Wellington, Florida, USA – March 27, 2022 – The final day of competition at the penultimate week of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) boasted a day of elite competition as the best in the world geared up for the highlight event, the $216,000 Palm Beach County Sports Commission Grand Prix CSI 4*. In a nail-biting jump-off, Darragh Kenny (IRL) took the final international win of the week with Volnay du Boisdeville.
The eleventh week of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), sponsored by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, is the fifth week of the series to feature four-star and two-star events alongside national hunter, jumper, and equitation divisions. Top sport at the newly-renamed Wellington International will conclude on Sunday, April 3, 2022 with the season’s highly-anticipated Rolex week.
Forty-four qualified combinations elected to contest Olaf Petersen Jr.’s (GER) challenging grand prix track, but representatives from most of the 16 nations struggled to find a successful path around every obstacle. At the event’s halfway mark, only three athletes consisting of Darragh Kenny (IRL), Petronella Andersson (SWE), and Zoe Conter (BEL) had procured an elusive jump-off spot. Petersen included a triple bar, triple combination, and two liverpool elements to test the riders. What he crafted in degree of difficulty however, Petersen compensated for in time as he allowed a healthy time allowed of 91 seconds to navigate the course.
As the class wound down, the second half of the entries rose to the occasion and an additional six contenders emerged fault-free for a nine-horse jump-off lineup. Sweden’s Petronella Andersson (SWE) was the first to take on the short course and put the pressure on as she once again cleared the timers fault-free, which would hold up for fourth place. Darragh Kenny (IRL) was second into the arena and, as he shaved a second off of Andersson’s time, once again took the leading spot with a time of 39.43 seconds. The remainder of the field gave it their all, but the class concluded with his performance still in the lead.
“He is just naturally very fast even though he doesn’t have the biggest stride,” explained Kenny. “I even did nine strides to the last fence where most people did eight, but it was still fast enough because he doesn’t waste time in the air and gets across the ground fast.”
Kenny’s lap of honor was the second with the Vlock Show Stables LLC’s 13-year-old Selle Francais stallion (Winningmood x Jalisco B) in as many weeks, as the pair were the ultimate victors in the $75,000 CaptiveOne 1.50m Classic CSI4* during WEF 10.
“I didn’t get here till halfway through the season, so I am really just getting started,” continued Kenny. “My plan was just to get the horses built up, and they have responded well so now I feel like I have them in a very good place going into my program for the summer circuit.”
Kenny’s fellow countryman, Mark McAuley (IRL), donned his sixth red ribbon of the circuit after chasing Kenny down to the wire and landing with mere milliseconds between them. McAuley fell just shy after landing on a time of 39.52 seconds with SNC McAuley Equestrian’s 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Jasco VD Bisschop (Dulf Van Den Bisschop x Krunch De Breve).
“The first round course was particularly long today, and the middle line was certainly a rider’s line that, if you did not execute it perfectly, was going to leave you with a fault,” detailed McAuley. “The plank at the end of the course was more of a horse’s jump that they had to figure out how to get out of, so there were certainly enough challenges.”
For McAuley, he is in a bit of a holding pattern as the reserve winner, but he is confident that the consistency in his program is building towards success.
“When you can manage to get your horses consistent at this level, then hopefully the wins are going to come,” said McAuley. “I haven’t quite gotten there the past few weeks, but I believe it’s going to come and I’m very happy with the consistency of this horse in particular. One of the best things about the circuit has been competing every week with such good riders at a high level. It has been very good for my riding because you have to be on the ball every time or you are not going to place.”
The last of the podium honors went to the final jump-off contenders, Daniel Bluman (ISR) and Ubiluc. Having seen the entirety of the jump-off class play out, Bluman piloted the Over The Top Stables’ 10-year-old Mecklenburg gelding (Ubiko x Lucian) across the track in top form and took over the third-place position after landing double clear in 40.43 seconds.
“In a jump-off like this where there are a lot of fast riders, you just have to ride the best possible plan for your particular horse,” described Bluman. “At the end of the day, with this incredible group of horses and riders, it all comes down to how fast your horse can move his feet or you may have to start taking some risks that are perhaps not worth it. I’m very happy with the result today.”
Final Results – $216,000 PB Sports Commission Grand Prix CSI 4*
1) Darrgh Kenny (IRL) & Volnay du Boisdeville – 0 / 0 – 39.43
2) Mark McAuley (IRL) & Jasco vd Bisschop – 0 / 0 – 39.52
3) Daniel Bluman (IRL) & Ubiluc – 0 / 0 – 40.53
Source: Press Release by Summer Grace / Jennifer Wood Media, Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions / WEF – Winter Equestrian Festival
Photos: © Sportfot