The highlight class of the third week at the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) was the $132,000 Adequan® Grand Prix CSI 3*. Victory in the “Saturday Night Lights” event went to Ireland’s Darragh Kenny on Cassini Z, owned by Bowers Cone, LLC. WEF continues through April 1 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL, and offers more than $9 million in prize money.
Saturday night’s grand prix had 45 entries over a course designed by Peter Grant of Canada. There were 16 clears, making for a very competitive and fast jump-off. The best of the bunch was Kenny on Cassini Z, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Cassini II x Capone. They went 12th in the jump-off and were chasing a time of 39.36 seconds set by Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) and Cristalline.
Kenny and Cassini Z were fast from the start and never let up to finish with a winning time of 38.21 seconds. Sternlicht and Cristalline finished in third. Slipping into second place just 2/100ths of a second slower than Kenny was Jessica Springsteen (USA) on RMF Swinny du Parc, owned by Rushy Marsh Farm LLC, in 38.23 seconds.
“I think the two girls’ horses have quite a big stride,” Kenny said of the jump-off. “So, one to two, definitely Adrienne got there pulling at the end. For me, it was running the whole way. I think my horse just kept running in all of the lines, so just gradually over the length of the course he made up the time. He’s very, very careful, so I don’t really have to worry about the jumps as much as the turning.”
Fourth place went to Jessica Mendoza (GBR) on her own Toy Boy in 40 seconds flat, while Jordan Coyle (IRL) and Andrew Kocher’s Eristov were fifth in 40.55 seconds.
It was quite a week for Kenny, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday with a win in the $35,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate FEI 1.45m Classic with Important de Muze. But it was not smooth sailing with Cassini Z, and Kenny struggled to gel with the horse in Thursday’s qualifier.
With a bridle and bit change and a smoother ride in Friday’s 1.40m class, Kenny felt more assured going into the Saturday night grand prix.
“I jumped him in the WEF, and I didn’t ride great,” he explained. “The bit didn’t feel great. I was actually very frustrated about it. I jumped the next day in the 1.40m in a different bridle, and it felt good. So then I went tonight in that bridle. He’s still green sometimes – like the first jump in the jump-off, I came in quite fast, but he just jumped really high and didn’t jump really far across it, so then the seven was very long one to two so I really had to go fast there and then he was just in a really fast rhythm so I just kept going with it.”
This was only the second grand prix in which Kenny has shown Cassini Z. Brought to him as a sale horse, his owner Ann Thompson stepped up to buy the horse for him just a week ago.
As the owner of tonight’s winning grand prix horse, Thompson was awarded a stay at The Brazilian Court Hotel in a luxury studio.
“It was an amazing experience for us for the first grand prix with her as my owner and with this horse, and it was a fantastic result,” he said.
Springsteen, 26, got the ride on RMF Swinny du Parc, a 12-year-old Selle Francais mare by Berlin x Laudanum, last summer.
“We kind of just clicked right away,” she said. “I feel really comfortable with her. She’s so naturally fast. She’s kind of easy to do in these jump-offs.”
Along with RMF Swinny du Parc, Springsteen has the ride on RMF Zecilie for Rushy Marsh Farm, noting, “They kind of really pull me, and I like that feeling, especially when you’re jumping these big classes. They’re both really sweet, really brave, confident, scopey, and really careful, so I’m excited.”
Springsteen was honored with the Martha Jolicoeur Leading Lady Rider Award for her consistency in week three.
Sternlicht made the crowd cheer when she took an unusual path from fence two in a rollback to fence three, the Adequan® wall. She and Cristalline, a 10-year-old Bavarian Warmblood mare by Cristallo 1 x Caretello B, jumped a hedge set up to direct riders around a gazebo.
She and her trainer, Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward, decided they “had to get a bit creative,” knowing that Cristalline does not have the same foot speed and is loftier in the air than others in the stacked jump-off field.
“It was exciting for me too,” said the 24-year-old with a smile. “We actually didn’t plan that when we walked. McLain told me that at two Olympics, he should have jumped the hedge and didn’t, so surely I could risk it in a three star grand prix. So I did! It was a unique experience for me and for my horse. She’s super brave. She actually responded better than I anticipated. We have to keep learning together.”