Wellington, Florida, USA – February 20, 2022 – Young riders took to the Derby Field first thing Sunday morning, with 74 combinations on the list to challenge Ana Catalina Cruz Harris’s carefully-designed track for the $25,000 Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix. While the course proved challenging, 15 riders found the clear path to advance to the jump-off. After an electric race over the short course, it was Grace Debney (GBR) and her partner Boheme de la Roque who added yet another blue ribbon to their growing collection.
Ashley Vogel (USA) was the third rider on the grass this morning with her horse Ceres van het Moeshof, and she set the pace in the jump-off, going clear in 41.99 seconds. She would eventually finish in sixth place as the time to beat got faster and faster with each rider who followed.
Caelinn Leahy (USA) managed to slice the leading time down to 39.35 seconds with Steve Schaefer’s Coldplay 31. It looked like Leahy’s time couldn’t be caught, though Ireland’s Francis Derwin (IRL) came close, crossing the timers in 40.47 seconds with Scarlett du Sart, owned by Vlock Show Stables LLC.
Two horses later it was Grace Debney’s (GBR) chance to turn on the gas with her superstar mare, Boheme de la Roque. They gave it their all to shave just a fraction of a second off of Leahy’s time to claim victory in 39.20 seconds. Leahy finished in second, and Derwin rounded out the top three.
It had already been a big week for Debney, who is fresh off her win in Thursday’s $6,000 Douglas Elliman 1.45m CSI3* and celebrated her 18th birthday on Friday. Sunday’s $25,000 Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix win with her dependable teammate, Boheme de la Roque, was the icing on the birthday cake.
“I think what sets [Boheme de la Roque] apart from my other horses is that I always have confidence in her. I know she’s looking to win, and she’s looking to clear the jumps and do everything she can for me. I think that’s what helps me the most is that I’m fighting for her, but so is she,” Debney said.
Debney’s list of achievements with Boheme de la Roque, an 11-year-old Selle Français mare by Kannan x Quick Star, seems to get longer every time the duo steps into the ring. This year, they have been focused on the U25 series and look to be right on target.
“We set a goal at the beginning of circuit that we really wanted to be competitive in the U25 division,” explained Debney. “We decided to use ‘Boheme’ in all the U25 classes, because she really has been my most consistent horse this year.”
Like Debney, Caelinn Leahy (USA) of Maple Park, IL, has been partnered with her mount Coldplay 31, a 13-year-old Westphalian gelding by Cassini II x Phantom, for over a year. They’ve picked up valuable experience together including a trip to the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Youth Final in Kronenberg, the Netherlands, as part of the USA’s young rider team.
“I think Coldplay loves being on the field and being able to gallop around out here. I thought there were a couple lines that rode pretty short that you had to have that rideability,” noted Leahy. “I was particularly happy with my horse, because we used to not always have that gear and be able to get that rideable.”
Francis Derwin (IRL) was the youngest of the top three finishers at 17, and trains with Ireland’s Darragh Kenny who previously had the ride on Scarlett du Sart Z. This is Derwin’s second WEF experience, having first traveled from his home in Athlone in West Meade, Ireland, to compete in the 2020 FEI Junior Nations Cup.
“I really liked it the last time I came, and when I got a chance this year, I had to come back,” he said.
Derwin just picked up the reins on “Scarlett,” a 12-year-old Zangersheide mare by Stakkato x First Bride, when he got to WEF at the beginning of the circuit six weeks ago, but they have quickly formed a strong partnership.
“Scarlett has been very easy to get on with, so it’s made my job easier. She’s a really nice horse and a very good jumper. She always tries really hard for you,” expressed Derwin. “It means a lot to have this finish. It’s brilliant to get such a good chance to ride in these classes. To get such a good placing is really rewarding. Hopefully this U25 series will help me learn as I continue in the sport.”
Leahy agreed the U25 series has been beneficial to her development as an athlete, but the joy in competing in this setting was at the forefront.
“We’re so spoiled here at WEF to have so many great rings to ride these jumpers in. I think that any opportunity for young riders to be able to go into different settings is great experience as we’re trying to step up to the FEI level,” she reflected. “Being able to have access to the Derby Field, especially, is really spectacular for people competing in the U25 right now. Galloping across the field for those last three jumps in the jump-off today and trying to take a shot at it was so much fun.”
Debney echoed that sentiment, “Boheme and I love being out on this grass field. Her stride opens up so much, like a lot of the horses. I think she’s having fun, and I’m having fun.”
Final Results – $25,000 Hermès U25 Grand Prix
1) Grace Debney (GBR) & Boheme De La Roque – 0 / 0 – 39.2
2) Caelinn Leahy (USA) & Coldplay 31 – 0 / 0 – 39.35
3) Francis Derwin (IRL) & Scarlett Du Sart Z – 0 / 0 – 40.47
Source: Press Release from Jennifer Wood Media, Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions
Photos: © Sportfot