Patrick Billes won the $10,000 1.35m Welcome Speed in early 2022 with Espartano LS, but he’d say he brought back a different horse to win the same class in November 2023, as the opening class of the National Sunshine Series at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP).

He and the 16-year-old La Silla gelding were the final pair over Anderson Lima’s speed track in the $10,000 IDA Development 1.35m Welcome Speed, and they made their time in the ring count. Mark Kinsella had just taken the lead with Interactive Mortgage Tolero 8, owned by DeLong Equestrian Ventures LLC, but Billes managed to secure the only time below 60 seconds, taking the win as his own. Kinsella took second while Cassio Rivetti claimed third after holding the lead for much of the class with Delaney Batter’s Vulcana.

Patrick Billes and Espartano LS in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I’ve had him for about five years now, and he keeps developing,” Billes continued about his partnership. “This was a very calm night for him compared to what he used to be like. He’s just getting easier and easier all the time. He’s more settled, he’s more willing, he’s more calculated, and I think he did tonight what he couldn’t have done last year.”

Many thought the class of 55 starters might be over, but Billes had other plans. “I just kept seeing good spots and forward rides,” he said of the track Wednesday. “This horse you let him go a little bit and you find a different gear and he just hangs out. The slicing across the middle – that’s his gift. He’s so fast. He jumped great. I can’t be more thrilled with his performance.”

Billes, a resident of Snohomish, WA, likes to let his horse just be a horse, which he believes has improved the horse’s overall rideability. “We spend a lot of days just walking down the road and going out on trail rides, swimming – and by swimming I mean swimming,” he joked. ”His barn name is actually Rio. A friend bought him and they handed him over.”

Patrick Billes and Espartano LS. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The relationship between Billes and “Rio” has seen several big wins, especially as the horse continues to mellow and come into form. But Billes enjoys returning to DIHP not only for the competition but just to enjoy being with family and horses as well.

“If you want to ride with the best, this is a good spot,” he said of DIHP. “It’s always a great time. The weather is great, and I always get to see family so that’s an added bonus. The facility is good, the stalls are great, any time you have an issue it’s resolved. Management is easy to work with and it’s a great thing.”

Just the first class of a thrilling line-up of events during the 2023 National Sunshine Series, the IDA Development Welcome Speed showcased the talent to come throughout the two weeks. Thursday’s feature competition includes the $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic, a step up in fence height for the elite National riders and horses in Thermal.