As the Kentucky Horse Shows (KHS) Spring Series neared the finish line, fans, enthusiasts and athletes gathered around the famous Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park to watch one more international show jumping Grand Prix. Out of 34 horse-and-rider combinations, only one was fortunate enough to take home the coveted title: with an unbeatable jump-off time of 35.680 seconds, Lauren Balcomb (AUS) and Verdini d’Houtveld Z wowed the crowds and stood tall on the $145,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix CSI3* podium.
Tonight’s class was held in the honor and memory of Mary Rena Murphy, who was an integral part of the equestrian community during her time. Being a founding member of the Kentucky Hunter Jumper Association, Murphy acted as the glue for the equestrian event industry through her work as a horse show organizer. Many credit her for having a hand in the start of various top riders’ careers.
Bernardo Costa Cabral of Portugal handled the course design for the closing international Grand Prix of the KHS Spring Series, putting to use his experience as a Level 4 Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) course designer. Tonight’s track started on a diagonal oxer traveling towards the gate, quickly followed by a rollback to a six-stride line. After a tight triple-combination, riders were asked to jump a skinny vertical and a bending line to a two-stride, finishing the course on a rollback, an in-and-out and a vertical.
Despite Costa Cabral’s first round course not being for the faint of heart, the first three riders in the order managed to cross the timers without faults. As the fifth athlete to ride, many were not surprised by Shane Sweetnam’s (IRL), who currently ranks 10th on the Longines Rankings list for FEI show jumping, clear first effort within the time allowed of 77 seconds.
However, Cathleen Driscoll (USA), who won both last week’s and this week’s KHS $38,700 Welcome Speed CSI3* classes, had an unfortunate knock down in the triple combination. Many were also not expecting Luis Pedro Biraben and Chacco Bumpy’s five-fault finish after winning the $38,700 Kentucky Spring Classic CSI3* Thursday, May 18.
En masse, Costa Cabral left no room for guessing while the athletes navigated the eight-jump course, as five ended up retiring and six had time faults; yet, an impressive 15 contestants were able to advance to the jump-off.
The second course began over the same first oxer, setting riders up with challenges to overcome with various long approaches, jump-splicing options and only eight obstacle opportunities.
Balcomb and Verdini d’Houtveld Z rode first in the order in both rounds, and the Australian rider left very little room for improvement for those to come; she executed a clear 35.680-second jump-off. She was able to hold this lead for 14 combinations, making the pair the champion of the renowned Grand Prix.
Verdini d’Houtveld Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding, is owned by the athlete and was previously piloted by fellow competitor Sharn Wordley (NZL). The two are continuing this competition year holding onto three FEI-rated Grand Prix wins from 2022.
Aaron Vale (USA) and Cristo Beech, who placed second in Wednesday’s $38,700 Welcome Speed CSI3*, flew to the second double-clear of the order, taking a collected and careful approach to maintain the heights of the jumps throughout. Vale recently competed at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals after having won the qualifying class in Ocala, Fla. Despite having ridden Cristo Beech, a 12-year-old Anglo-European Studbook stallion owned by ThinksLikeAHorse and Alise Carrico, for only a little over a year, the pair have seen great success, including today’s third place finish.
It was Peter Petschenig of Austria and Ennebel van het Posthuijs that snagged Vale’s second place, utilizing intentional and thoughtful turns and stridings to set them up for their 37.970-second success. This finish marks their third FEI podium finish together. Having been brought along by talented athletes such as Olympians Dani G. Waldman (ISR) and Eduardo Pereiro de Menezes (BRA), Petschenig’s own 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare is sure to reel in more successful trips down the line.
After two weeks of competition, the KHS Spring Series show jumping action wraps up tomorrow with the $35,000 Bluegrass National Grand Prix in the Rolex Stadium.