The final Grand Prix of the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida saw RED MILLS Rider David Blake continue his excellent form, claiming a fifth place finish in the $500,000 Rolex five-star Grand Prix with Keoki, who is owned by Howard and Gwen Dvorkin of Pine Hollow Farm.
Blake and Keoki, a 10-year-old gelding by Catoki x Cassini I. had jumped double clear in the Grand Prix qualifier in Florida earlier in the week. They were among eight combinations who kept all the poles standing in the opening round of last night’s (Saturday) feature Rolex Grand Prix, over a course set by 2016 Rio Olympic Games designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil.
Drawn first to go against the clock, Blake set the pace at 44.36 seconds with a steady clear round, which would keep them in fifth place at the conclusion of the class. Victory went to World No.2 McLain Ward (USA) and HH Azur in a time of 37.42, just ahead of Kent Farrington and Gazelle in second (37.82), while Lucy Deslauriers made it three American riders on the podium when finishing third with Hester in 39.25. Cork’s Shane Sweetnam finished in 10th place with Indra Van De Oude Heihoef after picking up just four faults in the opening round.
The 12-week long Winter Equestrian Festival saw more than $9 million in prize money awarded in total. Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, thanked the athletes for the incredible sport that took place and noted the steady growth seen over the last 11 years of the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“It was probably the biggest crowd that we’ve ever had here,” he said. “It was a great show that these three athletes here – a new generation in Lucy and two of the most gifted athletes in the sport – gave, to go out there and compete at this level is just absolutely fantastic.
“I want to thank Rolex,” he continued. “Rolex has continued to be a great sponsor for the sport and for this venue. To see the level of competition, which will be on an NBC Sports broadcast, I think is great for the promotion of the sport. I think that there’s just a great opportunity here for the venue and for the sport. We’re excited about it. I think we’ll look at investing a significant amount of resources in this venue over the next six to eight months. We’re excited that we’re able to attract the athletes that we have and the level of competition that we saw tonight.”