Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Kerins Has The Luck O’ The Irish At The Hampton Classic

The $150,000 Prudential Financial Grand Prix was the biggest class Darragh Kerins had ever competed in. Just jumping clean in the first round was a dream come true.

Little did Kerins know that it would get even better, as he and Nabucco topped a field of three in the jump-off to claim the top check in the feature event of the Hampton Classic, held Aug. 29-Sept. 5 in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

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The $150,000 Prudential Financial Grand Prix was the biggest class Darragh Kerins had ever competed in. Just jumping clean in the first round was a dream come true.

Little did Kerins know that it would get even better, as he and Nabucco topped a field of three in the jump-off to claim the top check in the feature event of the Hampton Classic, held Aug. 29-Sept. 5 in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

“It was definitely luck of the Irish!” he said with a grin. “When I cleared the water at the end of the first round, I was amazed that I was on the verge of a clean round at the Hampton Classic. Then we hit the last fence and I almost blew it. Fortunately, the rail stayed up and I was in the jump-off. It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Out of 26 starters, only Kerins, Robin Sweely on Quarco VT Merelsnest, and Jeffery Welles on Armani jumped clean over Conrad Homfeld’s first-round course. Kerins jumped off first, leaving all the jumps up while whipping around a slick but calculated track in 47.29 seconds. Sweely tried to catch his time but fell short, jumping a clean round in 49.14 seconds. Welles beat Kerins’ time, but a rail at the second fence left him third.

Kerins, 29, arrived in the United States 10 years ago, “to check it out for six months,” he recalled wryly. He now runs a sales business out of Frank and Bonnie Cunniffe’s Whipstick Farm in South Salem, N.Y.

The Cunniffes own Nabucco, a 9-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding (Iroko-Iris), and Kerins rode him to ribbons in the $50,000 Empire State Grand Prix (N.Y.) and the $35,000 Old Salem Grand Prix (N.Y.) in May.

Kerins’ luck actually began earlier in the week, as he won the 5-Year-Old Young Jumper Championships-East Finals on Extraordinaire. Kerin’s father found Extraordinaire, by Calvados, in the Netherlands as a 3-year-old, and he sent him to Kerins in January. Junior rider Sarah Pankosky bought Extraordinaire in May but agreed to let Kerins compete the Dutch Warmblood gelding through the Young Jumper Finals.

Planning Pays Off

Welles may have settled for third in the $150,000 class, but victory was his the day before in the $25,000 Sally Hansen Grand Prix. Welles, of Ridgefield, Conn., rode Octavius, an 8-year-old stallion, to the win in a thrilling two-horse jump-off.

The first round took a toll on the 41-horse field. “You really needed a very careful horse to master that course,” he said. “The combinations were very tricky. Conrad [Homfeld] built a big, technical course, and the combinations were short with big oxers. You had to really ride them.”

Clare Bronfman and Katarina were the only other combination to conquer the first course, but they stopped the clock just a second later. “I happened to get [Welles] the fastest rider out of the whole field against me in the jump-off,” Bronfman said with a laugh. “I rode fast, but he’s faster. I take my hat off to him.”

Aimee Aron, 15, was the fastest in the $25,000 CK Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Derby, held over the natural jumps on the grand prix field. She rode Jamaica, an 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood mare, to the blue.

Aron, of Keswick, Va., started showing Jamaica, her partner of 4 1³2 years, in the children’s jumpers and worked her way up the ranks. The pair competed in the open jumpers in Europe this summer and at Spruce Meadows (Alta.) where she earned the Xerox Junior of the Year Award. “She’s amazing, and a fantastic derby horse,” said Aron.

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Some of that international experience paid off in the derby. “I knew there were some fast horses in [the jump-off], but I knew we were ready to take it. [My mare] is incredible, so we were just going to go in there and give it our all. She went well, and I’m really happy,” said Aron.

Natalie Johnson had to strategize to win the junior/amateur-owner jumper classic. “There was a really hard turn in the jump-off to a line that could have either been five or six strides,” she explained. “I caught a short jump in and did six, so it set me up well for the combination, which I thought was the hardest element in that course.”

Johnson, of Greenwich, Conn., rode the 13-year-old, Selle Franç¡©s gelding, Calino De Lexeaux, who she is leasing for the year. She rides with the team of Andre Dignelli, Kate Oliver and Patricia Griffith at Heritage Farm in Katonah, N.Y.

“I am really lucky I ride with Andre, because I get to practice at Heritage, which is an amazing facility. We get to practice at home over natural jumps, and he really understands a show like this and what the courses will be, so we are really able to prepare,” she said.

Natural Talent Over Natural Jumps

Being comfortable with natural jumps plays a key role in winning the CK Equitation Classic, a two-round class run on the grand prix field and incorporating the bank, open water and grob fences. The first round of the classic proved extremely challenging to the majority of the riders, especially the bank jump, and produced some unusually low scores.

Judge Linda Andrisani attributed the inability of many riders to tackle the natural obstacles to a lack of opportunities to practice over such elements.

“[The U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, N.J.] doesn’t have their field anymore, and there are few other places that offer an opportunity to get prepared for natural jumps,” she said. “The kids are in a very limited place, showing in rings. The key is how they react when they get into that situation, and they’re not used to reacting.”

Addison Phillips had all the right reactions, winning the class on her 9-year-old gelding, Icon. She came back for round 2 in second place, carrying a score of 91 from the first round. She rode a nearly flawless course, approaching each obstacle with a loose feel but tight precision. When she finished, the crowd erupted in cheers, knowing that she had clinched the victory. The judges agreed, awarding her the class high score of 95.

“This is one rider who, when placed on the hot seat, just gets it done,” explained Dignelli, who trains Phillips. “This is the kind of student that you feel confident having in the second position coming into day 2. You know she wants it, she’s prepared, and she’ll make it happen. She’s a natural rider.”

Phillips, of Greenwich, Conn., also won the large junior hunter, 15 and under, championship on Socrates. “He’s really straightforward and really sweet,” she said. “He’s also really careful, and he gives 100 percent every time he goes out.” She also rode Skyy to the small junior, 15 and under, tricolor.

Phillips wasn’t the only hunter rider Dignelli had in the winner’s circle. Daisy Johnson and her 10-year-old, Libre, earned the small junior hunter, 16-17, championship.

Johnson likes showing in big fields. Although she rides in the jumpers and the equitation, she likes the hunters the most. One of the highlights of her year was competing under the lights in the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular (Fla.) in February.

“Every time you go in the ring he’s ready to go. He was so great on the big field at the [AHJF Classic], and he went just like that here. He’s consistent and consistently good. That’s why I love him,” she said.

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Molly Ohrstrom wasn’t quite as sure of her mount, Truly, going into the Hampton Classic. She’d only bought the 6-year-old days before and was showing him for the first time. But Truly lived up to her hopes, winning the adult amateur classic and earning the championship in a section of the adult amateur, 18-35, division.

“I was nervous, but he just went in and marched around. He was a saint,” said Ohrstrom, of The Plains, Va. “He’s got a great rhythm and he’s easy and direct to the jumps.”

Trainer Scott Stewart bought Truly from Jimmy Torano this winter and had been showing him in the first year green classes. Truly also took the Hampton Classic’s green conformation reserve championship with Stewart.

“After seeing him go around so well with Scott, I wasn’t too worried,” said Ohrstrom. She’d also had the opportunity to ride another horse, Practical, around the courses. She won an adult amateur, 18-35, class with the 5-year-old, who she bought from Val Renihan, and also qualified him for the classic.

Cowboy Has A Rough Trip, But A Good Show

Sloan Lindemann Barnett and trainer Bill Cooney decided to pull Cowboy (an aged warmblood Barnett has owned for eight years) out of the field in which he had been grazing for two years to see if they could get him ready for this year’s Hampton Classic.

“If he felt like he could do it, great. If not, then we’d just retire him for good,” Barnett said of her seasoned amateur-owner and adult amateur hunter.

Cooney spent the weeks prior to the show getting him back in shape. All seemed fine as he coasted down Route 27 from Greenwich, Conn., on his way to the show grounds, but then, disaster stuck.

A driver coming the other direction veered wildly out of control, striking Cowboy’s van head on. Luckily, the driver of the horse van, the groom, and Cowboy walked away slightly injured, but alive. The driver of the other car was not so lucky.

After being involved in a fatal car accident, one would think that Barnett’s mount may have been too shaken up to make his grand re-entrance into the show ring, but this was not the case. Cowboy won three blue ribbons over fences and a second in the under saddle, easily clinching the grand adult amateur hunter championship and the tricolor in a section of the adult amateur hunter, 36-45 division.

“He’s my best pal,” Barnett said of Cowboy. “He’s just a divine horse. Also, he’s the only horse I’d put my kids on.”

Barnett has two children, ages 2 1³2 and 4, and this year was the first year she entered one of them in the leadline division. Cooney, her longtime trainer and friend, led them in.

“I’ve been riding with him for 22 years,” Barnett said. “He’s the ultimate trainer, and it is very emotional when I show. He taught me how to ride the hunters. He taught me a lot more then that. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t ride.”

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