The luck of the Irish was in full effect as Ireland’s Paul O’Shea and Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu flew to the win in the $225,000 Kentucky Invitational CSI3* Grand Prix presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, part of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS EQUESTRIAN.
Eugenio Garza of Mexico and Armani SI Z finished second and Rowan Willis of Australia and Blue Movie finished third. American Ali Wolff and Casall finished fourth.
The format for the Invitational was for a first round, followed by the return of the top ten, in reverse order of score, so the fastest clean round in the first round gets to go last in the second round. Scores are cumulative over both rounds and ties are broken by time.
O’Shea was the last to go in the second round, following blazing fast performances by Willis and Garza. He needed to jump clean, and faster than Garza’s time of 42.42. The big bay Dutch Warmblood galloped steadily and left all the fences up, and when he took a long leap over the final fence he stopped the timers at 41.91 giving him the win.
“I tried to go as fast as I could and leave all the jumps up,” O’Shea said of his winning strategy. “I didn’t really (get to see the others) to be honest, so I tried to go as good as I could and ‘Machu’ was incredible. He couldn’t have jumped any better, he was just fantastic.”
Garza was circumspect about his runner-up status. “We tried, but you can never count out Paul. He’s a tremendous rider and he proved to be faster today,” Garza said. “I thought maybe I had left the door open at the double, I took a step extra that cost us there. But I couldn’t be happier with my horse, she jumped great.”
Willis was happy with the scrappy little mare, Blue Movie, even if they weren’t on top today. “I’m happy to jump clear and get on the board,” he said. “I knew there were fast riders behind me and I knew I was a little slow and had left the door ajar, but yeah, my mare was great jumping today. Could be worse!”
For the win, O’Shea takes home $56,250 of the $225,000 purse.
A standing room only crowd of 10,162 whooped and cheered every rider, and the riders were appreciative of their enthusiasm.
“The crowd is just fantastic, and yes it’s unusual for us, we’re not that used to it,” O’Shea said. “It definitely raises your game and ‘Machu’ is very experienced so it helped us, he rose to the occasion. It was very nice how the crowd was so into it.”
“We were kind of saying this is how grand prix should be,” agreed Garza. “It was an incredible crowd. My horse benefited from the crowd and the cheering. It’s a little more attention and he jumps better. It’s a great crowd and event, thanks to EEI for putting it on. It’s a pleasure to be here.”
“It’s much more interesting for us to ride and the atmosphere makes everyone happy and we all enjoy it,” said Willis. “My mare jumped fantastic in front of that crowd. It’s great for the sport.”
The festive atmosphere was visible during the prize giving ceremony, when Willis and Garza showed their “appreciation” for being beaten by spraying O’Shea with champagne.
The riders received beautiful crystals donated by L.V. Harkness. In addition to the big prizes, a few special awards were given out as well. The Ned Bonnie Highest Placed Amateur rider award went to Garza. The Equistro Oldest Horse Completing Award went to Lauren Hough’s Waterford. The East West Equine Fist Pump Award went to Hilary Scott.
Stewart Perry, the president of EEI, is thrilled with the continuing success of the show jumping as an addition to the eventing. “With EEI being a non-profit, we don’t have to make a profit. We plow all the money back into the event. As such we wanted to do something for our spectators,” he said. “Our spectators are who we do our event for. Tonight we saw them in the stands, in the rain. We do it for the people who come and buy tickets and love the sport.
“When Derek (Braun) and I first talked about this, we never envisioned 10,000 people watching in the rain, to watch these gentlemen turn in such a spectacular performance,” he finished.
“Honestly, I did expect the crowd to be here at this event,” said Braun, who manages both this competition and the successful Split Rock Jumping Tour. “Special events like this that can capitalize on an educated crowd are the best platform for show jumping. There is no better platform; this grand prix proved that. I do believe it has got the biggest atmosphere in America and we hope to continue to make it bigger in the future.”
While the riders were focused on their own performances, they all said they had enjoyed the eventing competition. Willis said he had friends competing today and enjoyed seeing them ride, and all three have plans to watch the show jumping tomorrow. When asked if he’d ever consider trying eventing, O’Shea was quick to laugh. “Oh no, I’m not nearly tough enough,” he said with a smile.