In an all-Irish podium finish, Darragh Kenny piloted Amsterdam 27 (Mario Deslauriers‘ former ride) to clinch victory in the $385,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI5* Grand Prix during the first of four five-star weeks during ‘Saturday Night Lights’ at Wellington International’s 13-week Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The win ended a nearly two-year drought of five-star grand prix victories for the Irish Olympian. WEF hosts 12 weeks of FEI competition at Wellington International and runs through March 31.
Clear rounds were hard to come by early in the evening as course designer Gregory Bodo (FRA), who has been tapped as the builder for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris this summer, tested the riders.
Leading the way from the third position in the original order, Jordan Coyle (IRL) cracked the code with 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding For Gold (For Fashion x S-Heralda) for owner Falkirk Farm. Five more would follow on clears, including the likes of U.S. Olympic team silver medalist Kent Farrington, up-and-coming U.S. talent Natalie Dean, fellow Irishmen Cian O’Connor and Kenny, and Belgian Olympian Nicola Philippaerts.
In the end, the Irish flag flew high for Kenny and Amsterdam 27, a 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Catoki x Acord II) he owns together with Vlock Show Stables, LLC. They stopped the clock at 38.66 seconds hoping it was enough to hold off Farrington as the last to go. A rail fell for the U.S. rider and left the victory to Kenny.
“It’s a great result for all the Irish riders,” admitted Kenny, 36. “I think we work very hard when we’re here, and we try very hard to win always. Tonight really showed that we can do it when we need to.
“He’s an absolutely incredible horse; he’s the most talented animal I’ve ever sat on,” said Kenny of Amsterdam 27, the former Pan-American Games mount of Canada’s Mario Delauriers and Olympic mount of Kenny’s student and owner Teddy Vlock. “He’s quality, scopey, smart and has the ability to win anything. I just have to stay out of his way and let him do his thing.”
An injury sidelined Amsterdam 27 for a full year, but the horse is back and better than ever. “The vets didn’t really think he’d make it back, but he came back to this level now and he’s doing it better,” admitted Kenny.
Kenny represented Ireland in the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo and feels that Amsterdam 27 is the horse to give him a berth to this year’s games in Paris. His plan is to use WEF as that springboard.
“It’s at the highest level that it’s been in years and I think it’s going to get hotter and hotter as the circuit goes on,” said Kenny of the competition in Wellington. Combining the win with another podium in Thursday’s qualifier aboard Eddy Blue, Kenny won the Martha Jolicoeur Leading International Rider Award, presented together with Michael and Wendy Smith.
Kenny’s groom and Amsterdam 27’s caretaker Kelsi Ciona was presented with the $500 Grooms Award by Double H Farm.
O’Connor and new mount Maurice, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve) owned by Pat Crean took the runner-up position with a jump-off time of 39.36 seconds.
“Maurice is experienced; he did the European Championships last year with a Turkish rider and I saw him there in Milan last September and bought him after that,” said O’Connor. “We took it slow and it’s a long year so I plan to give him a break now and then build up for the end of the circuit.
“It’s fantastic to have three Irishmen in the top three. Jordan turned as only he can do and we agree it was a pity about the order,” laughed O’Connor. “They are great teammates and it certainly offers well for the Irish for the year ahead.”
Rounding out the podium as the trailblazer in both rounds, Coyle and For Gold settled for third in 39.69 seconds. The pair is still getting to know each other after For Gold joined Coyle’s string one year ago.
“I never had a horse like this ever,” admitted Coyle. “He’s a very genuine character and it took me a little time to believe in him, but hopefully it’s starting to click now.”
Of Bodo’s course, Coyle noted, “I thought it was pretty fair. The third-to-last jump caught a lot of people. If that hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here so I’m glad we were able to handle that well.”
Bodo is visiting the U.S. and Wellington International for the first time during the opening five-star competition of the season. “I think with my way of working, way of doing things, and with my ideas and philosophy, it brought something different to what you may be used to seeing here,” he said. “I stayed faithful to my way of working and I think it was a good job. It’s top-level here. I saw it on the first day that it’s no different than in Europe. I think it’s a place with horses that are ready and riders that are ready as well.”