Wellington, Florida, USA – March 18, 2023 – Saturday Night Lights once again gave spectators what they had come for, providing excitement right down to the wire at the International Arena of the Wellington International equestrian venue. As the feature attraction of the tenth week of the 2023 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), the $226,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 4* attracted some of the best riders in the world and their high-flying beasts.
Forty-five combinations challenged the course designed by Andy Christiansen Jr. (ECU) and despite being the trailblazers, Lacey Gilbertson (USA) and Karlin van`t Vannehof not only showed the way but served as a reference for those trying to qualify for tiebreaker, not only leaving all the poles up but also completing the course within the time allowed of seconds. The first few entries were very successful and Gilbertson was soon joined by Jessica Springsteen (USA), Amanda Derbyshire (GBR), Lillie Keenan (USA) and Darragh Kenny (IRL) . However, after that, there was a “drought” in the second group of riders and for quite some time nobody answered all the questions as the skinny and penultimate vertical took a toll on competitors.
Nicole Shahinian-Simpson (USA) put an end to the bad streak, joining the group of finalist, along with Kent Farrington (USA), Richard Vogel (USA) and Laura Kraut (USA), bringing the total number to 9 participants for what promised to be a thrilling jump-off.
Once again, Gilbertson led the way in the decisive round, dashing towards and getting a little too deep which caused the top pole to fall down. Springsteen (USA) and Don Juan van de Donkhoeve were both clean and and quite fast, setting the benchmark with a performance in 39.58 seconds.
After that it was more of a “Fast & Furious” challenge, with pairs either trying to go faster and faster or to take the pressure off the pedal due to penalty-points along the way in the race against the clock. Amanda Derbyshire (GBR) had one down with Cornwal BH but Lillie Keenan (USA) and Agana van het Gerendal not only cleared all the obstacles but lowered the mark to 39.10 seconds, taking over the lead.
Not for long, as Keenan was surpassed by the next rider, her partner, Darragh Kenny (IRL), whose turns on Amsterdam 27 were a bit tighter
Past grand prix winners at the venue, Nicole Shahinian-Simpson (USA) and Akuna Mattata delivered again, setting the new mark in 37.94 seconds. There were three more contestants to come, all of them of world-class level.
Richard Vogel (GER) and Cepano Baloubet were off to the races early on but two rails fell along the way. Up next was the former world number rider in the world, Kent Farrington (USA), and he did not disappoint. Despite having competed in only one CSI 4* ever before Toulayna, the 9-year-old bay Zangersheide mare (Toulon x Parco) showed signs of greatness answering to all of Farrington’s commands to take over the top spot in 37.38 seconds.
“This is definitely the biggest track she’s jumped,” said Farrington of the mare that was also third in the NetJets CSI4* Grand Prix during WEF 3. “I have high hopes for this horse. She’s fast, careful and everything I like in a show jumper.”
One more combination to go, who was going to claim the coveted crown? As the last one to go, Laura Kraut (USA) had the chance to defend the title she had conquered last year with Confu. She was amazing with Baloutinue right up to the wire, being over two seconds faster than the eventual winners but unfortunately too much nitro was used up on the way to the last obstacle and Kraut “fit in” the stride to approach it properly, knocking poles down and seeing victory slip away from her fingers. What a class!
“I’m very confident on this horse and that’s the way I like to do it; get them when they are young and produce them myself so I know them quite well,” said Farrington, even if they are green stepping up to this level, I know where I can take a shot.
“[Toulayna] is extremely sharp and I was very quick to the verticals,” stated Farrington. “Taking a run down to that single is probably where I made up some time. She has a big stride, but I wasn’t sure if I could get eight strides to the last jump. She jumped so strong out of the double, it was easy.”
Toulayna has met his expectaions. “She’s a very high strung horse with a lot of blood and very sharp, but I try to keep the horses fresh and interested in the job because it’s a long season here. She’s done four weeks this season and I think that’s plenty. We will hit the trails now and just chill out.”
Final Results – $226,000 Horseware Ireland Prix CSI 4*
1) Kent Farrington (USA) & Toulayna – 0 / 0 – 37.38
2) Nicole Shahinian-Simpson (USA) & Akuna Mattata – 0 / 0 – 37.94
3) Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Amsterdam 27 – 0 / 0 – 38.53
Text: Jumper News, no reproduction without permission.
Source Interview: Press Release from ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions
Photos: © Wellington International / Sportfot / Maddy Lima & Hannah Stephens
Categories: CSI 4*, Winter Equestrian Festival