The second leg of the 2016 Hagyard Challenge Series, sponsored by the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, was held on Thursday evening in the Rolex Stadium as the day's highlight event of the Kentucky Spring Classic. Todd Minikus (USA) took the top spot in the $35,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic CSI3*, and second consecutive FEI win for the week, aboard Quality Girl, besting a starting field of 61 and gaining valuable points towards the Hagyard Leading Rider Bonus.
"She's been a winner her whole career and the one thing you know about her is that at any given moment she could be the winner," said Minikus. "She generally tries hard every day. She's a professional show horse and that's what I love about her."
The Hagyard Challenge Series consists of seven grand prix classes to be held during the 2016 show series at the Kentucky Horse Park. Following the final event, a cash prize of $50,000 will be awarded to the rider accumulating the most points throughout the series as well as a $10,000 prize for the reserve champion.
Quality Girl, owned by the Quality Group, and Minikus were Wednesday's $35,000 Welcome Speed CSI3* champions and upheld their reputation for their consistent winning ways on Thursday.
Twenty horses and riders produced faultless efforts around the Olaf Petersen-designed first round course, advancing to the jump-off where only seven were able to finish double clear.
Andrew Ramsay (USA) and Stranger 30, owned by The Stranger Group, were third in the jump-off order-of-go, and were the early clear pathfinders of the shortened track, stopping the timers in 40.400 seconds.
Aaron Vale and Troy Glaus' Quidam's Good Luck jumped off four rounds later and laid down a blazing second round, catching Ramsay's time by one full second, in 39.000 seconds to earn the second place prize for the second week in a row. Ramsay and Stranger 30 went on to round out the top three of the class.
No one seemed able to come close to Vale's time, and it looked as if Vale would take the title, until 12 rounds later when the last jump-off contenders entered the ring — Minikus and Quality Girl. They achieved the unthinkable and caught Vale's impressively fast time by one full second, breaking the beam in 38.240 seconds.
"Aaron and I — we watched the first couple go together," said Minikus. "We were debating inside or around the gazebo, and we both thought that around was probably faster. Aaron looked quite fast as always but Quality Girl's an extremely fast horse. I think I came into the combination faster and that's where I probably nipped him.
"Aaron was fast so you had to nail it," continued Minikus. "If you didn't nail it you weren't going to catch him. So it worked out nice. I didn't really plan on going into the combination that fast but she did a good job of holding herself up over the back rail of the oxer and then slowing down for the vertical. That was a professional move she made at that combination."
"You know Todd's fast, and I watched Andrew go in the jump-off and he wasn't as fast as I've seen him ride, but I kind of got a decent judge of what the track was from watching him," said Vale. "In hindsight, if I'd have watched a few more go, there was maybe was an eight from one to two where we did nine. The vertical after the combination Todd caught really smooth. I just didn't. For me to leave one out there, it was a risk. It wasn't coming up good so I kind of had to fade and take one extra there just to make sure I jumped it clean. One down is tenth place so better off to put a stride in and be second than take it out and have one down."
Although Pablo Barrios won the first class of the series with ASD Farfala during the Kentucky Spring Horse Show on May 12, Vale claimed both second and third place with Quidam's Good Luck and Finou 4, taking the early lead in the 2016 Hagyard Challenge Series.
"I don't know if I've ever even been in the top ten of the series standings," said Vale. "Todd wasn't here last week so this will increase my lead. I didn't have a whole lot of Kentucky shows on my summer schedule actually, but after this I may have to reconsider a little bit. That bonus is attractive enough we might have to reschedule and come try and get back here. I meant to come back here in late August and September for the final show but we might have to add a date or two to our calendar. Maybe I can get out of the bridesmaid position on Saturday night. If not, hopefully I can be second instead of third."
Prior to Thursday's competition, Barios of Venezuela was holding the second place position in the standings, just 10 points behind Vale, and Victoria Colvin was ranked third after she went double clear with Austria 2 to earn fourth place honors.
At the end of the day, Minikus recognizes that his and Quality Girl's victories are nothing short of a team effort.
"I have to thank, not only Quality Girl, but the owners of Quality Girl as well as my sponsors Purina Mills, TheraPlate, ABI Equine, Charles Owen, Vita Flex, Draper Therapies, CWD, Veredus, Premier Equestrian, Neue Schule and Horseware Ireland," said Minikus.
Throughout the summer, the top riders from across the nation will gather to compete over challenging courses and vie for the winning title and $50,000 Leading Rider Bonus. Four more Hagyard Lexington Classic grand prix events will be held during the Kentucky Summer Horse Show, the Kentucky Summer Classic, the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show and the KHJA Horse Show. The series concludes with the $65,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic during the Kentucky National Horse Show. Following that exciting competition, the winner of the $50,000 Leading Rider Bonus will be announced and presented with the cash prize by the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.
1 1482 QUALITY GIRL TODD MINIKUS USA 77.09 38.24
2 511 QUIDAM'S GOOD LUCK AARON VALE USA 78.78 39.00
3 560 STRANGER 30 ANDREW RAMSAY USA 79.05 40.40
4 1029 CALIFA LS MARK BLUMAN COL 78.54 41.52
5 355 CAYA ALI WOLFF USA 77.76 42.34
6 696 ACE ALISON ROBITAILLE USA 81.91 42.51
7 77 BRINDIS BOGIBO ANDREW WELLES USA 80.80 43.25
8 1296 FAMOSO D IVE Z SHARN WORDLEY NZL 78.91 4 40.18
9 941 CYKLON 1083 SHANE SWEETNAM IRL 79.18 4 40.19
10 769 CATYPSO ERIC NAVET FRA 79.76 4 40.20
11 957 VENTURO 9 LORCAN GALLAGHER IRL 82.64 4 43.30
12 64 HITCHCOCK VD BROEKKANT ALISE OKEN USA 81.83 4 46.31
Source: Press release from Phelps Media Group // Picture © Taylor Renner/Phelps Media Group
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