March 6, 2016 - Week eight of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) concluded on Sunday, March 6, with a win for Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Red Star d'Argent in the $216,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSIO 4*. Riders representing five different countries qualified for the jump-off, with Kenny leading the way for Ireland over Colombia's Roberto Teran Jr. and Woklahoma in second, and Australia's Matt Williams aboard Valinski S in third.
The Hollow Creek Farm FEI Children's, Junior, and Young Rider divisions also concluded the week with their grand prix classes Sunday morning. Mexico's Luciana Gonzalez Guerra and Zidane won the Children's Grand Prix, Mexico's Carlos Hank Guerreiro and Golden Horta topped the Junior Grand Prix, and Victoria Colvin (USA) and another Zidane were victorious in the Young Rider Grand Prix.
USA's Steve Stephens and Ken Krome were the course designers in the International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) for CSIO week at WEF. In their final competition of the week, Stephens and Krome saw 50 entries in the Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix, with five riders qualifying for the jump-off.
Matt Williams and Wyndmont's Valinski S were first to qualify, and first to return for the short course, completing the track without fault in the third place time of 45.79 seconds. Roberto Teran, Jr. was next to jump-off aboard Ark Partners' Woklahoma, with another clear round and a faster time of 44.89 to finish second. Next in the ring, Darragh Kenny and Red Star d'Argent clocked the winning time of 42.83 seconds. Hardin Towell (USA) and Jennifer Gates' Emilie de Diamant AS had one rail down in 46.84 seconds to finish fifth. Last to go, Ben Maher (GBR) and Jane Clark's Sarena also dropped a rail, but finished in a faster time of 44.43 seconds to place fourth.
Red Star d'Argent is an 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding (by Quick Star) that Kenny's Oakland Ventures owns in partnership with Spanish rider Sergio Alvarez Moya. This was the second win of the circuit for the newly paired duo, who also topped the $130,000 Grand Prix CSI 3* during week six competition at The Stadium at PBIEC.
Speaking of their partnership and what he has learned about the gelding over the last several weeks, Kenny remarked, "I am learning that he is a really good horse. He can go anywhere and do anything at the moment. The horse gives me a great feeling every time I jump him; he is getting better and better."
"I was working a lot with the rideability, and getting him confident, and feeling confident with me," Kenny explained. "Today, I must say he jumped excellent from the word go. He felt super. He feels really happy and he is jumping great. Up until this week I had never even jumped him over the water. I called Sergio on Wednesday and was like, 'Does he jump the water?' I must say, I am lucky to have the horse, and Sergio is great. He puts no pressure on me and lets me do what I want with the horse, and it is paying off. He is going to want him back next week!"
Kenny had the opportunity to watch Williams complete his jump-off round before he entered the ring, and had an idea of what he needed to do to get the win.
"I watched Matt go, and Matt's horse was amazing and he had a super round," Kenny stated. "I felt that I just wanted to go as fast as I felt comfortable. I know the horse is very fast. I know I did one less stride after the black skinny, and I just had a feeling where I was and that I was up a little bit (on the time). I did not realize I was going as fast as I was, but it ended up being great."
"He is just a great horse; it does not matter you do with him," Kenny continued. "You can go fast, slow, deep, long and he just wants to jump the jumps, and that is what a great horse does. He has been stepping up every time. I did not know what he was going to do today. He was very good week six, and I gave him week seven light, and I knew my plan was to gradually build him up towards this grand prix. Right now my plans are working."
Roberto Teran, Jr. has had his mount, Woklahoma, for three years and continues to earn very consistent results with the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Sheraton x Calvados).
"She has been improving month-by-month, year-by-year, and now she is at a point where she is a very good Nations' Cup horse," Teran detailed. "She went to the Pan American Games and was outstanding. Our goal is to make it to Rio in good shape. Now it is about good management to get us from here to there in the best condition possible. She is super careful, super serious, and is getting better everyday. She is a dream to ride."
Matt Williams also has his sights set on the Olympic Games in Rio and has a great new partnership with Valinski S, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Nijinski x Julius.
"I have not had him that long. I got him at the beginning of the winter and every time he has gone in a big grand prix, he has been clear or four faults, so he is consistent and giving me a great feeling," Williams said of his mount. "He jumps with a lot of heart, so at the moment I just have to keep him fresh and hopefully it will keep going to way it is going."
Speaking of his opening ride in the jump-off, Williams noted, "I have not jumped this grand prix in four years, and the last time I did it, I was first to go in the jump-off as well, but unfortunately there were 12 in the jump-off that time and it did not work out as well. I went out there today with an idea to do as much as I could and leave the jumps up. I got a little bit wide to the last jump. I drifted out a little bit, but I do not think I would have gone any quicker if I was after Darragh. I would not have been able to catch him; his round was as good as it comes."
Red Star d'Argent's groom, Nickki O'Donovan, accepted the Groom's Initiative Award presented by Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners, to reward her dedication and hard work as an integral member of the winning team.
Kenny was also presented the Niall Grimes "Cheers" Perpetual Trophy, which is presented each year to the top Irish rider during the CSIO Nations' Cup week.
Another special award was presented to fellow Irishman Conor Swail. Swail earned the Kate Nash Boone Style Award as the international equestrian who exemplifies best style of riding along with maintaining a sportsmanlike composure while competing in the CSIO Nations' Cup week at WEF.
Canada's Tiffany Foster was also presented the award for Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider for week eight, an award sponsored by Martha Jolicoeur of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.