Wellington, Florida, USA – February 25, 2023 – Wellington International was brimming with horse sport fans on the edge of their seats Saturday night as top show jumping talent from across the globe jumped for the $425,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI 5* title. The seventh week of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), sponsored by Lugano Diamonds, saw U.S. Olympic team silver medalist Laura Kraut and her Tokyo Games partner Baloutinue take the top spot.
From a seven-horse jump-off, the stage was set for a U.S. battle as Laura Kraut (USA), Brian Moggre (USA) and McLain Ward (USA) were the final three to jump off. Course designer Steve Stephens (USA) tested them in true five-star fashion, which got the best of Moggre and longtime partner MTM Vivre le Reve as the pulled a brick from the wall to eventually finish fifth. Kraut’s winning time of 40.26 seconds stood after Ward gave his best aboard Contagious, but finished just three tenths shy of the winner’s mark.
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” said Kraut. “The track he built was big and the oxers were really wide. For me, I thought it was probably the scopiest course we had this year, and I was happy with what I saw.”
McLain Ward (USA) settled for second behind his U.S. teammate, also in the irons of his 2020 Olympic mount, the 13-year-old Zwelbrücker gelding (Contagion x For Keeps) owned by Beechwood Stables, LLC.
Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam set the clear-round standard in the jump-off aboard his superstar 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, James Kann Cruz (Kannan x Cruising) and finished third for owners Gizmo Partners, LLC.
Jumping to fourth, fellow Irishman Daniel Coyle (IRL) piloted Gisborne VDL to a career-high finish at the CSI5* level for the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (VDL Zirocco Blue x Goodtimes) owned by Ariel Grange.
Kraut beamed as she clinched a five-star victory in Wellington after knocking on the door several times recently. “I’ve not had many successful jump-offs and I’ve not jumped very many with him,” said Kraut of Baloutinue, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Balou du Rouet x Landor S) owned by St. Bride’s Farm. “I always try to go faster than I probably should, but he’s fast enough on his own, and tonight I just let him go his speed and that seemed to work better.
“He’s a trier, he’s elastic and he’s very careful,” she continued. “It was a fantastic crowd; the atmosphere here at night is as good as it gets. We feel like the crowd is really behind us; when I was clear it was an explosion.”
Kraut admitted that there was no resting easy outside the ring while Ward took to the track as the final rider in the jump-off order. Her lead held strong, however, after Ward noted that he gave it the best he had.
“I know that Laura’s horse is very quick, and Contagious is fast across the ground but a little slow in the air. I tried everything I could, and I didn’t leave anything on the table,” he said. “I did see one less to the second-to-last, looking through the gazebo, but it was such a blind turn and he has a tendency to go a little to the right. I thought it was too risky, and to be frank I thought maybe I had done enough already.
“You never want to win because someone else messed up, you want to win because you were the best and you did better,” continued Ward. “Contagious is incredible because he’s always very careful, but I never really expected him to do everything he’s done. I think at the end of the day the horse is a little bit of a lion. He rises and he fights with you, and he’s really been a great partner to me.”
Sweetnam rounded out the podium on a horse that’s 10 but brimming with potential. He noted that James Kann Cruz is only getting better, “I’m very happy with him. Every time I jump with him, I feel I have a chance, and every class I can go a bit quicker. We’re sat up here with two Olympic horses, so I couldn’t be happier.”
Speaking to the talent in course designers at WEF and the depth of field the venue attracts, Sweetnam concluded, “All the five-stars have different course designers that come over here and they want to prove something. Two weeks ago was an incredibly tough course and the standard was very high. Same again tonight, I thought there would be only three clear but it showed how good the standard was of the horses and riders. It proves that these are top five-star grand prix and you better bring you’re A-Game.”
Kraut was presented as winner of the $425,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI 5* by Stuart Winston, Chief Experience Officer & Managing Director of Lugano Diamonds, and Sales Manager Jack Sharp. To close the evening, winning groom and Baloutinue’s caretaker Margo Thomas was honored with the $500 Grooms Award, presented by Double H Farm, by Claire Stevenson and Caroline McLeese of Double H Farm.
Final Results – $425,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI 5*
1) Laura Kraut (USA) & Baloutinue – 0 / 0 – 40.26
2) McLain Ward (USA) & Contagious – 0 / 0 – 40.56
3) Shane Sweetnam (IRL) & James Kann Cruz – 0 / 0 – 42.35
Source: Press Release from Equestrian Sports Productions
Photos: © Wellington International / Sportfot
Categories: CSI 5*, Winter Equestrian Festival