By Sydney Lowe
THERMAL, Calif. – February 5, 2021 – FEI Competition continued Friday in the Grand Prix Stadium with the $36,000 1.50m 238.2.2 CSI 3*, sponsored by VitaFlex. Forty-two horse and rider combinations challenged the course built by Manuel Esparza (MEX) and it was Christian Heineking (GER) and NKH Cento Blue who posted the fastest jump-off time of 33.3 seconds, earning them the top spot. NKH Cento Blue is an eleven-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Centadel out of Gloria-blue and is owned by NKH LLC.
Second place honors were given to Luis Sabino Gonçalves (POR) and Argan De Beliard (Mylord Carthago*hn x La Belle Normande) for a clear round at 34.04 seconds. Sabino Gonçalves’s mount is an eleven-year-old Selle Francais gelding owned by Equivarandas II, LDA. Rounding out the podium was USA’s Richard Spooner and Show Jumping Syndications International’s Quirado RC (Quinar x Ursula), a twelve-year-old American Holsteiner gelding, with a jump-off time of 35.32 seconds.
As the course designer for all FEI classes this week, Esparza gave an insight as to what his goal was for the second of four major classes. “My plan is to try and get the horses ready for what is to come the rest of the week. We have an Olympic Qualifying round on Sunday. My plan is to give them a good chance to feel the ring, the footing is amazing. Jumps and distances are made so riders can gallop around the course,” explained Esparza. “I had nine clears and the horses are jumping amazing. I think this class was perfect preparation for Sunday.”
Heineking added, “I thought it was a very nice course. Definitely long enough; the time allowed was a little on the short side. I think it was a great course and out of forty-two riders only nine clean. I thought it was a good number to start off the week.”
NKH Cento Blue and Heineking have been paired together the last four years and they have big plans together. “He has been with us the last four years and I think he is really starting to come together for the bigger classes,” mentioned Heineking. “I am very excited about him and very excited that NKH, my main sponsor, kept him for me. NKH Cento Blue will most likely be my ride during the Major League Show Jumping Tour and we are excited to be a part of Team Desert Horse Park.”
Last to go in the jump-off, Heineking kicked it into high gear to beat his competitor’s quick scores. “Beating that time felt pretty good. I thought Richard and Luis have been very slick and very fast. I know NKH Cento Blue is a very fast horse. I just try to give it my all every time,” claimed Heineking.
Competition is going to get tougher as horses and riders prepare for Sunday’s $137,000 FEI 1.55m CSI3*, sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition. Tune into the livestream to watch all the action unfold.