Darragh Kenny first saw Alpha VDL at the VDL Sport Horse Auction in Florida two years ago, and instantly knew he wanted to ride the then 7-year- old Dutch Warmblood gelding. Kenny had to be patient however, until this past January, for his wish to come true. The pair was quick to find their way to the top, winning the $50,000 Grand Prix during Week V at HITS before topping the field in Sunday's $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Saugerties.
"I knew he was going to be a winner," Kenny said about his attraction to Alpha VDL, who is owned by Eva Castegren. "I wasn't able to find someone to buy him for me when I saw him at the auction, but lucky that Eva gave me the opportunity this year. He tries so hard, is careful, eager and easy to ride."
Kenny hails from Wellington, Florida and was the rider to beat from start to finish in the Strongid® C 2X™ Grand Prix Stadium, jumping the first clear round from the fifth spot in the original order. Seven more eventually joined him with clear rounds over a course designed by Marina Azevedo of Campinas, Brazil. Thirteen obstacles and 16 jumping efforts formed a test that served as a conclusion to the first week of grand prix qualifying for the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS-on-the-Hudson.
"This has always been a successful horse show for me and think that we [as riders] don't always realize how lucky we are to compete for significant prize money during the HITS circuit and then jump for $1 million," said Kenny. "To have not only one million-dollar class in the U.S. but three, gives us amazing opportunities."
While thrilled with his clear round, Kenny was burdened with jumping first in the jump-off with the likes of McLain Ward, Christine McCrea, Todd Minikus, Darragh Kerins and Quentin Judge behind him.
Kenny left a stride out in the first line of the shortened course and "kicked all the way through the timers", stopping the clock in 35.22 seconds, establishing the Great American Time to Beat.
"When I walked the course, the first line walked in nine, but Alpha has a big stride and we managed the eight," said Kenny. "It's always scary nerve wracking when people like McLain are behind you because they rarely make mistakes, so just hoped I was fast enough."
Ward, of Brewster, New York, and Blue Chip Bloodstock's Dulien Van De Smeets also jumped the first two fences in eight strides, but was a tenth slow. They clocked a time of 35.36 seconds and collected second.
Kenny was fortunate to appear in the jump-off twice and collected third aboard Hyperion, LLC's Imothep with a clear effort in 36.76 seconds. He and Ward were the only riders to boast double-clear rounds.
Minikus, of Loxahatchee, Florida and Quality Girl, owned by Quality Group proved their reputation for speed with a time of 35.12 seconds. A heartbreak rail at the third fence left them with four faults and the white ribbon.
McCrea, who hails from East Windsor, Connecticut claimed fifth in the irons aboard Candy Tribble's Wannick WH, with four faults and a time of 39.83 seconds. Ward was sixth on Double H Farm's HH Fleur, Kerins seventh with his own Zerro Leone, and Judge eighth aboard HH Whisky Royale for Double H Farm.
After deciding how to spend his Sunday winnings, the next big question for Kenny is who he will ride in the Zoetis Million this September. "I'm fortunate enough to have two horses with that kind of scope," said Kenny of Alpha VDL and Imothep. "I'll see how the rest of the summer goes and decide who is ready – they both have what it takes."
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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