Robert Blanchette and Chardonnay. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Robert Blanchette looked like he was going to have a good day in the office on Carnlea Premier Balou in the $30,000 1.45m Open Classic, taking an early lead. But then his day got a whole lot better.

Aboard Chardonnay, a 12-year-old Westphalian mare (Comme Il Faut x Jus De Pomme) owned by RTS Holdings LLC, the Irishman clocked in with the fastest time in the single-round speed class, unseating his own lead at the time with his first mount, also owned by RTS Holdings LLC. Two young riders, Michael Williamson and Ian McFarlane, each managed to snag a time between Blanchette’s two, pushing Carnlea Premier Balou into fourth. Williamson and Granito Noordenhoek claimed second while McFarlane and Escapado S, owned by Mountain View West Farm Inc., took third.

Robert Blanchette and Chardonnay in their winning presentation, pictured with Camryn Schatzlein, Sarah Chenoy, Sam Laurie, and Kristian Rhoads of FarmVet. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

While many riders thought Peter Grant’s track was a step up in difficulty, Chardonnay saw it as a challenge she must overcome.

“She’s a fighter,” Blanchette said. “When the course looks difficult, she tries harder. If I do my job alright, she’s hard to beat.”

Chardonnay upped her etiquette for the day on the grass, especially considering she had a fast 4-fault round during week eight that kept her out of the prizegiving.

“She loves the grass,” he continued. “She tries harder. She thinks it’s a fancy dinner party on the grass and she’s on her best behavior.”

Michael Williamson and Granito Noordenhoek. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Despite the soothing name and desire to please in the ring, Blanchette admits, “She’s not a sweet horse; she’ll bite you if she gets the chance. But she is a big trier with a very big heart. She loves to go fast. The faster you are as a rider the harder she tries. She’s just a great horse and a money maker. I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to ride her.”

Blanchette took a quick trip to Sweden in 2020 to try the horse, and wine certainly played a role in his decision to bring her home.

“It was hard to get there, but when we got to the stable, I rode her once and she had one down,” he explained of his first trial ride. “I rode up to that oxer again – it was probably 1.40m or 1.45m – and she actually pulled really hard at it and then jumped harder. I thought, ‘I really like this horse. If I make a mistake she’ll take care of me.’ We had some wine and then I came home. She’s been a great horse ever since.”

Ian McFarlane and Escapado S. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

If you wonder why you haven’t seen him in top ribbons much this season at DIHP, it’s because Blanchette sat out the early part of the season with a minor injury, but he’s back in top form now with his two top horses, taking second place in the National Grand Prix during week eight with Carnlea Premier Balou and first and fourth in Thursday’s class.

“It’s actually been a godsend because I’m in better shape than I was before,” he joked. “When you have to stay in shape, you do it. When you’re young you can just go to parties and ride and it works out. Not when you’re 52.”

Blanchette, reflecting on a successful circuit that’s only getting sweeter with time, echoes the improvements everyone has praised, the grass field among them. “It’s a great circuit,” he said. “The new owners are doing a wonderful job. It just keeps getting better and better. I love the grass field.”

Final Results: $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic

1. Chardonnay / Robert Blanchette / RTS Holdings LLC / 0/77.967
2. Granito Noordenhoek / Michael Williamson / Michael Williamson / 0/80.051
3. Escapado S / Ian McFarlane / Mountain View West Farm LLC / 0/80.539
4. Carnlea Premier Balou / Robert Blanchette / RTS Holdings LLC / 0/81.131
5. Feyon / Kaitlin Campbell / SWS Training & Sales / 0/81.135
6. Emotion Des Truffiers / Matias Fernandez / L & L Equine Investments LLC / 0/82.667
7. Chacco’s Fleur PS / Jamie Gornall / Jamie Gornall / 0/86.126
8. Madame Unplugged / Hannah McLaughlin / Hannah McLaughlin / 0/86.911
9. Uccello De Will / Joie Gatlin / Oakland Ventures LLC / 0/87.030
10. Fardence / Braden James / Braden James / 4/77.383
11. SIG Chiari / Kyle King / SIG International Inc. / 4/78.984
12. Jeekee Van De Langvelden Z / Jamie Sailor / Laura Kotimaki-Hurd / 4/81.036

Jeffrey Fields and Sherline Ale Steal the Spotlight in 1.40m CSI4* Two Phase

Jeffrey Fields (USA) and Sherlina Ale. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Jeffrey Fields (USA) stepped up to the FEI levels for the first time this Desert Circuit with Sahana Ganesan’s Sherlina Ale and doesn’t regret a thing, taking home the win in the Morning Star Sporthorses CSI4* 1.40m Two Phase Thursday morning at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP).

The duo topped 30 international entries over Peter Grant’s (CAN) track on the grass field to open CSI4* action for Desert Circuit IX. Taking an early lead, they held the top spot for the majority of the class.

Jeffrey Fields (USA) and Sherlina Ale in their winning presentation, pictured with Karrie Rufer of Morning Star Sporthorses. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I really trust the mare,” Fields said of the Anglo-European Sporthorse (Sheraton x Colandro). “She has a lot of heart and a lot of scope. She felt great today. She had an easy week last week; I jumped her in a couple of classes out here trying to get my studs right. Today she felt like she does on grass normally.”

Despite the higher speed, which proved quicker the more pairs that tried to catch up with him, Fields’ plan was to keep it steady. “My strategy was to have a nice, easy round,” he remarked on his win. “She likes to cruise; it doesn’t matter if it’s a jump-off or first round, she likes to get on a bit of a gallop. I opened up the stride a bit [in the second phase] to get her looking for the jumps. I didn’t really go for speed, I just wanted to make sure she had a good rhythm around the course.”

Matt Archer (USA) and Zibaloubet Z. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The United States had a good showing Thursday, with Matt Archer (USA) and Zibaloubet Z, owned by Rhys Farms LLC, taking second place and Chandler Meadows (USA) in third with Zamia 3.

Like many riders at DIHP for the final week of circuit, Fields has been strategically placing Sherlina Ale throughout the six weeks he has attended, aiming to peak right at this time. The primary goal has been to increase her confidence, which is showing up in spades.

“She’s quite careful,” he continued. “I did the National Grand Prix week seven and she was fantastic. I thought it was quite meaty for a National Grand Prix and she jumped so well. I made a mistake and we had one down but she felt super confident, so the plan was to jog for this week since she loves the grass. Today worked out well.”

Chandler Meadows (USA) and Zamia 3. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The mare gets in the zone when the jumps go up, but in the barn she is everyone’s pet. “She’s like a little labrador,” Fields said of Sherlina Ale. “She’s so sweet and cuddly. She can be a bit of a dragon sometimes, like at the jog, but yesterday she was so relaxed. She knew she was in FEI this week so she had this calm about her, even warming up today and flatting yesterday. I felt that today as well. When she feels like that I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do on her.

“We’ve been here since week four,” Fields continued. “What they’ve done with the place – and to give us the opportunity to jump these international classes on a field like this – has been the most unbelievable opportunity. What they’re doing for the sport in California and on the West Coast is something we really need and we’re always excited to come back.”

Final Results: Morning Star Sporthorses CSI4* 1.40m Two Phase

1. SHERLINA ALE: 2012 AES mare by Sheraton x Colandro
JEFFREY FIELDS (USA), Sahana Ganesan: 0/0/44.89

2. ZIBALOUBET Z: 2014 ZANG gelding by Zirocco Blue x Baloubet Du Rouet
MATT ARCHER (USA), Rhys Farms, LLC: 0/0/47.20

3. ZAMIA 3: 2007 HOLST mare by Aljano 2 x Dream Of Glory
CHANDLER MEADOWS (USA), Chandler Meadows: 0/0/50.83

4. KINGSTON: 2013 AES gelding by Ustinov x Insider
VANESSA MANNIX (USA), Vanessa Mannix: 0/0/51.65

5. ARGENTINA DE LA MARCHETE: 2012 SCSL mare (Acajou De La Marchete x Del Piero PB)
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Gregory Wathelet: 0/0/52.88

6. DEEJAY: 2008 KWPN stallion by Contendro x Clinton
BRADEN JAMES (CAN), Stump Lake Ranch & Cattle Co.: 0/0/54.54

7. BERLINE DU MAILLET Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Berlin x Action-Breaker
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Mambour Delphine: 0/0/55.16

8. ACE OF HEARTS: 2010 ESH gelding by Aliandro B x Ra Ex Romanov ESH
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Gregory Wathelet: 0/3/59.12

9. MY FERRARI: 2012 OS gelding by Mylord Carthago x Landor S
SAHANA GANESAN (USA), Sahana Ganesan: 0/4/47.43

10. BONITA VH KEIZERSHOF Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Bustique x For Pleasure
ALI RAMSAY (CAN), Ramsay Equestrian Inc.: 0/4/47.99

11.INDIGO VAN DE MUGGENHOEK: 2013 KWPN gelding by Montender x Riverman ISF
ZUME GALLAHER (USA), Blue Gate Stables, LLC: 0/4/48.59

12. CHAGALL DE TOSCANE: 2012 SF stallion by Norton D’Eole x Opium De Talma
LAURA HITE (USA), HF Farms LLC: 0/4/50.87

Nicole Bourgeois and McQueen Gear Up for Something Spectacular

Nicole Bourgeois and McQueen. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Nicole Bourgeois had several things to be excited about Thursday at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). Firstly, she and Barbara Lovre’s McQueen were named champion of the High Performance Hunter division. But they have their eye on the true prize, the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular Friday afternoon and evening.

“I’m excited to do the [$100,000 WCHR] class,” Bourgeois said. “We’ve been waiting all circuit to do this class and hopefully it’s really fun and we get to show under the lights if we’re in the top 12. I showed yesterday only on her because I don’t usually show her both days if we have a big class like this. I give her Thursday just to hack so she can show in a big class Friday. I was lucky enough yesterday to win both and we ended up second in the under saddle.”

Bourgeois took two top-ten finishes in this very class in November, rescheduled from last March, when it was initially supposed to take place. McQueen finished ninth, while Wayfinder finished third.

“The class is the pinnacle end-of-circuit class,” she continued. “It’s what I look forward to most this whole circuit. I think it’s our only one until next year. This venue is the only place I ever get to show in this class so I look forward to it the whole time.”

“She feels great,” Bourgeois said of the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare she plans to pilot in Friday’s class. “She’s awesome. I’m lucky I don’t have to share her with anyone. I’m the only one who rides her. She feels just as good as she did when she got here because she doesn’t show very often. I save her for the big classes.”

Along with the WCHR Hunter Spectacular, Bourgeois has her eye on other top events during Desert IX, and also has high hopes for her horses into next season with all the attention given to the hunter rings.

“It’s amazing how much money Desert Horse Park has put into the hunters,” she said. “A couple years ago we were lucky to get a National derby. Now they have a $100,000 class, last week we had a $50,000 [International] Derby, this week we have a $20,000 [Young Hunter Championship]. That’s good money in the hunter ring. I’m super grateful to the team here who has put their money in the hunter rings because it’s the most money they offer in the hunters anywhere I go.”

The season may be drawing to a close, but Bourgeois is looking forward to some time at home in Oregon, despite the stark contrast in weather from her desert paradise.

“I am so sad because I like waking up to palm trees and sunshine! Because we showed here November and December I have only been home six weeks this winter. I joke that I could really get used to just being down here all the time. I am excited to get home and let my horses have a little break and get some turnout time. We are lucky; since we live in the Northwest we have lots of grass pastures!”

The first round of the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular begins at 2:00 p.m. in the Grand Prix Arena, followed by the top 20 returning at 7:00 p.m. The $20,000 Young Hunter CHampionship, sponsored by The Surrey, will be held in Hunter 2 with an approximate 12:15 p.m. start.