“He’s the smartest horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Mexico’s Salvador Onate had nothing but praise for his partner of a year and half, Big Red.
The 14-year-old Westphalian gelding, who we can only hope goes by the name “Clifford” in the barn, has competed under several elite riders in the past, including Richard Spooner (USA), Steve Guerdat (SUI), and Nikolaj Hein Ruus (DEN). But it’s with Onate, on Saturday, that he captured the first international grand prix of his career—the $1,900,000 ($100,000 U.S.) Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Guadalajara.
“He’s super special. We have a connection,” revealed the Mexican rider. “This is the first grand prix that he’s won. He’s gotten many seconds, but this is the first win. I’m honored to be riding him.”
As is often the case, it was a victory that hinged on a generous dose of luck.
Third of 24 entries to contest the feature event of the 2019 Triple Copa Scappino CSI4*-W, Onate jumped clear but finished six tenths of a second over the 79 second time allowed in the first round, accumulating a single time fault.
It wasn’t until course designer Guilherme Jorge (BRA) adjusted the time to 81 seconds that they secured their place in the jump-off.
“I don’t change the time allowed very often,” Jorge said. “Salvador is normally a fast rider, especially with Big Red. I knew my [original] time allowed was a good time allowed, but I built a fairly big and difficult course. I think we have to add the tests little by little. I’ve started putting height, the spread, and the difficult questions—all those technicalities. Now, I have to add the time allowed as well. I felt that I asked enough on course, that I didn’t need the extra pressure of [a tight] time allowed. Today, it was the correct decision, because we got a good amount of combinations in the jump-off.”
The lucky break wasn’t lost on Onate.
“I knew there weren’t going to be many clear rounds, and when I had the time fault, I felt very bad for myself—because it’s a rider’s fault; not the horse,” he said. “Then, they switched the time, and I got into the jump-off. I was lucky today, all the way.”
The first of four to contest the jump off, Lady Luck stayed by his side. Despite catching a rail in the short course, the duo’s 42.66 second time held, securing the first FEI victory of Big Red’s career.
“It’s kind of a disadvantage to be the first one to go in the jump-off,” said Onate. “I just wanted to go as fast as I could. I knew there were fast riders. As soon as I had one rail, I knew that I had to go. That’s what I did, and it worked.”
Spain’s Paola Amilibia and VIP finished second (4/46.49s) and Simon Nizri (ISR) and D Amour From Second Life Z, third (4/47.71s).