Irish horses and riders dominated Saturday’s $216,000 four-star NetJets Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida.
Galway’s Andrew Bourns and The Irish Sport Horse Sea Topblue claimed the top prize while Louth’s Mark McAuley finished second aboard Jasco VD Bisschop.
From the 44 starters, 14 jumped clear to make it into the second round. The early pacesetter was Belgian Olympian Nicola Philippaerts and his own Moya VD Bisschop. They were second to go in the jump-off and set the time to beat at 39.25 seconds. The combination would eventually finish third, just ahead of Hector Florentino (DOM) in fourth with The Irish Sport Horse ABC Quantum Cruise.
Mark McAuley and Jasco VD Bisschop finish second
Nine horses after Philippaerts, WEF newcomer Mark McAuley and Jasco VD Bisschop, lowered the target time to 38.94 seconds.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” McAuley admitted. “My horse was a bit tense and spooky when he went into the ring, a little bit overwhelmed, but he manned up quite well. I was quite proud of him actually.”
McAuley has ridden Jasco vd Bisschop since the horse was seven years old, and it has become his top horse. The pair represented Ireland in the 2021 European Championships.”
“He’s been my best horse for the last few years, the Louth man admitted, “obviously I’ll be aiming him now for the five-star here in a fortnight’s time.”
As the final entry in the jump-off, Bourns was able to squeak by his fellow Irishman and stop the timers in 38.76 seconds for a great win.
“I had a plan made for the jump-off and went in a little bit the mindset that I have a lot I still want to do with this horse this year so if it was fast enough, great, but I had a plan and was going to stick to it,” said Bourns of his jump-off ride.
It was a special win for Bourns on this horse that means so much to his family. The 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Chacco-blue has been with the Bourns since Andrew’s mother, the late Deirdre Bourns, bought him as a foal at an auction in Cavan.
The winner said with a smile, “This is probably his biggest win to date and one of mine too, so I’m pretty happy about that.”