David O’Brien (IRL) and El Balou OLD claimed victory in the $30,000 Saratoga Grand Prix on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the final day of the Saratoga Classic II, held during the 25th anniversary of Saratoga Horse Shows at White Hollow Farm in Stillwater, NY. The win marked the duo’s second consecutive week at the top of the grand prix podium.
Ken Krome (USA) designed a challenging first-round track for the competitive field of riders. O’Brien and El Balou OLD, owned by Leap Year Farm LLC, went toward the end of the order and were one of the five horse-and-rider combinations to manage a fault-free ride and secure a spot in the jump-off.
“The first course rode well,” shared O’Brien. “The time allowed was a little tighter than last week, so you had to be aware of that. The double near the ingate could be a little tough, which is what got my first horse Ideal. It was fair enough though and not too challenging where it could get people in trouble.”
Elizabeth Kirby (USA) and Elke Maria M, owned by E.K. Equestrian LLC, were first to return in the jump-off and set the pace with a quick time of 37.974 seconds. The pair held on to the lead until O’Brien and his mount produced a clear round just fractions of a second faster in 37.928 seconds.
“This week I wanted to leave out a few more strides in the jump-off,” explained O’Brien of his plan. “I left out a stride in the first and second lines. I also did the inside turn to the double because I wanted to get more mileage and practice doing that. Then I cantered home. All in all, it was just staying with the flow and seeing how he gets on.”
O’Brien has had the ride on El Balou OLD for the past two years and has built a strong relationship with the special gelding.
“He's ultra-careful,” said O’Brien of the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding sired by Eldorado VD Zeshoek. “He has a big stride. My job with him is to keep him relaxed and patient. He sometimes has a bit of his own technique, but I just have to trust him. He’s a freak.
“Everything with him has been progressive,” continued O’Brien. “In the very beginning, it was getting around the courses smoothly without having too freaky of a jump. Then we were working on competing under the lights. When that got better it was jumping liverpools under the lights, and when that got better it was jumping a four-star with a bit more height. You think you’re nearly there and then there’s more to learn. He always keeps you on your toes a bit but in a good way. As we continue to move to the five-star classes, we always have to give a bit of time and learn to get comfortable at each new level.”
After a successful two weeks at Saratoga Horse Shows, O’Brien feels confident for the rest of the summer show season with El Balou OLD.
“It was nice to be able to practice and gallop him a bit these past two weeks and not put him under too much pressure,” commented O’Brien. “We have had really good course builders both weeks. The courses have been great. They kept the riders thinking, knowing where they were in the lines, and staying aware of the time allowed.”
Kirby and Elke Maria M ultimately finished in second place. Kirby also claimed third place aboard Disinaa, owned by E.K. Equestrian LLC.
Skylar Gurtis and Cliff Affair Finish on Top in the Skidmore College President’s Cup Junior Equitation Challenge
Skylar Gurtis of Oviedo, FL, piloted Cliff Affair, owned by Showcase 81 LLC, to the blue ribbon in the Skidmore College President’s Cup Junior Equitation Challenge. Gurtis and the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding impressed the judges in the first round to earn the high score of 91. The top four riders in the class returned for a test where Gurtis guided Cliff Affair through a second stylish trip to stay on top.
“I thought our first round was really nice,” described Gurtis, 17. “I definitely wanted to do the inside turn to the last jump. I knew I had a nice round, but I wanted something to put me over the top and set me apart from the other riders. In the test, my plan was to have a smooth and consistent round. I went inside to the trot jump because I thought that might be something to keep me on top.”
Maggie King of Spring, TX, and Maguro, owned by Kevin Eufemia, earned second place with a first-round score of 90. Third place was awarded to Emma Brody of New York, NY, and The Boss, owned by Jazz Johnson, who received a first-round score of 88.
Sunday marked the final day of the Saratoga Classic II. Hunter, jumper, and equitation competition will resume on Wednesday, July 12, when Saratoga Women in Business Spectacular gets underway with World Championship Hunter Rider classes.