Saugerties, NY - After three rounds of competition, Lillie Keenan of New York, NY, returned to the Strongid® C 2X Grand Prix Stadium at HITS-on-the-Hudson to accept champion awards with not one, but two horses in the 2011 USEF National Junior Hunter Championship - East Coast. Keenan claimed the Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under Champion award as well as overall Grand Champion on Don Stewart's Confidential with an overall score of 89.37. She also captured the Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under title in the irons of Chansonette Farm LLC's Madison, to post an overall Reserve Grand Champion score of 87.83.
"These horses were up to the challenge," said Keenan. "They are a really special pair and winning both champion and reserve was unexpected and exciting."
Adding to Keenan's list of accolades, she also rode Madison to win the War Dress Memorial Trophy, awarded to the high score mare of the Championship.
At 14 years old, Keenan, who trains with Andre Dignelli at Heritage Farm, proved that age is irrelevant, beating all riders in both older divisions to take home Reserve Grand and Grand Champion honors. While age may not play an important role in success, Stewart admits that genetics do.
"This is second nature for Lillie," said Stewart. "She comes from a family of champions, as do these horses."
Aside from winning two age-group titles and boasting both Grand and Reserve Grand Champion, Keenan pinned down a Wild Card Berth in September's Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final at HITS Saugerties. Keenan will join fellow juniors, amateurs and professionals alike to compete for an unprecedented amount of prize money in the event's inaugural year.
"I did what I came here to do and that was to qualify for the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix," said Keenan. "I am excited for that class because of the prize money, but also because it is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do."
Joining Keenan in the Hunter Prix Final will be fellow Andre Dignelli student and Heritage Farm rider, Kristen Lutz of Darien, CT. She also received a Wild Card Berth into the class after riding to Champion honors in both the Small Junior Hunter 16-17 on Stratford Stables' Huntington with a score of 81.40 and the Large Junior Hunter 16-17 aboard Sophie Cohen's Que Sera, posting a score of 85.33.
Keenan and Lutz took on the impressive feat of competing in both of their age-group divisions, but they also went on to win each of those divisions, producing only two champions out of a four-division championship.
During the final day of USEF Junior Hunter Championship - East Coast competition, riders were asked to test their horses in the final Handy Round. Each horse-and-rider combination had only a dozen more fences to make a run for first place and the overall champion awards.
Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under
Ailish Cunniffe of South Salem, NY, clinched the Reserve Grand Champion award in the Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under with an overall score of 84.93 in the irons of Whipstick Farm, Ltd.'s Good Times.
True to form, Keenan and Confidential took the blue in the Handy Round with a score of 89.42. McKayla Langmeier of East Granby, CT, followed in second on Linda Langmeier's Czar-Z with a score of 87.67. Cunniffe and Good Times rounded out the top three with a score of 87.50.
Small Junior Hunter 16-17
The Reserve Grand Champion award in the Small Junior Hunters 16-17 went to Taylor Ann Adams of Eads, TN, and Susan Hutchinson's Samoan Dancer. The pair posted an overall score of 79.4.
Lutz sealed the Handy Round victory, this time aboard Stratford Stables' Huntington with a final score of 79.67. Callie Morgan Smith of Bernardsville, NJ, on Smithfield Farms, LLC's Petrini posted a final score 74.92 to finish second and Caroline Kelley of North Easton, MA,, on her own Aramis finished in third.
Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under
Sophie Michaels of New York, NY, rode Elizabeth Skae's Small Talk to a Reserve Grand Champion title in the Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under with a final score of 82.27.
Keenan returned to the ribbons with Madison to post a high score of 90 in the Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under Handy Round. Addison Gierkink of Harpswell, ME, rode her own Time After Time to an 80.67 second place score as Michaels and Small Talk finished third with an 80.33 final score.
Large Junior Hunter 16-17
Meg O'Mara of Rumson, NJ, and her own Walk the Line were Reserve Grand Champions of the Large Junior Hunter 16-17 with a final score of 84.13. O'Mara also posted the high-score of the day at 91.33 to win the blue in the Handy Round. Sarah Milliren of Sapulpa, OK, who won the Essex Classics USHJA Hunterdon Cup on Tuesday, finished second with a score of 87.67 aboard her own CR Moet. In third, Lutz and Que Sera posted a final score of 86.83.
"We appreciate the HITS staff and Tom [Struzzieri] for bringing these finals back to Saugerties and rolling the red carpet out for us," added Stewart.
The USEF Junior Hunter Championship - East Coast made its anticipated return to the HITS Saugerties show grounds this year, making it the sixth time the HITS has hosted the event in the past seven years.
"These Championships are a big part of our summer series and we were happy to have them back in Saugerties," said HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri. "Congratulations to Lillie and Kristen for earning a chance to join us in September for the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final."
Photos: Lillie Keenan with her overall Grand Champion award with Don Stewart's Confidential and overall Reserve Grand Champion award with Chansonette Farm LLC's Madison. ESI Photography; Kristen Lutz and Sophie Cohen's Que Sera on course in the Large Junior Hunter 16-17 Handy Round. The pair placed third. ESI Photography