Lexington, KY - August 19, 2011 - Another incredible crowd turned out at the Rolex Stadium tonight at the Kentucky Horse Park, this time the spectators watched riders compete for the top prize during the $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Six horse and rider combinations progressed to the jump-off with Yann Candele riding three of them, and eventually leading the victory gallop with Azzaro after they laid down the fastest clear effort over the short course. Margie Engle was just a hair off of Candele's time. She and Lord Spezi earned the second place finish after completing a fault free effort.
Tonight's class was the fifth of seven grand prix events that make up the Hagyard Challenge Series, sponsored by Hagyard Medical Institute and presented by Pfizer Animal Health. Following the final event in the series, a cash prize of $45,000 will be awarded to the rider accumulating the most points throughout the series for the Leading Rider Bonus.
The horse and rider combinations were tested over a challenging course, designed by Allen Rheinheimer, which included fourteen obstacles. The course featured an oxer-oxer-vertical triple combination, a triple bar that was just six short strides before a vertical-vertical double combination, and a liverpool, as well as several, single verticals. Riders also had to keep the pace in order to complete the course, which spread covered the entire arena, within the tight time allowed of 90 seconds. The complicated oxer-oxer-vertical triple combination posed difficulties for horses and riders alike, causing several to gain faults because of the single long stride between each fence. Out of the 44 entries, only six horse and rider combinations went clean and Yann Candele would have the ride aboard three of the six horses to advance to the jump-off.
The short course proved to be challenging as well. Riders began over a single vertical fence 1, followed by an oxer, fence 2. Riders then made a left rollback to fence 15, another tall vertical, and then turned right to head over fences 4a and b from the triple combination, upon landing a short turn lead them to fence 9, the triple bar. Following the triple bar riders took a left turn to fence 8, the liverpool and then a right turn to the final fence number 16 attempting to trip the wire with the fastest time.
"I think it was a great course overall, you don't want so many advancing to the jump-off. You want to have a good class, but not too many, it becomes too much," said tonight's winner, Yann Candele. "For me it was great. I had four horses in the class and three made it into the jump-off. I am very pleased. The jump-off was challenging, and the distances proved difficult."
Although many riders had difficulty navigating the course, Engle thought it was technical and a fair challenge of riders' abilities. "I thought it was a very good course, especially with the number of horses in the class. He did a very nice job. I thought it was technical enough, enough jumping, the time was just right; you had to be thinking everywhere. He had options and jumps that were a little bit technical, some with the brush boxes and the hunter jumps in the middle, we don't see that often and a lot of horses get drawn to that. The long canter to the plain vertical and the oxer-oxer combination was a little scopey for the long stride. The course was big enough without scaring anybody. He had both juniors and veterans competing in a class with a large number of entries."
The first to attempt the short track was Christina Kelly and Creata Van Ten Biesen, owned by Diamond Edge Farm. The duo had a solid round, however they had an unfortunate rail at the second fence, resulting in four faults. They broke the beam in 41.512 seconds, which would only be good enough for the fourth place finish.
Candele entered the ring next aboard his first mount, Susan Grange's Carlotta. The duo raced against the timer, and took an inside turn upon landing after fence two, squeezing between the two jumps. Although they had speed, a long distance at fence 4b of the combination caused a rail to come down. The pair tripped the timer in 41.691 seconds, but with the four-fault penalty they settled for the fifth place finish.
"I thought all of my horses jumped well, I got a little long with Carlotta, but I still think that she did a great job. Our ride in the jump-off prepared me for my ride with Azarro. I was able to see what turns I would need to take to be more efficient as well as try to figure out my distances. During my round with Carlotta the distance in the combination didn't work out well so I was a little disappointed, but we carried out a successful round."
Margie Engle and Ashland Farms' Lord Spezi sped over the short course. They too took a tight turn upon landing after fence two and also cut the turn heading the triple bar. Engle and Lord Spezi broke the beam in 41.281 seconds leaving all the rails in their cups. The pair was able to balance the importance of making smart choices in an effort to clear each fence as well as where to cut their turns and pick up speed to become the first double clear effort, taking the lead. However with three riders left to go they took home the second place finish at the end the night's competition. Engle will be competing with Lord Spezi in the Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix in the Rolex Stadium this Sunday.
"I started riding Lord Spezi about a year ago, he's a really fun horse. He's funny, too. He is a little horse that thinks he's a big horse," Engle smiled. "He's really consistent. He's got his own personality and he thinks his way, but he's really sweet, loves everybody and wants to please. He's full of himself, but in a good way. I think being little he almost has to be, in order to do those jumps. He carries himself like a bigger horse. He's great to take a shot on and is a good-feeling horse. You get on him and you have to be in a good mood, because he loves what he's doing. He likes to go his own way and likes to go a little forward to the jumps, and is really game when you go in the jump-offs."
"In the first round I was just trying to stick to our game plan and do all of the easy numbers, the one vertical was a little plain, but I wanted to get him to it and balance a little, he waited so nicely," noted Engle. "I think he was great and he jumped super. I was thinking more about being in the time allowed. It was a little bit snug, and you had to do the inside turn back on the wall so you had to make sure that you have your eye on the jump. I was pleased with him, I wanted to go neat and advance to the jump-off, and that's what we did."
Engle continued, "I went kind of medium for the jump-off since nobody else had gone clean. I knew it was beatable, but I wanted to give him something to chase a little bit. The last couple of classes I had gone fast with him and we had an unfortunate rail. He did a great job though tonight with all of his turns, and he went super to the triple bar. Even with the oxer-oxer combination he took it easily, even though he is little, he felt like he did that easily. I went a little straight there and gave him a little bit of time because I saw so many having trouble with the combination."
Candele returned aboard his second mount the eleven-year-old Azzaro, owned by Susan Grange, completing the fastest double clear effort of the night. Candele and Azzaro took the tight turn after fence two and made the shortest turn to the triple bar. They sped around slicing the liverpool and turned sharply to the last fence. The dynamic duo took over the lead after stopping the clock in 38.263 seconds, eventually leading tonight's victory gallop.
"Azzaro has been doing really well this season. We are very pleased tonight with his victory," commented Candele. "It was a very good win for him. He tries hard. I was very surprised that I was that much ahead of my competition at the end because I started way slower, but I did the inside turn, and then I started going very fast. I couldn't believe that there was such a difference. I went blind and went with the feeling. I was very surprised at the end results. At the end I was very efficient which is where I think I made the time."
"Everything is great and this is good for a night class. It is all we have to think about, during the day we are always in conflict with other rings," noted Candele. "The footing is amazing and the whole place is well run. Footing in America is not the best all the time. There is a show only four hours from our home barn and we made the choice to go here rather than there, that's how nice this venue really is. This is my first time back since WEG and I think it is a great place to show."
Patricia Griffith was the next on course to try and beat Candele's time. Griffith set a strong pace with her mount, Wieminka B, galloping to the first fence. Griffith also chose to execute a tight turn after fence two to try and become the fastest double clear. As they headed over the combination the audience held their breath for a rub on fence 4b, but the rail stayed in place. Griffith took a wider approach to the triple bar but turned sharply to the Liverpool. The competitive pair crossed the beam in 42.955 seconds earning the third place finish for their efforts in tonight's Grand Prix competition. Candele had the final ride aboard his last mount Arianna, owned by Susan Grange. Candele chose to take a more conservative approach to the jump-off with the green horse. They had rails at 4a and b of the double combination and Candele chose to retire his mount to conserve her energy for Sunday night's Grand Prix.
"Arianna is a mare who was doing the 1.35 jumpers. We wanted to see if she could do the Grand Prix with the footing," explained Candele. "This venue is made for show jumping. I was very pleased with her clear, but after the first round I could tell that she was very tired, so I chose to retire after our rails and we jumped one more fence for confidence. I wanted to save it for Sunday and she has Calgary coming up which is a big show."
Candele will be a contender to watch during Sunday's $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix as he will be competing with all four mounts yet again.
Tomorrow, the exciting line-up of events will continue at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. The Final Round of the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals will get underway at 6:30 p.m. in the Rolex Stadium. On Sunday, competition will come to a close after riders compete in the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix.
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows please visit www.KentuckyHorseShows.com.
Photo Credit: Yann Candele and Azzaro took top honors in the $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Photo By: Heather Bellock/PMG.