May 22, 2016 - The Kentucky Spring Classic's main event, the $130,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix CSI3*, was an unforgettable one as Todd Minikus (USA) and Quality Girl pulled off their third FEI win for the week. The win was extra meaningful to Minikus as it honored his dear friend and horsewoman Mary Rena Murphy.
"I've been coming to the horse park since before it was cool to come to the horse park," said Minikus. "Mary Rena was putting on the horse shows here and she used to give me a lot of grief. At the same time, she was very nice and helped me along quite a bit. She was an awesome lady and did a lot for the sport. It makes me very happy to win the grand prix with her name attached to it. Her entire family has been instrumental to the horse park and this whole facility for decades now."
"Todd was one of my mom's bad boys and she loved him," said Renie Murphy, daughter of Mary Rena Murphy. "He's been trying for 17 years since she died to win this grand prix so the family is really happy. It's happy and sad, but we're glad that Todd won it - for our family."
Forty-one exhibitors went head-to-head over the challenging 14-fence first round course, designed by Olaf Petersen, where horses and riders were tested to their limits. Only three were able pass the test and jump clear to advance to the jump-off.
Minikus and Quality Girl, owned by the Quality Group, were nineteenth in the order-of-go and the first to jump clear.
"Tonight this was a proper course," said Minikus. "You had the time tight and some of those lines were very sophisticated. The combination rode scopey, and I think it ended up being a great class for the crowd."
Shane Sweetnam (IRL) piloted Chaqui Z, owned by Spy Coast Farm, to a faultless effort five rounds later to challenge Minikus in a jump-off.
"The course was jumping difficult, but I got to watch a few so I had a plan," said Sweetnam. "I wasn't sure if I'd be inside the time because there weren't so many options, but he can turn very tight. He jumped really well. I thought he was a little fresh tonight, maybe fresher than normal, but he still jumped very well.
"Olaf did a great job," continued Sweetnam. "Time definitely played a factor and then you had a few tricky options. The lines got very tight coming home. I think the course tripped up people everywhere, but it was definitely a difficult last line."
It looked as if the two would go head-to-head for the top prize once again, after Sweetnam already placed second to Minikus in Thursday's $35,000 Welcome Speed CSI3* with Cyklon 1083, but Daniela Stransky (VEN) added herself to the good list as the last contenders in the first round aboard Stransky's Misson Farms' HH Donnatella.
"I just wanted to take it jump by jump," said Stransky. "It's my first big class on her; I really wanted to take it slow, jump by jump and just have a nice, cool head - no emotions. It really paid off - every single ounce of effort this whole weekend. I love that mare, and she loves me, thank God!"
Minikus and Quality Girl entered the ring once again as the first to tackle the jump-off course. They set the pace for Sweetnam and Stransky, producing another double-clear round, in 40.70 seconds.
Sweetnam and Chaqui Z tried their luck next but pulled an unfortunate rail to earn them a 4-fault jump-off finish in 43.92 seconds, which would garner them second place honors.
"Luckily, or unfortunately, I got to see Todd go so I knew I really had to go," said Sweetnam. "I think I did one less up the first line and then the second line it made me very flat and then that flattened the plank. I could maybe try all day to beat Todd's time because that mare is very, very fast and he did everything right. He did a great job."
"I was nineteenth in the original order and no one had gone clear," said Minikus. "It rode tricky and, between her and I, we're not short of experience. She went great and Shane is a very fast rider so I really thought I needed to go in the first part of that jump-off and put enough pressure on Shane. He tried to do the leave-out and got his horse undone just a little bit and had the plank down so it worked out for us."
It was all up to Stransky to catch Minikus. However, the new pair could not match the seasoned partnership of Minikus and Quality Girl. They finished with a 4-fault effort in 44.66 seconds, claiming a very respectable third place.
"She's a very new horse for me," said Stransky. "I've had her for less than a year. This is my third grand prix on her ever - in my life, actually. I could not have been happier. I actually went against my favorite rider Todd Minikus, which is kind of funny, and I don't like him anymore because he beat me. I'm beyond happy and - just wow!"
After winning both the $35,000 Welcome Speed CSI3* and the $35,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic CSI3*, Minikus and Quality Girl wrap-up a phenomenal Kentucky Spring Classic with their third win in a row.
"My mare was awesome this week," said Minikus. "I was in Europe for the past couple of weeks and I haven't really ridden her since the Ocala million. For a couple of months, I really didn't ride her. I've got to thank my wife, Amanda, who was very diligent at home working her and giving her a couple of schools before we came here to the horse show."
Next week Minikus heads back to Europe, where he will represent the U.S. next at CSIO5* St. Gallen in Switzerland along with teammates Lucy Davis, Margie Engle, Lauren Hough and Reed Kessler as he continues to compete for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Team.
However, he will return to the U.S. in June to compete Quality Girl in the $380,000 Tryon Grand Prix CSI5*.
Results: $130,000 Mary Rena Murphy CSI3* Grand Prix
1 1482 QUALITY GIRL TODD MINIKUS 0 73.870 0 40.700
2 937 CHAQUI Z SHANE SWEETNAM 0 76.520 4 43.920
3 1026 HH DONNATELLA DANIELA STRANSKY 0 76.240 4 44.660
4 769 CATYPSO ERIC NAVET 1 78.270
5 654 AUCKLAND DE L'ENCLOS SHARN WORDLEY 1 79.280
6 491 VASCO ADAM PRUDENT 4 72.580
7 1297 BARNETTA SHARN WORDLEY 4 74.320
8 511 QUIDAM'S GOOD LUCK AARON VALE 4 74.780
9 408 CARRABIS Z RICHIE MOLONEY 4 75.390
10 603 BARIANO EUGENIO GARZA 4 76.290
11 526 FINOU 4 AARON VALE 4 76.310
12 64 HITCHCOCK VD BROEKKANT ALISE OKEN 4 76.800
Aaron Vale Demonstrates Skills in Hunter Ring with $5,000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby Win
Hunter riders braved the rain Saturday in the Stonelea Ring to compete in the second leg of the $40,0000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby series. Aaron Vale and Madewell were on top in the $5,000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby, followed by last week's winner Geoffrey Hesslink and Esco in second place and Ally Marrinan and At Last rounding out the top three.
The $5,000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby is part of the $40,0000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby series, which is returning for the fifth year in a row at the Kentucky Horse Park. The five-part series awards a $15,000 Hallway Feeds Leading Rider Bonus presented at the conclusion of the series.
Vale took the lead in the first round on Madewell, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, with a score of 90, taking all four high options on the Bobby Murphy-designed course.
"Last week I only took three high options," Vale explained. "One option was ridiculously high last week so I skipped that. This week all the options were doable. It was just a nice, smooth course in spite of the weather. He was really settled and a bit more relaxed than last week so I was able to ride him around pretty smoothly. It was good fun."
Vale returned in the handy round, again taking all four high options, scoring an 87.5 and a cumulative score of 177.5.
"My handy round plan was to take the inside turns, jump the high options and try not to get too greedy where you make a mistake," Vale said. "I have to watch that. I want to get aggressive - I want to go fast. You have to just keep your patience, make the turns, be smooth and not try to overdo it."
The derby course challenged horses and riders today even on fences that, at first glance, seemed inviting.
"It was kind of a hard turn to the brush on the end," Vale said. "That was kind of tricky in both rounds. Even the first round horses didn't jump this option fence really well. You'd think they would because it's all brush and solid, but for whatever reason a few of them jumped a bit out of shape. Just being patient to that jump and making sure you got a distance so the horse didn't make a mistake was important."
Geoffrey Hesslink won last week's $5,000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby aboard Rookie, and he was the series' leader coming into this week's class with Esco, an 8-year-old Rhinelander gelding. Hesslink posted a score of 81 in the first round, taking all four of the handy options.
"I went second in the order and it was raining so I was a little conservative in round one," Hesslink said.
Hesslink and Esco returned in the handy round to earn the score of 89, taking all four handy options again.
"For the handy course I thought he was on it," Hesslink said. "I thought he executed it perfectly, and he did everything I asked him. We ended up second, and he was really good today. The rain didn't bother him at all, I think it bothered me more than him."
Hesslink was enthusiastic about continuing to compete in the $40,0000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby series throughout the rest of the summer.
"That's one of my goals for this year," Hesslink said. "It wasn't one that I was thinking, but after last week and this week, it is. I think it's a great class and they do a great job with it so I'm pretty sure I'm going to continue with it because we are going to be here for all of the summer shows."
Vale echoed Hesslink's sentiments.
"Anything that has a bonus is nice," said Vale. "Now we have more reasons to try to put Kentucky Horse Shows on our summer schedule because the Hallway shows are going to be the same shows that have the Hagyard classes, and I'm doing well in both of them."
The Kentucky Spring Classic, running through May 22, features a FEI CSI3* rating. The featured national classes will be the $50,000 Bluegrass Grand Prix, which counts towards the Rolex/USEF Show Jumping Ranking List, and the $25,000 Under 25 Grand Prix to be held on Sunday, May 22, in the Rolex Stadium.
EQSportsNet will be streaming live webcasts throughout the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows. EQSportsNet Full Access subscribers can watch all rounds of the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows series on demand atwww.eqsports.net.
For more information on the Kentucky Horse Shows, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.