When Daniel Bluman rode through the hitching ring tunnel into the Coca Cola Coliseum at the 101st Royal Winter Fair on Saturday, he was carrying a heavier burden than the usual pressure of performance.
And the stress of it was written on his face.
“It’s been the most difficult month in my life,” said the Israeli rider, referring to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
The privilege of peace was top of mind for the 33-year-old Olympian as he jumped to the top of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Toronto.
“I want to say that my thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and the people that are being affected in the current situation. It is a tragedy and we’re very lucky to be able to be here as that’s happening.”
Twenty combinations contested Kelvin Bywater’s 1.60m track at the historical venue. Germany’s Rene Dittmer was first to find a clear path to advance to the short course. Five more riders, among them Vanessa Mannix (CAN), Kent Farrington (USA), Bluman and Jessica Mendoza (GBR), followed suit.
Mannix and Carmela Z delivered the first double clear, but it was Farrington and Greya who set the standard with their slick rollbacks and quick foot speed, stopping the clock at 34.32 seconds.
The lead changed hands again with the next rider as Bluman and his 12-year-old KWPN mare shaved another second off in 33.28. Mendoza gave chase, but ultimately fell three tenths of a second short (33.60).
For Bluman, a World Cup win was a year in the making with Gemma W. The pair collected runner-up finishes at the qualifiers in Washington and Toronto in 2022 and again last week in Lexington. Saturday marked their first victory in the global series.
“I certainly was a little bit upset last year that I couldn’t put my name on that trophy,” said Bluman.
“I don’t know how many chances you get to win a grand prix like this one, and when you are given the chance, the minimum you can do is beat the time of the rider that went before you [Kent], so I’m happy that things went my way tonight and we ended up winning the class.”
It’s a finish Gemma and Bluman are well versed in. Since 2018, the pair has collected over a million euro in prize money and 28 podium finishes. They have a career 41% top ten finish average over 31 rounds at the 1.60m height, according to Jumpr App, and are incredibly consistent across the board—finishing top ten in 44% of their 18 rounds at 1.55m and 58% of 24 at 1.50m.
“Gemma is all heart. She maybe lacks some of the physical ability to jump the big fences, but she will always give you everything,” Bluman continued.
“When I walked the course today, I knew that I was on the limit. The verticals were big, and we had the triple combination to finish. But I had a good feeling that my mare was feeling good. I haven’t jumped her too big this year and was trying to pick the right places for her. She felt amazing, and sometimes it just goes your way.”
Bluman now sits atop the North American League on 43 points after four legs. USA’s Devin Ryan sits second with 30 points, ahead of Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam with 28 points with four more qualifiers in the season to come.
The North American League continues in Las Vegas on November 18, 2023.