‘Marriage looks good on me’: rider wins a grand prix either side of wedding day

  • Egyptian showjumper Nayel Nassar was not only celebrating winning his second grand prix on the trot on Sunday (21 November), but the brace of victories also book-ended his wedding to fellow showjumper Jennifer Gates last month.

    Nayel’s second victory came at the ESP Pre-Charity CSI3* in Wellington, Florida, where he rode LLC’s Igor Van De Wittemoere to top spot in the $137,000 (£102,800) grand prix.

    Only he and Irishman Capt Brian Cournane (Vittorio 12) had managed to jump clear in round one of the class, over a track set by Hector Loyola. Nayel secured victory when Brian and Vittorio 12 hit the final fence of the jump-off and Igor produced the sole double clear.

    “The course had a lot of questions today,” he said. “I think you had a few tricky distances and a lot of awkward lines, which gives you a lot of room between the jumps. You would think that’s an advantage, but it actually gets the horses long and makes it harder for them to stay focused throughout the course. There were also a few bogey spots, which took out some horses and riders.” 

    Nayel decided to play it safe in the jump-off after watching Brian’s four-fault round.

    “When I saw Brian go, I thought I should just try to chase down the time because Igor is so fast and if I had a fence down I could still clip him,” said Nayel Nassar, who jumped at the Tokyo Olympics with Igor. “However, I didn’t get the turn I wanted from one to two, so I decided to just play it safe and try to leave the jumps up, and that strategy paid off.”

    Nayel, who also won the $150,000 (£116,300) CaptiveOne Grand Prix of Greenwich CSI3* in October, shortly before his marriage to Jennifer Gates and their honeymoon, said: “Marriage looks good on me; I won my last grand prix before getting married and the first one after getting married, so it’s been a good luck charm.” 

    Igor Van De Wittemoere is a 13-year-old Belgian warmblood gelding by Cooper VD Heffinck, who the couple bought in 2020.

    “Igor is Nayel’s ride and always has been,” said his wife Jennifer, the daughter of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. “My former coach and still a mentor of ours, Harrie Smolders, found the horse, and I actually sat on him a year prior for myself and thought he was really nice but maybe a bit too much blood. 

    “Then in January 2020, he was available again and was purchased for Nayel. It’s been really fun to see them both come along. I think Nayel has really worked with him to get him a lot slower in his mind. He’s super athletic, and he comes off a break really easily. I’m so proud of how they performed today after the break that we recently took. He was a little nervous about coming back but he did an excellent job,” she added.  

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