September 3, 2017—The Hampton Classic was definitely Daniel Bluman’s show. Sure, Ireland’s Richie Moloney took the $30,000 Longines Leading Rider award by virtue of consistency, for the fourth time in the five years that it has been offered. But Daniel topped three classes, including Friday’s $86,000 Douglass Elliman Grand Prix Qualifier and today, the $300,000 Grand Prix presented by Sovaro. That’s a rare double-play.
While his winning mount, Ladriano Z, is obviously a scopey jumper, Daniel had to be convinced to give the Zangersheide gelding a try.
“He’s not the type of horse I’m used to riding,” explained Daniel, who doesn’t think bigger is necessarily better when it comes to competition.
But his cousin, Ilan Bluman, began working with the horse and “started having some amazing results,” convincing Daniel that the gelding would be a good match for him.
Daniel likes the way the horse is bred, by Lawito out of a Baloubet du Rouet mare, and the way he has changed since his purchase in 2014.
Back then, “Big L,” as he is called, “looked like pieces, like a gigantic elephant.” Now it’s all come together.
“I’m not really a big horse believer,” said Daniel.
“The sport is developing into a very fast sport, very delicate, and big horses normally are not the fastest ones. It takes a lot of work to develop that speed. That’s where Ilan did an amazing job.”
This afternoon, however, it wasn’t speed that won him the class. Only three in a field of 31 for the 4-star competition qualified for the tie-breaker. As usual, Irish designer Alan Wade put together a very clever course. Actually, Daniel thought there would be more clear rounds than what materialized.
Brianne Goutal, who finished second on Nice de Prissey, noted, “"I don't think Alan Wade makes many mistakes. There was a reason why the jumps were put where they were. When we walked the course, we noticed the field has a little bit of a grade uphill in places, and you had to be really careful from the Jaguar gate.” That was a vertical, the 11th of 14 fences, six strides from an oxer, which, as Brianne pointed out, “ drew you in a little bit to the front rail of the next jump, so you'd think you had a decent distance, and once you got there, it was a short stride and then it was uphill again.” A lot of hopes were dashed along that line.
In the jump-off, a rail down in 46.18 seconds was a disappointment for Brianne, but with McLain Ward—a six-time winner of the class coming next—everyone expected speed that could win him the class. There was even a buzz in the VIP areas on three sides of the ring, where for the most part, more attention was being paid to the shrimp, lobster rolls, steak and champagne than to the competition.
McLain, however, has fans even among the non-horsey, so his crowd was alert. Unhappily for the cheering section, while he did have the speed with HH Callas, finishing in what would be the fastest time, 44.10 seconds, uncharacteristically, the last two fences came down for eight faults.
His wins earlier in the week had given Daniel a perfect position in the lineup, and being last to go paid off. He gained insight from watching Brianne and McLain, putting that intelligence to good use with a clean round in 46.09 seconds, rather than gunning it.
After the class, McLain put on a good face, but understandably, he was bummed about not having Hampton Classic Grand Prix number seven on his record.
Explaining his strategy for the tiebreaker, he said, “With Daniel coming behind me in the jump-off, and with the week that he has had, I knew I had to do a very good round to put enough pressure on him.”
In hindsight, he said, he should have added one more stride before the next-to-last jump, because cutting a stride there put his mare close to the end of her scope.
“It's disappointing, but that's a bit sport and I am not a guy who is going to leave it on the table. I needed to try to put his back against the wall and it blew up a little bit on me today, but a lot of days, it works out as well. He’s a great rider, a great competitor.”
Interestingly, McLain had tried to buy Ladriano from Daniel, but it was no go. They are close friends. In fact, Daniel has been staying in a cottage on McLain’s property in Brewster, N.Y., where the pair has regular beer summits. Daniel notes he has learned a lot from McLain’s vast experience as a two-time Olympic gold medalist and winner of last April’s Longines FEI World Cup™ finals.
McLain glances a bit askance at Daniel’s showboating tendencies, however.
“He was about to fist-pump (after going clean) in the first round, but then he remembered he was living in my house. So he put his hand down and tucked in his tie,” chuckled McLain.
Daniel, who rode in two Olympics for his native Colombia, has switched his citizenship to Israel, and Ilan is considering doing the same after he rides for Colombia in next year’s World Equestrian Games. Daniel’s grandfather on one side is a Holocaust survivor who came to Colombia after World War II, and on the other side, his grandfather was born in the country that is now Israel before it became a nation. He also emigrated to Colombia, but Daniel feels ties to his heritage, prompting him to make the change in the country he rides for.
After the grand prix, we had a chat about his amazing week that “was really special.”
I also was happy for a chance to talk to Brianne, a rider I had enjoyed covering when she was the most successful equitation star the country had ever seen, and gracious to boot.
We went back over her day, which was a real rollercoaster. She retired her longtime mount, Onira, age 21, who took her from the juniors to grands prix. The ceremony played out in front of a large crowd that took up a lot of space in the grandstand, despite a morning drizzle that cleared for the big class a few hours later. In the Grand Prix Brianne proved with her performance that Nice is back bigtime after a two-year layoff. The stallion has flat feet and had started getting arthritis, so he was rehabbed in Europe, working out in the ocean with former World Champion Philippe LeJeune.
Watch this video to get an insight on Brianne’s emotional afternoon.
Longines was handing out watches in great numbers; Richie got one, as did the top three finishers in the grand prix. The company just signed on for a new long-term, big money contract with the FEI, and is sponsoring the Nations’ Cup series, so they will continue to be a guiding presence in the sport. For full results from the grand prix, click on this Longines Timing link.
So it’s goodbye to the Hamptons; back to school or back to work for the vacationers who keep Long Island's east end humming. This show always seems to mark the end of summer, even though the official date is still a few weeks away. The Classic really is quite the experience, so if you get the chance next year, brave the traffic and come on out.
Be sure to check the photos at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman, I asked Daniel what his next stop on the circuit will be, and he told me he’s planning to compete in the HITS Million in Saugerties, N.Y., next weekend. I’ll see him there, and I hope you’ll look for my postcard next Sunday night.