Lexington, Kentucky, USA — April 29, 2023 — After a day of watching cross-county at the Kentucky Horse Park, the crowds were pumped up and raucous as the show jumpers took their turn in the Rolex Stadium for the $226,000 Kentucky Invitational Grand Prix CSI 3*, presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. To the cheers of 10,224 people, Israel’s Daniel Bluman (ISR) and Gemma W (0/0/46.3) raced to the win, followed by the USA’s Lacey Gilbertson (USA) with Karlin Van’t Vennehof (0/0/47.16) in second and Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with James Kann Cruz (0/0/48.03) in third.
The $226,000 Kentucky Invitational Grand Prix CSI 3*,presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute took place as part of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian™ (LRK3DE). Organized by Equestrian Events Inc. (EEI) and known as “The Best Weekend All Year,” the LRK3DE features one of only seven annual Five Star three-day events in the world. It annually attracts more than 80,000 spectators who also enjoy extensive shopping, a variety of hospitality experiences and a wide array of demonstrations.
The evening kicked off with 39 pairs coming forward for the first round of the Grand Prix, where the top ten finishers returned for a jump-off to determine their placings. Of those ten, five would come home with no jumping faults — Daniel Bluman (ISR), Lacey Gilbertson (USA), Shane Sweetnam (IRL), Ireland’s Conor Swail aboard Casturano (0/0/48.79), and Great Britain’s Jessica Mendoza aboard I-Cap CL Z (0/0/49.67).
Course designer Guilherme Jorge (BRA) had set a challenging track for the evening, with the first round consisting of 13 numbered jumps and 16 jumping efforts set at 1.55 meters, followed by a jump-off round featuring three new fences for a total of nine jumping efforts. Riders came into the jump-off in reverse order of placing (so the top-placed rider went last), and when the final rider of the night Alex Matz (USA) lowered the first fence with Cashew CR, Bluman knew he had won.
“She’s become really fast all over the place,” Bluman added. “I’ve had her since she was 5. She has a lot of personality, and from the beginning, she was a very careful horse. She wanted to leave the jumps up. She’s very sensitive, but we’ve grown into having a very nice partnership, which is what I aim to have with my horses. She’s part of my family by now. She’s a really smart horse, and as the years go by and she jumps more rounds, she learns more and becomes quicker. I think she is hitting the prime of her career. She has become a very fast horse in the jump-offs. Nowadays, if I do my job, she has a strong chance of winning.”
“She’s such a fantastic horse,” Bluman said of Blue Star Investments’ 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. “Last year (here) I was in great shape to win, and I didn’t ride the jump-off well. This year I did, and I won.
Lacey Gilbertson (USA) and “Karly” in contrast are a newer partnership, but they’ve quickly become a pair to beat. Gilbertson rides with Sweetnam, who she just edged out in this competition, and Seabrook LLC’s 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare was his mount until recently. “I started riding her a little bit more than a year ago,” Gilbertson said. “She’s naturally fast, very brave, and we get along really well.”
For Sweetnam’s part, he was pleased with his student’s success and equally excited about his own mount, James Kann Cruz, the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Gizmo Partners LLC. “This is part of my job, trying to match our riders with the right horses, and from the start, Lacey’s got on great with Karly,” he said. “The results speak for themselves; they are one of the most consistent American pairs this year.
“(James Kann Cruz) is still young, only 10 and still changing, but he loves to jump as everyone can see,” he continued. “He’s impressive, can be a bit of a handful, but he knows his job … There’s still a lot of room for improvement for him, and hopefully, if I’m lucky to have him stay healthy and keep loving his job, fingers crossed, we are still only on the way up.”
The crowd at this event is unlike any other in the world of show jumping, and all the participants appreciate the joy the crowd brings to the proceedings.
“In my opinion, the most beautiful part of this Grand Prix is the crowd,” Bluman said. “We owe them for how good this Grand Prix is. The turnout of people and how supportive they are to every rider — it brings such an atmosphere to the Rolex Arena that is not something you get to see in North America very often anymore. It’s really cool to have an atmosphere like that.”
“We want the public and crowds to be here and be excited,” agreed Sweetnam.
When asked if they had any advice for the eventers who still have to tackle their own show jumping course, Bluman deadpanned, “Leave all the jumps up.
The eventing competition concludes Sunday with the final horse inspection and the show jumping phase for the CCI4*-S and CCI5*-L divisions.
Final Results – $226,000 Kentucky Invitational Grand Prix CSI 3*
1) Daniel Bluman (ISR) & Gemma W – 0 / 0 – 46.30
2) Lacey Gilbertson (USA) & Karlin van`t Vennehof – 0 / 0 – 47.16
3) Shane Sweetnam (IRL) & James Kann Cruz – 0 / 0 – 48.03
Source: Press Release by Marty Bauman / Classic Communications for Kentucky Invitational
Photos: © Michelle Dunn