The penultimate week of competition at the 2023 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) ended at a high point for Ireland’s Darragh Kenny in the $226,000 Bainbridge Companies CSI4* Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon at Wellington International. The 35-year-old Irish Olympian continues to make his debut season with 13-year-old Hanoverian mare Vancouver Dreams a winning one.
With only U.S. challenger Lillie Keenan left to come behind him from a seven-horse jump-off, Kenny did just enough to keep the win in hand. Vancouver Dreams (Valentino 240 x Stakkato) broke the timers in 36.18 seconds over the Olaf Petersen Jr. (GER) designed track.
Kenny qualified for the grand prix during the Adequan® WEF Challenge Cup on Friday, but elected not to jump off with Vancouver Dreams, a strategy that paid on Sunday. “You don’t have to worry about the jumps in the jump-off, you just have to get the right spot. She’s an incredible horse.
“She’s like 15 out of 10 careful, so the most important thing is to get her to relax, come down a little bit and not stay up in the air,” said Kenny, who took over the ride on Vancouver Dreams at the start of the year after being handed the reins from Austria’s Max Kühner. “She tried her guts out today and was brilliant. You can’t help but love her.”
Keenan settled for second riding longtime partner Fasther (Vigo d Arsouilles STX x Farmer), owned by Chansonette Farm. They stopped the clock at 37.85 seconds. Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts rounded out the podium with a jump-off time of 38.11 seconds riding Luna van’t Ruytershof Z (Levisto Z x For Pleasure) for owners Team Philippaerts and Stuteri Arch.
Sunday’s grand prix marked Kenny’s second win of the season aboard Vancouver Dreams after claiming a 1.50m victory earlier in the season. Their success has come thanks to support on the ground from Germany’s Markus Beerbaum during the winter season in Wellington, FL.
“He’s excellent on the ground, and it’s nice to have someone else’s eyes on the horse,” said Kenny. “I’ve done a lot of it myself since working for Missy [Clark] and John [Brennan], and it’s nice to have someone like Markus with his experience and knowledge to help finish things off. When I got her, she was a bit tense and she would freeze a bit in the air. We have spent a lot of time trying to get her to relax and jump the jumps a bit softer.”
“She just jumps clear rounds,” concluded Kenny with a smile. He was presented as winner of the $226,000 Bainbridge Companies CSI4* Grand Prix by Richard and Jennifer Schechter from Bainbridge Companies.
To close the afternoon, winning groom and Vancouver Dreams’ caretaker Shauna Murray was honored with the $500 Grooms Award, presented by Double H Farm, by Quentin Judge, June Judge and Halle Innes.
Top five results: $226,000 Bainbridge Companies CSI4* Grand Prix
1. Darragh Kenny (IRL) & Vancouver Dreams: 2010 Hanoverian mare (Valentino 240 x Stakkato) Owner: Oakland Ventures
2. Lillie Keenan (USA) & Fasther: 2010 Dutch Warmblood gelding (Vigo d Arsouilles STX x Farmer) Owner: Chansonette Farm
3. Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) & H&M Luna van’t Ruytershof Z: 2012 Zangersheide mare (Levisto Z x For Pleasure) Owner: Team Philippaerts & Stuteri Arch
4. Samuel Hutton (GBR) & Casablanca-H: 2010 Hanoverian mare (Conteur x Landor S) Owner: HG Sportpaarden B.V.
5. Charlotte Jacobs (USA) & Edocenta: 2012 Oldenburg mare (Eldorado vd Zeshoek x Dobel’s Cento) Owner: North Star
Full results here.