With Ace Of Hearts, Wathelet took home arguably his biggest win of Desert Circuit so far on Sunday of Desert Circuit VIII in the $145,100 Go Rentals CSI3* 1.55m Grand Prix. As one of only two clear rounds, Wathelet sealed the deal in the second-to-last week of his Californian winter tour.
Up against Vanessa Mannix (CAN) and Kingston (Ustinov), Wathelet had the disadvantage of jumping first. He kicked the speed up a notch over the short course while not going all out, but the final rail came down for a quick time and a score of 4 faults.
“He jumped amazing in the first round,” Wathelet reflected on his horse’s performance. “With two [in the jump-off] it’s always a little bit delicate to know what you have to do. I stayed inside to the last one because I found a good line to cut in. He just focused on the [decoration] behind the jump rather than what he had to do, and that caused the 4 [faults] so I was a bit surprised.”
With Mannix pulling two rails along the way, the victory was Wathelet’s.
The Belgian Olympian could see the challenge presented immediately upon walking Marina Azevedo’s (BRA) course. “This week she has built very good but very difficult,” he said. “We saw it yesterday in the National Grand Prix and again today. The fences were big for a three-star. There were some spooky jumps like the wall, the delicate white vertical at [fence] four, and the last line also. It was a bit more technical.”
One welcome change for Wathelet was the move to the grass field, which will host National and FEI show jumping the final week of Desert Circuit as well.
“I was ready to jump on the grass because [grass arenas] are something I really like, especially here where they have that kind of grass with a good ground,” Wathelet said of the change in environment to the grass field. “This is what you like [to see] in the grass. It was good for the horses to change the pace as well. With first and fifth in the Grand Prix I’m very happy.”
While Ace Of Hearts is full of talent, he had a rather slow start at the highest levels due to being a slightly difficult ride.
“He was always jumping a bit too high,” Wathelet said of the 13-year-old Estonian Sport Horse gelding (Aliandro B x Ra Ex Romanov ESH) earlier in his career. “He had too much quality and he was difficult to develop. I feel more and more comfortable now on him; he’s starting to trust his scope. I’m feeling like I can trust him more and more at this height and he’s really fun to ride; he’s fantastic. I’m not sure [at what level] he’s going to stop, or if he’ll jump everything [I put in front of him]. Now that he has the rhythm I also need to trust him because he can do it easy.”
Hopes are high for the horse as he continues to plan the his schedule following the performances in the desert. “It’s perfect here because you can jump proper classes,” Wathelet said of developing Ace Of Hearts at DIHP. “I started him National and now next week I’m going to do the four-star Grand Prix, then after here he’ll be ready to do a five-star grand prix.”
While Mannix claimed second place, Katie Laurie (AUS) returned to the podium for the second consecutive week, taking third with just one time fault.