Lexington, KY - May 8, 2014 - It was déjà vu at the Kentucky Horse Park this evening as Venezuela's Pablo Barrios galloped through the timers with a win in the first $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic of the season aboard Zara Leandra. The talented combination won last year' s kick-off to the series and eventually captured the $50,000 Hagyard Leading Rider Bonus. Barrios and Zara Leandra have continued to improve their partnership over the last year, and it paid off when they crossed the jump-off finish line ahead of pathfinders Hector Florentino and Anemone's Vicky. Florentino had to settle for second place, while Olympian Margie Engle and Indigo took home the third place award.
"Zara Leandra felt great," smiled Barrios after leading the victory gallop. "She jumped really good here. She has one more year of experience, and she's even faster now. She's going for the next jump much better, and she's always jumped better in the jump-off. She likes it here, and that's why she wins so many classes here."
Fifty-four competitors turned out for tonight's first leg of the Hagyard Challenge Series, but only nine managed to complete Richard Jeffery's first round track without error and advance to the jump-off. "The combinations were very short," said Barrios of the first course. "I think for small horses, like Hector's horse, it fit very well. The lines and the combinations, starting with a very short five, were set more for a small stride horse than a big stride horse. Zara Leandra has more experience though, so she needs to be ready to handle these short combinations, and she did it great."
The Dominican Republic's Hector Florentino was the first to return with Anemone's Vicky, owned by Stransky's Mission Farms, and they set the pace to beat as they left all the rails intact and crossed the finish line in 41.66 seconds. The next clear round came from Margie Engle and Indigo, but they were just shy of Florentino's time and stopped the clock at 43.08 seconds.
"My plan was that I was to go all out," said Florentino. "I think I went pretty fast. I maybe slowed up a little bit to the vertical; I wanted to be careful there, but the rest I felt I was pretty fast."
Florentino added, " I've been riding Anemone's Vicky for almost a year now, and we have been getting along. She's a hot horse. She's a little bit electric. She wants to go, but she also wants to be careful. I can take advantage of classes like this because she likes to go fast."The only combination able to beat the barrier created by Floretino was the veteran duo of Pablo Barrios and Zara Leandra. Showcasing their winning ways, they made a sharp right turn to a skinny vertical that paid off big time as they blazed across the finish in 40.29 seconds to capture the victory for the second year in a row.
"It was pretty close," admitted Barrios. "Hector's mare is really fast. I think I made a very nice turn to the skinny. I almost felt like I would run out because she saw the skinny at the last minute. Then, after the in-and-out, she landed and went quick to the vertical."
The only other riders to produce clear rounds after Barrios were Callan Solem aboard VDL Torlando for Torlando Group, and Great Britain's Gemma Paternoster riding Osiris, but they were each over four seconds slower to finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
Barrios and Zara Leandra kicked off their partnership at the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows in 2012 in the 8-Year-Old Jumpers, and they have continued to improve, now aiming for the Central American Games in November. Although Barrios and Zara Leandra have qualified for the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France this summer, the focus of the country is on having success at the Central American Games, in order to qualify for the Pan American Games and the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
"The medal in the Central American Games is more important," explained Barrios. "Last year, I took her on two major trips, in addition to the summer in Calgary, and at the end of the year she was a little tired. I think trips to the World Equestrian Games and the Central American Games would be a lot. I want to take her, but I'm probably going to go and try and qualify another one."
Although Zara Leandra acquired her fair share of wins last year, she has only continued to improve. "Spruce Meadows is where she really made the big change," noted Barrios. "She struggled a bit the first two weeks, and then the rest of the time she went clear in every class. She was struggling with the back rails, but then she got it and went clear six classes in a row."
Barrios added, "I think she's the type of horse that everybody wants. She's careful, honest and fast. I'm honored to have her and to be able to ride her. I've never had the opportunity before to have horse that is that smart and clever. She puts in a lot of effort, and she can do it. She has a big heart; she's very confident, and I love that. I would not change anything about her."
The other major focus for Barrios this year will be winning the $50,000 Hagyard Leading Rider Bonus. Tonight's event was the leadoff class for the seven-part Hagyard Challenge Series. "I really want to win it," he stated. "That's why I put four horses here today! I own a lot of my own horses so that helps with the expenses. That bonus helps a lot, especially at the end of the year when you have to pay stalls at WEF."
The jumper action at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show will continue tomorrow with the 1.45m Open Jumpers and the Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers in the Rolex Stadium. This week's highlight events also include Saturday morning's $20,000 Bluegrass Classic and the $75, 000 Commonwealth Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.
For more information about the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
RESULTS: $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic
1 276 ZARA LEANDRA PABLO BARRIOS 0 0 0 79.541 0 0 0 40.296
2 343 ANEMONE'S VICKY HECTOR FLORENTINO 0 0 0 76.800 0 0 0 41.660
3 669 INDIGO MARGIE ENGLE 0 0 0 79.667 0 0 0 43.085
4 552 VDL TORLANDO CALLAN SOLEM 0 0 0 80.637 0 0 0 44.196
5 65 OSIRIS GEMMA PATERNOSTER 0 0 0 83.932 0 0 0 45.353
6 610 BARIANO EUGENIO GARZA 0 0 0 77.650 4 0 4 39.852
7 833 NATIF DES ROCHES EMANUEL ANDRADE 0 0 0 78.540 4 0 4 40.677
8 626 ZORRO PETER WYLDE 0 0 0 78.971 4 0 4 41.943
9 1015 E-MUSE YEK SIMON NIZRI 0 0 0 78.773 4 0 4 43.223
10 772 WINTER DENISE WILSON 4 0 4 77.050
11 1036 WOODSTOCK O KALVIN DOBBS 4 0 4 77.147
12 399 MULLAGHDRIN RADO ALEX GRANATO 4 0 4 77.513