Ocala, Fla.—Feb. 16
When Rowan Willis first decided to ship his horses Stateside for the winter, the timing of his return to his base in England was a little uncertain. After today, it’s even more so, as he’s enjoyed winning the $265,000 Longines Grand Prix, so much, he wants a chance at a bigger prize.
“I wouldn’t mind have a shot at the $1 million [grand prix classes],” he said with a pointed look at HITS president and CEO Tom Struzzieri . “Maybe one or two of those and enjoy her. We’ll see what happens, stay a little longer now and try to win a few more classes and enjoy it.”
Willis had a lot riding on today’s class. When a change in circumstances mean Australia wouldn’t be able to field a team for the Nations Cup on Sunday, he had just one chance to take the top prize for his home country.
He came to win, and he and Blue Movie were the first pair to jump around Marina Azevedo’s first track, after the time proved to be an important factor on course (five riders finished with a single time penalty and another seven ended on a score of five). It’d be another 15 horses before Laura Kraut and Confu ensured there would be a jump off. Brazilian Rodrigo Lambre aboard Velini and American Devin Ryan aboard Eddie Blue brought the final count to four.
“I thought it was a good course obviously to me,” said Willis, who is based in England. [The course designer] asked a lot of questions, and we all had to be on the ball right from Fence 1, and it was lucky I had a great horse to help me out.”
That great horse is Blue Movie, a 12-year-old Anglo European Warmblood (Chacco Blue—Showtime, Pilot). Willis broke the mare himself, and they began competing in international grand prix classes in early 2015.
“She’s always been quite feisty,” said Willis. “I jumped her right from the beginning, and I’ve always believed in her, and she had a great year last year. I’ve been planning to come here for 18 months or so, and it worked out.”
Long partnerships ruled the day as second-placed Ryan has ridden his mount, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood (VDL Zirocco Blue—Silvana, Marlon) since the gelding was 5 years old. The pair had a standout year in 2017, and this year Ryan is hoping to make the trip to Paris to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Final.
“It’s always a great feeling to be able to bring a horse up from that level,” said Ryan. “Once I brought him over to the states here, I knew that he was a special horse. I told his owner Lori Larrabee; I said ‘Mrs. Lararbee, that’s a freak of nature.’
“So what’s in store? Obviously I want to keep him happy, healthy, not ruin it. Hopefully I can keep it together and do great things with him in the future and give him a happy retirement one day.”
Lambre rounded out the top three with a double clear performance aboard Velini, who he just started riding in December.
“I was lucky to be in the end, so I could look where to get time,” he said. “I think when you’re first and you have this course you can get caught, and I had the pleasure to ride this amazing horse, and I am very happy.”