and Ecco who took down two rails on their mad dash to the finish. Riding high on his hot streak, Blanchette returned to the ring eager for a second go at gold, this time aboard Chardonnay. With several other riders still to go after his final trip, the current leader was not resting on his laurels and was intent on beating his own time. Blanchette (IRL) and RTS LLC’s 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare tore around the shortened track and soared over the final fence at a blistering pace, producing the third clear jump-off round of the evening and topping the leaderboard with a time of 34.879, nearly two whole seconds faster than his current leading time.
The final few contenders attempted to best Blanchette’s overwhelming lead, but none could come close to scratching the surface. It proved to be Blanchette’s class to win as he took a victory gallop for not only his first place finish with Chardonnay, but for a second place podium position with Coupis. Nagler held her own, proving the only competitor to give the Irishman a run for the prize money as she took home a third place finish.
Competition at Nilforushan Equisport Events’ Temecula VAlley National II, presented by Interactive Mortgage continues Thursday, May 27, with the $10,000 1.40m Speed Classic sponsored by CWD, and takes a unique twist on Friday with the $5,000 NEE Hunter/Jumper Team Challenge.
Final Results – $5,000 Welcome Stake 1.35m
1) Robert Blanchette (IRL) & Chardonnay – 0 / 0 – 34.879
2) Robert Blanchette (IRL) & Coupis – 0 / 0 – 36.702
3) Julia Nagler (USA) & Killossery Kuidam – 0 / 0 – 36.704
Source: Press Release by Olivia Airhart from Phelps Sports
Photos: © Emma Miller