James Chawke’s Gamble spends most of his days in the paddock of the Calgary farm he calls home. But like a true snowbird, he’s making himself at comfortable in the desert this winter.

You could call it a working-vacation of sorts.

Based in Thermal, California for the 2023 Desert Circuit, the grey gelding splits his time between his “weekend home” on a polo farm and his “office” at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP).

“We stable over at Rancho Polo, so they have a nice polo field. I ride him on the field nearly all the time. [I] very rarely take him in the ring, just canter him around there a little bit,” said Chawke.

On Wednesdays, Gamble ships to the showgrounds where he’s become an increasingly consistent contender for his Irish rider these past ten weeks, chalking up a three consecutive victories in the 1.35m Welcome Speed.

Chawke attributed last week’s win to the horse’s familiarity with the sand Grand Prix ring at DIHP.

“I think, honestly, he’s happy,” said Chawke after they won the $10,000 Voltaire Welcome Speed, Week VII. “He likes the ring. When he knows somewhere, he’s happier [and] he’s been here so much now.”

Familarity doesn’t account for their latest win, however. Week VIII sees the national and international divisions at DIHP move to the Grass Field.

©DIHP/Megan Giese Photography
©DIHP/Megan Giese Photography

Despite having never ridden in the grass ring, Gamble once again led the victory gallop in the week’s opening speed class. The pair topped an 42-horse starting field in the Adequan Welcome Speed 1.35m at Desert Circuit VIII by taking advantage of Gamble’s long stride and growing confidence.

“It was great that he came out and he kind of held that [confidence] from the stadium to come out here [to the grass field],” said Chawke.

“The minute he jumped the first jump, I’m thought, he seems pretty comfortable. And I thought he was super throughout the course.”

Gamble has certainly had the opportunity to practice. Chawke has shown the horse in the 1.40m division every week since Week II, taking advantage of the Desert Circuit’s unique three weeks on, one week off schedule to ensure built-in time off. While it’s an admittedly heavy show schedule, it’s one of only a few for Gamble. The gelding only competes at his preferred venues throughout the year: Desert Circuit and Thunderbird Show Park.

“My plan always with him was to do it this way in the hope that he would by now be [performing consistently well]. Now he’s done a good few rounds and he’s pretty relaxed here,” said Chawke.

The pair will jump in Sunday’s $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Classic. But in the meantime, Gamble is back to his main gig, relaxing in his home away from home paddock at Rancho Polo.

Feature image: DIHP/Olivia Nazworth