Darragh Kerins and E-Muse YEK were the winners of the $35,000 Grand Prix of Tampa. Photos By: Kendall Bierer/PMG.
Tampa, FL – March 31, 2013 – It was a jump-off for all the nations today on the concluding class of the Tampa Bay Classic. The Bob Thomas Equestrian Center was alive with heated jumper competition as riders gathered to contend for the top earnings in the $35,000 Grand Prix of Tampa. It was one of the last opportunities for riders to qualify for the $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational – the stakes were high. It came down to eight riders today, fighting to the finish, but Irishman Darragh Kerins and E-Muse YEK emerged the victors.
This afternoon, riders assembled beneath the Covered Arena to compete over courses designed by Michel Vaillancourt of Canada. The first round featured an imposing opening vertical-oxer line, followed by a left turn to a red oxer bending to the skinny liverpool. Riders were also challenged by a black vertical at the far end of the ring that led into the oxer-vertical-oxer triple combination set on the vertical. From there, they made a right hand turn to a green and white gate where they bended to the left over a daunting oxer, took a skinny vertical, and moved into the bending oxer line leading into the vertical-oxer double combination. With only once obstacle left, riders would seal their fate upon landing from the black plank oxer.
Darragh Kerins (IRL) was the first to tackle the track, piloting E-Muse YEK, owned by Kerins and Maarten Huygens, to a clear round, and paving the way to a possible jump-off. Although many other riders found fault throughout the course, the final oxer claimed the most victims. It wasn’t until Sharn Wordley and Quick Blue Z were on course, that a jump-off became reality.
Eight riders were able to lay down a clean first round, with five different countries represented. The short course consisted of the opening vertical-oxer line, a left turn to the third obstacle, and then a quick right through the double combination. Riders then had to slice the turn across the diagonal and take the liverpool to the vertical at the far end of the arena, and race to finish over the first oxer of the original triple combination where they would stop the clock.
Eventual victor Kerins commented, “I walked the course and I thought it was a bit difficult. Michel always builds very good courses. It is different for us that we come from outside to one the indoors and the turns are very tight. It was a great course, very well built, and it was a good number in the jump-off.”
Kerins was the first to return in the order of clear efforts, bursting out of the in gate with the grey gelding, E-Muse YEK. He decided to give the jump-off his all with his most recent mount, guiding him down the opening line in five strides, and utilizing all tight turns and slices to the best of their ability. The crowd was breathless as they cleared all the obstacles, and landed from the final oxer in a mere 36.576 seconds. He wore a target on his back as the other contenders attempted to lay down a similar track; however, his time would prove resilient and Kerins would take home the blue.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Kerins admitted. “I planned to do six down the first line, but I picked up the canter and he was a little out in front of me, so I thought I would take a chance and let him do the five. We took another challenge at the last fences as well, and it worked.”
“He’s a great horse, and that is the fastest that I have probably gone with him in a jump-off,” Kerins laughed. “He has a huge stride, lots of scope, and is very careful. We thought he was a bit of a slow one at the beginning. He has a lot of ability, but he lacks a bit of mileage at this point. We wanted to take him up here to see what he would be like, and it seemed to work out well.”
Sharn Wordley (NZL) was the next to showcase his mount’s skills on the course. Quick Blue Z easily navigated each obstacle, but Wordley was slightly more conservative in the turns to avoid Blue’s legs from slipping out. They left all the rails intact, but they were off Kerins’ pace by two seconds, proving good enough for the red ribbon with the final time of 38.586 seconds.
“During the first round I was just wanting to go clear. The time allowed was slightly tight, so you had to be aware of the time, and the last line was very tight, so you had to be careful,” Wordley stated. “Blue was a little ornery in the first round, bucking and kicking out a bit, but he really came through in the jump-off.”
Wordley elaborated, “In the jump-off I wanted to go medium fast. He doesn’t have good traction on the corners because he cross-canters, so I was afraid that if I went too fast he could slip out, or I could have a rail. I could have probably gone faster, but I wanted to go double clear. I’m very happy about the outcome, and I am excited for the American Invitational next week. This is my first real go at it, and I will be riding my other mount. Funny enough, I didn’t have a groom for this show, so I have been grooming myself. After the third place the other day and the second place today, I am thinking it is good luck. I plan on grooming my horse myself for the Invitational.”
Scott Keach (AUS) and Coco also jumped double clear, but their time of 41.196 seconds was only good enough for the fourth place honors. Erin Haas (USA) and Admiral Clover overtook the pair as they put their best foot forward to take the third place finish with a faultless jump-off in 38.643 seconds.
“This is the first Grand Prix I’ve gone clean in with him so I actually hadn’t looked at the jump-off course, and I didn’t put studs in him because I was more excited about just jumping the round. So now I know next week maybe we should be ready to get in the jump-off!” Haas exclaimed.
Haas continued, “With Aaron not having a horse in the jump-off, he told me to go fast. I thought I started out well and everything, but then he slid a bit after the blue in-and-out. So I slowed down just a bit. He’s the type that the faster you run him at the jumps the better he is. He’s really kind of a machine. He knows his job, and he loves to do it, so that’s why Aaron won just about every Grand Prix he did on him last year. I’m an amateur, and I still get excited – I need to get more comfortable at that level.”
Kerins was also able to snatch the fifth place award with Hot Wheels, owned by Sarah Kerins. They laid down a quick round in 38.197 seconds, but four faults stood in Kerins way of going 1-2. He has been riding Hot Wheels for about nine years, riding the horse in numerous classes, and taking the top awards.
“I haven’t shown him very much this winter; he is getting a little older now, so we have been more conservative with the classes,” Kerins explained. “When you do pull him out, he gives 110 percent, this is one of the bigger classes he has done in a while.”
It was Michael Hughes (USA) who nabbed the sixth and seventh place finishes with Luxina and MacArthur, respectively. Both horses are owned by Christina Fried, and Hughes guided them to speedy times, but four faults knocked each of the horses out of the running. Megan Wexler (USA) and Cadence took the eighth place finish with a final score of eight faults in 39.804 seconds.
The Tampa Equestrian Series’ first week, the Tampa Bay Classic, concluded today with the $35,000 Grand Prix of Tampa. The 41st Annual $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational, presented by G&C Farm, will be the highlight event on the final day of the Tampa Equestrian Series, the Tournament of Champions CSI, to be held April 6, 2013, at the Raymond James Stadium. The world’s top horses and riders will gather to compete under the lights during one of the premier show jumping events in the United States.
For more information about the Tampa Equestrian Festival, please visit www.StadiumJumping.com.
Kendall Bierer for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International