Wellington, Florida, USA – March 21, 2021 – On the final day of the tenth week of the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), Darragh Kenny (IRL) picked up his second win of the week, riding Great-Tikila J, owned by Whiterock Farm and HKC Collection, to capture the $137,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 3* as competition wrapped up on Sunday, March 21, in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC).
Of the 45 entries in the starting order, a total of 10 pairs mastered the handiwork of Michel Vaillancourt (CAN) to punch their ticket into the second round. Of those 10, Mimi Gochman (USA) was the first to put in a double-clear round aboard Gigi’s Girl BH, owned by Gochman Sport Horses, LLC, to move into the lead.
“I went super early [in the order], so I just really wanted to have a nice round,” explained Gochman in reference to her plan for the jump-off. “I was trying to go for it a little bit, but I didn’t want to make any big mistakes or make her unconfident in me because it was my first three-star grand prix, and I really just wanted to go double clear.”
Gochman, who picked up a win earlier in the day in the Hermès U25 Series Final, guided the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Vingino x Celano) across the track in a time of 41.38 seconds.
“I have no experience at grand prix level, and my horse has all the experience,” said 16-year-old Gochman. “I think it kind of balances out, and we trust each other. She is a big-strided horse, scopey, big jump, and I kind of just have to stay with her and let her do her thing. I think being able to go double clear in a three-star makes me feel like I can do these bigger classes. Knowing that I’m strong enough at this point of WEF really helps boost my confidence for the future.”
Next to go in the jump-off, Hilary McNerney (USA) and her own Lovelight gave it their best effort, opening up a big gallop for the second half of the track to shave nearly five seconds off the leading time with a double-clear round finishing in 36.53 seconds. The 10-year-old Holsteiner stallion (Lord Z x Lordship), was impressive.
“For me, it’s a horse that I stole from my trainer Kent [Farrington],” said McNerney. “We did a lot of the shows on the grass Derby Field over at Equestrian Village during the summer because we stayed here because of COVID, and this result is very exciting. I’m hoping to move up and do the CSI4* during WEF 12 and see how that goes.”
“My horse is super competitive, so once I got the first line done, I was like, “Okay, here we go,’” said McNerney of her jump-off round. “When I jumped out of ‘b’ [of the double combination], I thought, ‘I’ve got to do five strides.’ My trainer Kent Farrington said, ‘You can’t do four, so all you have to do is kick and get the five.’ Once I got that, I took the risk to the second to last jump, and he was incredible and right there with me. It was a great feeling.”
The only other double clear of the day proved to be the best as Kenny piloted his 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Carosso VDL x Nabab De Reve) to an impressive double clear effort in 35.24 seconds for the victory.
“I actually got very lucky in the jump-off, to be honest,” said the winning rider of his winning round. “I had planned to do the six [strides] like everybody did in the first line, then turned very tight back to the double, and she tried really hard. I had a hard rub on the back rail jumping out but got away with it, then I ended up doing six where Hilary had done five, so I thought, ‘Okay better run.”
Kenny and his sponsors purchased the mare just over a year ago, and the win was even sweeter as it was also the first grand prix of her career.
“When we bought her, she was very green having only jumped 1.30m, but she’s extremely talented,” he said. “She’s careful, scopey, brave, a little bit of a mare sometimes, but in the ring her ability is incredible. I was really happy with her because I aimed her for this week. She jumped clear in the WEF and then jumped super today and felt really good.
“We’ve developed her slowly,” Kenny continued. “She’s a little bit temperamental sometimes where you have to take everything slow, so I played around with her on the grass a few other weeks, did some stuff at home, and then thought, ‘Okay, I have her in the right spot for this week.’”
Ranked ninth in the world, Kenny continues to rack up wins at the 2021 WEF and plans to close out the winter circuit in the CSI5* during WEF 11 while stepping up with some of his newer horses to jump the CSI4* during WEF 12.
It’s a busy week ahead as WEF 11, sponsored by Rolex, features CSI5* competition on the grass Derby Field at Equestrian Village with a concurrent CSI2* taking place in the Global International Arena. Wednesday’s schedule features the $37,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45 Jumpers CSI5*, with the $137,000 Adequan® WEF Challenge Cup Round 11 CSI5* and $6,000 1.40m Jumpers CSI2* set to go on Thursday. On Friday, it’s the $137,000 Bainbridge Companies 1.45m Jumpers CSI5* and the $37,000 CabanaCoast 1.45m Jumpers CSI2* at Equestrian Village, along with the WEF Excellence in Equitation taking place in the International Arena at PBIEC.
The week is highlighted by the biggest class of the season on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. with the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* taking center stage on the grass Derby Field. The $6,000 CabanaCoast 1.40m Jumpers CSI2* also runs on Saturday, and the week concludes on Sunday with the $50,000 CabanaCoast Grand Prix CSI2*. All feature classes are available free live and on-demand on the livestream.
Final Results – $137,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 3*
1) Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Great Tilika J – 0 / 0 – 35.247
2) Hilary McNerney (USA) & Lovelight – 0 / 0 – 36.539
3) Mimi Gochman (USA) & Gigi’s Girl BH – 0 / 0 – 41.388
Source: Press release by Kate Pettersen & Sabrina Bashares / Jennifer Wood Media Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions / PBIEC – Palm Beach International Equestrian Center
Photos: © Sportfot