Wellington, Fla. – March 21, 2021 – A star-studded pack took to the International Ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival on Sunday afternoon in hopes of snagging the last major win of the day in the $137,000 FEI Horseware Ireland Grand Prix. With only two weeks of competition left in the 2021 winter season, the pack of 46 riders gave Michel Vaillancourt’s (CAN) technical, 17-effort course their best efforts. The competition was tight, with many of these riders hoping to put the finishing touches on successful seasons or ride away with another win under their belt. Ultimately, it was Darragh Kenny and Great-Tikila J who stole the win with their gutsy gallop down the last line in the jump-off.
The first course offered multiple questions at every corner of the International Arena. At the halfway mark in the first round, the younger athletes led the charge for the top prize with four of the five clear rounds. Irelands’ Max Watchman, was the first rider on course and also the first to walk away with a clear round. Mimi Gochman (USA) and Hilary McNerney (USA), who both successfully competed in the U-25 Series Finale moments before the Grand Prix, were the second and third clear rounds respectively. Allish Cunniffe (IRL), and America’s Adam Prudent also put in fault-free scores before the first drag break, ensuring a competitive jump-off.
After the brief intermission, the professionals stepped up to ensure that the jump-off would be as competitive as any rounds that have been seen at the Winter Equestrian Festival so far. Darragh Kenny (IRL) put in a fault-free effort first with Great-Tikila J. Hot on his heels to make their way to the jump-off were Adrienne Sternlict (USA), Daniel Deusser (GER), and Ben Maher (GBR).
Watchman was the first rider to enter for the shortened course with his horse, Lazzaro Delle Schiave. Although the pair were quick at 40.87, they had an unfortunate rail. Mimi Gochman laid down a more solid round than Watchman, but GiGi’s Girl was flawless, and the pair were officially the first double-clear effort of the class. McNerney and Lovelight came into the ring, determined to run their way to the top spot. Having just battled Gochman in the U-25 Finale, McNerney laid it all out and stopped the clock with a double clear effort in a blistering 36.539. While Allish Cinffie and Adam Prudent had best intentions at solid finishes, Vallincourt’s course bested both of their efforts each walking away from the course with faults. Darragh Kenny has easily been one of the most competitive athletes in any ring he enters in 2021. Today was no exception as he handily took over the top spot with a time of 35.247. While that time was far and away faster than his peers so far, with Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Daniel Deusser (GER) entering the ring behind him, the class winner was still anyone’s guess. Lamaze, Deusser, Sternlicht, and Maher all had faults across the course, leaving Kenny at the top of the leaderboard and securing his dominance of the International Ring this season.
Today marked the first time that Kenny had entered Great-Tikila J in a Grand Prix. After purchasing her last year when she was only doing the 1.30m’s, he took his time bringing the ultra-talented mare along so that she could build up her confidence properly.
The competition continues Tuesday during the penultimate week of WEF. As the final 5* week of the season, the action will come to a head on the Stadium Derby Field during Saturday’s $500,000 FEI CSI5* Rolex Grand Prix. The 2021 season draws to a conclusion Sunday, April 4.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Darragh Kenny – $137,000 FEI Horseware Ireland Grand Prix Winner
On His Jump Off Strategy:
“Honestly, I got very lucky in the jump-off. I had planned to do the six (strides) in the first line, like everybody else, and then I had a very short turn back to the double and she tried really hard. I had a hard rub on the back rail jumping out and got away with it. I ended up doing six (strides) where Hilary did five, so i ended up by thinking that I just better run!”
On Great Tikila J:
“This is actually her first Grand Prix ever. I bought her together with a sponsor of mine, Eva Castergrin back in the middle of 2020. She was very green, she had only jumped 1.30m in her life before. She is extremely talented – Careful, scopey, and brave. She can be a bit of a mare sometimes but in the ring, her ability is incredible. I was just really happy with her this week. I aimed her for this week and she jumped clear in the WEF, and super today and she just feels really really good.”
On Developing his relationship with Great Tikila J:
“I have taken things really slowly with her. She can be a bit temperamental sometimes so you have to do everything very slowly. I did a few other weeks on the grass and then played around with her a bit at home. I felt like we were in the right spot of this week.”
Hillary McNerney – $137,000 FEI Horseware Ireland Grand Prix Second Place
On the plan for the Jump-Off:
“Well my horse is super competitive so once I got the first line done I thought ‘ OK, here we go!’ We went for it and the minute he jumped over ‘b’ in the combination I knew that I had to do the five strides. My trainer, Kent Farrington, told me before I went in that I could not do that line in four strides, so I knew I had to kick to get the five strides and once I got there I took the risk to the second to the last jump. He was incredible and he was right there with me and it was a great feeling on a great horse.”
“He is a 10-year-old stallion that I got from Kent (Farrington). Kent says that I stole him from him but he gave him to me! We have done a lot of the shows over on the grass and showed a lot at Global during the summer because we chose to stay here. This is also our first 3* Grand Prix together so it was very exciting.”
Mimi Gochman – $137,000 FEI Horseware Ireland Grand Prix Third Place
On her Jump Off Plan:
“I went super early so I wanted to have a nice round. I did go for it a little bit but I was also did not want to have any big mistakes or make her unconfident with me because it is our first 3* together so I wanted to go double clear.”
On GiGi’s Girl BH :
“I have no experience at the Grand Prix level and she has all of the experience so i think that we balance each other out. She trusts me and I trust her of course and I think that we work well together. She is a big strided horse, that is scopey with a big jump so I just really have to stay with her and let her do her thing.”
On two top placings in one day:
“A placing like today really makes me feel like I can do it (move up in the levels). I have had trouble in the past with Grand Prix’s and being able to go double clear in a 3* and knowing that I can do it and be riding strong enough at this point in WEF boosts my confidence for sure.”
$137,000 FEI Horseware Ireland Grand Prix:
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / R1 Time | R1 Faults / R2 Time | R2 Faults
1. Great-Tikila J / Darragh Kenny / Whiterock Farm & HKC Collection / Ireland 77.01 / 0 / 35.247 / 0
2. Lovelight / Hilary McNerney / Hilary McNerney / United States / 79.13 / 0 / 36.539 / 0
3. GiGi’s Girl BH / Mimi Gochan / Gochman Sport Horses LLC / United States / 78.1 / 0 / 41.388 / 0
4. Chacco Kid / Eric Lamaze / Chacco Kid Group / Canada / 77.54 / 0 / 37.064 / 4
5. Ginger-Blue / Ben Maher / Jane Forbes Clark / Great Britain / 77.59 / 0 / 37.265 / 4
6. Casallvano / Daniel Deusser / Camilla Hamann & Phillip Widmayer / Germany / 77.81 / 0 / 39.835 / 4
7. Lazzaro Delle Schiave / Max Watchman / Coolomore Show Jumping / 77.79 / 0 / 40.874 / 4
8. Baloutinue / Adam Prudent / Plain Bay Farm / United States / 74.13 / 0 / 36.464 / 8
9. Just A Gamble / Adreinne Sternlicht / Starlight Farms 1 LLC / United States / 77.66 / 0 / 36.744 / 8
10. Vivaldi Du Theil / Ailish Cunniffe / Greylish LLC / Ireland / 79.71 / 0 / 40.762 / 16
11. Skyhorse / Lillie Keenan /Chansonette Farm LLC / United States / 80.09 / 1
12. Contefina LVF / Ashlee Bond / Little Valley Farms / United States / 73.95 / 4