It was a celebratory weekend for Erynn Ballard (CAN) during the ESP Holiday Finale at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center thanks to wins in two separate grand prix classes, which closed 2021 on a high note and began 2022 even better. In one of the first classes of the new year, Ballard and Nanini Van D’Abelendreef, co-owned by Ilan Ferder and Esperanza Imports LLC, galloped to the top of the leaderboard in the $50,000 Equiline Grand Prix as the fastest over designer Anthony D’Ambrosio’s (USA) courses. On New Year’s Eve, Ballard navigated Comedia De Talma, owned by Esperanza Imports LLC, to first prize in the $25,000 Palm Beach Equine Clinic Grand Prix.
“I feel like I ended the year on the right foot and now I’m starting the year off in an amazing way. [Nanini Van D’Abelendreef] is nine now; she won a class in Vegas, and she was strong enough to start in California, so now with the win here today I think her resume is looking pretty good,” Ballard commented after the win. “We are feeling pretty strong going into the winter season. I can never really plan too far in advance with so many horses and so much going on, but I think she’ll definitely be able to step up to the 1.50m. She’s one of my top five horses right now, and I’ll use her accordingly for a nine-year-old. She’s ready to move up, but I don’t want to over-face her.”
During the first round of riding, four competitors made it around D’Ambrosio’s pattern without lowering any fences or accruing time faults to qualify for the jump-off. The group represented an international field, with all four contenders hailing from different nations, namely the United States, Canada, Brazil, and New Zealand. Though Ballard was fourth in line for the jump-off as the final rider to qualify riding Nanini Van D’Abelendreef, she ultimately rode first over the short course due to another contender’s horse losing a shoe. The Canadian pair quickly made their way around the ring, breaking the beam in 35.48 seconds without any faults to set the pace.
“I thought the course today was perfect. There were four clear, so I think the course designer did a perfect job. The class was maybe a little tougher than Friday’s, which makes sense since there’s more prize money on the line,” Ballard remarked. “I was supposed to go fourth in the jump-off, but Giavanna [Rinaldi’s horse] lost a shoe and everyone was waiting, so I decided to just go for it. I knew I needed to be fast and I don’t think I could have gone any faster, even if I had gone last with the jumps being that big. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter when you go. If there’s an inside turn option, sometimes it matters, but the jump-off was pretty straightforward today.”
The three other challengers chased the time set by Ballard and her mount, but none were able to catch it, securing the win for Ballard and Nanini Van D’Abelendreef. The only other double-clear combination, Thomas Thomas McDermott (NZL) and his own Alpha Activity clinched second place in a time of 36.07 seconds. Giavanna Rinaldi (USA) rode Anton Marano’s Cosmona to third position in 36.50 seconds with one rail down.
Prior to the start of the class, Filip de Wandel (BEL) was awarded with a $1,000 check as the winner of the Assets Risk Management National Grand Prix Rider Bonus. The Belgian rider accrued the most points in grand prix classes over the course of the ESP Holiday Series, with results including first place in the $50,000 Vita Flex Grand Prix riding Manhattan Van’t Leeuwerikenhof, second place in the $25,000 Omega Alpha Grand Prix on Nanking VD Donkhoeve, and second place in the $25,000 Elite Horse Transport Grand Prix on “Manhattan.”