Friday, May. 31, 2024

Kenny Makes A Killing In Battenkill Grand Prix

The newly imported Irishman takes home the lion's share of the prizes.

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The newly imported Irishman takes home the lion’s share of the prizes.

Riding four of the 17 horses entered in the $30,000 Battenkill Grand Prix proved to be a piece of cake for Darragh Kenny, as he and Palona, Obelix, Bazooka de Muze and Gael Force leapt to the first, second, sixth and eighth spots, respectively, at the Manchester Summer Festival in East Dorset, Vt, July 8-12. 

The 21-year-old from County Offaly, Ireland, who rides for John Brennan and Missy Clark’s North Run in Warren, Vt., picked up $18,000 between the four horses, beating himself as the last rider to go in the jump-off.

“She’s a super, super mare, very careful and very scopey. She’s really a brilliant horse,” said Kenny of Palona, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Alex Arute and Olympic Dreams LLC.

Kenny finished second to himself on Obelix, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Trade Winds Farm with whom he also won the $10,000 Betsey Johnson Welcome Stakes. Danielle Torano placed third on Sir Ruly Inc.’s Vancouver D’Auvray, while Christy McCormack took fourth aboard Missy Clark and North Run’s Perle JRF.

Anthony D’Ambrosio designed a 13-effort course that asked questions in all the right places without discouraging any of the horse-and-rider combinations. Although the first two jumps stood at a mere 1.30 meters, the track quickly increased in size and technicality. Fence 12, a 1.50-meter vertical, proved to be a bogey fence for many of the day’s four-fault combinations. Fence 13, the final jump, elicited groans from spectators as Torano and her powerful chestnut Ormsby Hill nicked the front rail. But the course proved to be a fair one, allowing five to advance.

Torano and Vancouver D’Auvray were first to return for the jump-off, setting the time to beat at 37.91 seconds. But Kenny soon made it clear that he was in the class to win, shaving nearly two seconds off at 35.82 aboard Obelix.

Next was McCormack, Kenny’s barn mate, who stopped the clock at 38.20. Their quick inside turn to the liverpool oxer, the fifth effort of the jump-off, couldn’t quite make up for their conservative pace. Candice King followed suit with Skara Glen’s Rebozo, but her wider turns coupled with the stallion’s playful bucks cost them precious seconds as they finished with a time of 39.47 seconds.

“There was no point going in the ring to finish second,” joked the up-and-coming Irishman of returning last with Palona in the jump-off. “I said I might as well go in and have a go. The mare is so good and fast across the ground that you’re never going to be slow with her anyway. I did a turn on [Obelix] that I didn’t do on her, so I didn’t know if I’d get the time, but you can just keep running at the fences with her. She wants to win.”

Kenny outdid his time on Obelix by picking up a gallop to jump 6 in the jump-off, a wide and imposing oxer off a long approach. Palona responded eagerly, turning sharply after the big jump to save time on the way to the final two fences and ultimately stopped the clock at 35.45 seconds.

Although Kenny has only ridden the talented mare for a month, he was extremely grateful for the time he gets to spend on her and all of the other horses he shows.

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“It’s fantastic to get the chance, I love getting to ride that many. Missy and John have two fantastic horses of their own [Bazooka De Muze and Gael Force], and I am so thankful to the owners of both Palona and Obelix,” he added. “They’re great owners to let me jump the horses and show them and keep going with them. I am so thankful to Missy and John.”

Kenny began working for North Run after receiving a scholarship in 2007. Brennan, Clark and Kenny came to an agreement at the end the winter circuit in Wellington, Fla., this year that allowed the young Irishman to work full time and move to their facility in Vermont.

“They’re the best people I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “It’s fun to work for them. I’m getting such a great chance, and I’m riding fantastic horses.”

On A Roll

Although neither Alexandra Vespico nor her mount Felicci have completed many rounds in the junior hunter ring, the pair certainly seems to be making up for lost time. The 17-year-old collected the small junior hunter, 16-17, tricolor for the second week in a row.

“He’s my first real junior hunter,” she said. “He’s so easy, so straightforward. It’s like riding a large pony.”

Vespico, Reading, Pa., keeps her horses at Stacey Schaefer’s farm in Westminster, Md., and she also enlists the expertise of Kim Stewart to help her at home and in the show ring.

“I love Kim,” she said. “I used to ride with her years and years ago, and I just started riding with her again last summer. I feel very comfortable with her, and everything she tells me works out.”

Unfortunately, Stewart couldn’t attend the first two weeks of the six-week circuit, so she decided to leave her clients in the capable hands of hunter expert Lainie Wimberly. The last-minute change of trainers didn’t seem to affect Vespico, though. She came home with three blue ribbons and a yellow over fences and second place in the under saddle.

“It’s been great riding with Lainie, and we’ve had a lot of fun with her. She’s really, really good,” said Vespico. “We miss Kim, and we wish she could have come, but I’ve had a great time training with [Lainie].”

Although Vespico lives two hours away from the Schaefers’ farm, she wouldn’t consider boarding anywhere else.

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“Samantha [Schaefer, Stacey’s daughter,] is my best friend,” said Vespico. “We grew up together, and we’ve been best friends for a while. And Stacey’s like my second mother. When I was younger and I couldn’t drive, I lived at their house pretty much for summers.”

She manages to stay sharp in the tack by going over to ride on the weekends, and then she’ll make sure to practice a day or two before the show. Fortunately, Felicci, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood, doesn’t require too much preparation for the show ring.

“He’s very quiet. He takes a lot of leg. It’s a lot of work the whole way around. I ride him in big spurs,” said Vespico with a laugh. “But he’s very easy to the jumps. Once you get him going, he’s on it.”

A Family Affair

Isabel Portela is another rider who considers her trainer family. The rising high school sophomore from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., just started training with Jimmy Torano at shows, but he’s a long-time friend of her parents, Fernando and Daryl Portela. She credited him, as well as her parents, with helping her clinch the children’s hunter, 14-17, championship aboard Damiro, a 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding.

“This is my third week with [Torano],” said Portela, 14. “It’s fun. I like it better [than riding with my parents]. It’s more of a trainer-student relationship than a parent-child relationship, but I’ve known him since I was born.”

Portela just started leasing Damiro from family friend Sarah Benach. “He’s spoiled with a lot of treats! But he’s really quiet, he’s slow, and he’s really, really good,” she said. “He’s slow, but then he jumps really high and powerful.

“It’s fun when you go to the big horse shows to compete against good people,” she added, “because if you win against good people it means you’re that much better.”

Portela certainly proved herself as she and Damiro bested a competitive field of 24 horses, claiming first and second over fences as a well as a blue ribbon in the under saddle.

Her sights, however, are set on even more competitive divisions. Big sister Lindsay, 18, shows in the junior hunters, equitation and junior jumper divisions on horses that grandfather James B. Pirtle owns. She hopes that Isabel will follow in her footsteps and make a name for herself in all three rings.

“Isabel is definitely going places,” said Lindsay with a laugh. “She rides well, she loves what she does, and she’s good at it!”

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