FOR the second year in-a-row, Wexford’s Bertram Allen stormed to victory in Sunday’s $140,000 IDA Development three-star Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, this time riding his own Harley VD Bisschop.
The sixth week of WEF came to a close on the big grass derby field when 45 entries took on the 1.55m track designed by Mexico’s Ana Catalina Harris Cruz. Fifteen competitors found the key to a clear round, and with one retirement from the jump-off, 14 contested the short course.
Tokyo Olympic Games individual gold medallist Ben Maher from Britain and Oakingham Stud’s Faltic HB were the eighth to go in the jump-off list, chasing a time of 42.47 seconds set by Dutchman Harrie Smolders and Monaco, owned by Evergate Stables, LLC. Maher galloped through the course and set the new time to beat at 40.92 seconds.
The two subsequent riders made a good bid for the lead but finished just off the pace; Co Down’s Conor Swail and his own Count Me In were double clear in 41.84 seconds for fourth place, while Egypt’s Nayel Nassar and Coronado, owned by Evergate Stables, LLC, finished in 42.30 seconds for fifth place.
Following Nassar in the ring was Brazilian Olympian Eduardo Pereira de Menezes with H5 Sport Horses LLC’s H5 Elvaro. They slotted into third place with a final time of 40.95 seconds, just three-hundredths of a second off Maher’s time.
With the best position in the order, Allen and Harley VD Bisschop (Dulf van den Bisschop x Coronado) were the final combination into the jump-off. With a giant gallop and flowing turnbacks, the pair flew through the timers in a class-winning time of 39.66 seconds. A high five from Irish team manager Michael Blake on the way out of the ring was a sign of a job well done.
Shane Sweetnam was eighth with James Kann Cruise (Kannan x Cruising), while Paul O’Shea finished 10th aboard Squirt Gun. The Irish Sport Horse ABC Quantum Cruise (OBOS Quality x Cruising) finished seventh with Hector Florentino (DOM).
Delighted with the result, Allen said: “For some reason or other, I don’t always get the nicest jump-offs on Harley. I was just going to have my round, and if it all came off, I knew he could be fast enough, but I wasn’t going to force anything. And then right from the start, I caught one to two good, the double [combination] good, and just kept going from there.”
Harley joined Ballywalter Stables in November of 2018, having previously been ridden at five-star level by Nicola Philippaerts. Bertram shares riding duties with his brother Harry.
“My brother rode him at one or two shows at the end of last year, and he’s in Spain now with a lot of the other horses. He came out here [to Wellington] the first week, so I thought it would be nice for him to ride him and see how it’s done over here, because it’s different in Europe. It was a good experience for him, and obviously it didn’t do the horse any harm,” added Bertram, who won the same Grand Prix at the 2021 WEF with the Irish Sport Horse gelding Castlefield Vegas who was then sold to Mexico.
“It’s great to be a winner anytime, but to do it two years in a row, and also last to go, is that little bit sweeter too,” he said.
Maher’s partnership with Faltic HB, a 12-year-old KWPN stallion by Baltic VDL x Concorde, only began in October of 2021. The stallion was previously ridden by Ireland’s Eoin Gallagher and the pair were on the winning Nations Cup team in Peelbergen last June, as well as winning and placing in Grand Prix competitions.
With Maher, he was double clear in the World Cup Grand Prix at the London International Horse Show in December before crossing the pond to Wellington.
“He had a great upbringing in his life and jumped up to the three-star level. He had a little bit of a break with Covid being in Europe, so he still just has to learn this next level and faster jump-offs, even though he’s 12. I was really happy with him today,” Maher said.
Maher plans to use Faltic HB in the Nations Cup at the venue next week. Of his ride in the jump-off, Maher said with a smile: “It was a little bit scary jumping the double [combination] there. I was full commitment and nearly bounced it, but in the end was just not quite fast enough. I thought Bertram’s jump-off was perfect, fluid, and much faster at the end of the course than I was able to do today.”