James Chawke missed his usual spot in the winner’s circle, but he made it back there to open competition for Desert Circuit 5, presented by Premier Equestrian. In one of his favorite classes, the $10,000 BarnWalkers 1.35m Welcome Speed, the Irishman raced to first and second places, taking the win with his trusty partner Gamble.

“It’s nice that it’s a speed class and my horses are very fast,” Chawke said of why he admires this class as the first class to dip his toe into action each week. “The courses are very connected so you walk all the steps and try to be efficient and use each horse’s strengths to try to be first and second.”

Kelvin Bywater set the track for the occasion, and Chawke took an early lead over the single-round speed course with Nacara Van Berkenbroeck Z, owned by Alison Locke. His first ride clocked in at 54.341 seconds, and seemed like it may take the cake. But Gamble, a horse that had had some bad luck the past couple weeks, stepped in and made it a one-two finish for his rider. Gamble’s time of 53.047 seconds appear quite as rushed, but the timers proved otherwise.

James Chawke and Gamble. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“He was a bit unlucky; he had a couple classes where he just knocked a jump down,” Chawke said of Gamble’s recent fate. “I just gave him last week off. He was very good the first week but then the last two weeks a little unlucky. He was very good again so hopefully it lasts.”

With several speed mounts that thrive at the lower fence heights, Chawke is always a favorite for this class and the Sunday 1.40m. The only other athlete to score a podium finish Wednesday was Mariano Maggi aboard Gogolinus. Chawke knows Gamble very well and is still getting to know his other top finisher.

“I’ve had Nacara for a little over a year now,” he said of the 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding. “A friend of ours bought him and he was a little difficult to start. He was quite strong and sensitive. I’ve been trying to build him up a bit and he seems to be really improving and stepping up a bit.”

Chawke jokes that his favorite thing about Gamble is, “when he wins.” But in reality, it’s not too far from the truth, because he admires that the horse performs like a winner every time he steps in the ring.

James Chawke and Gamble in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I think it’s that when he’s feeling good he always tries to leave the jumps up,” Chawke explained of the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding’s winning nature. “He is quick so he’s always trying to do well. His personality is a bit different. I wouldn’t say he’s the friendliest horse in the world. It’s not like you go give him pats and cuddles in the stable; he’s not really into that.”

Gamble also has a troubled history with most of his riders, with a tendency to spin them off if he’s given the chance.
“I’d say his walk-up song would be Another One Bites the Dust because he spins most people off who ride him,” Chawke laughed. There are very few people that have stayed on Gamble. He hasn’t done it to me but he’s done it to pretty much everyone else.”

Lucky for Chawke, he’s not only not being spun off, but Gamble likes him so much that he’s helping him achieve some pretty great things, including a shot at the Leading Open Jumper Rider, for which he currently sits in third. The leading rider is decided at the close of the season and given a significant prize.