Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 24
Like many of the big Sunday classes at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, the $50,000 Hermes Jumping Derby attracted a top international field. But if you wanted a major piece of the prize money, you had to hail from one country in particular: Ireland.
Andrew Bourns led an Irish sweep of top three spots of the event aboard Gatsby, another import from the Emerald Isle. They laid down a clear round to edge out Darragh Kenny and Any Given Sunday, and Shane Sweetnam and Little Emir ticked a rail—the same one he did last year—in the faults-converted class to take third.
According to all three, that result is no accident. Fox hunting and competing in derbies have been a regular part of their routines growing up, and that familiarity with terrain came in handy at the on the grass field on the Stadium of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, as riders faced elements like a table bank, a hill/bank complex dubbed Mount Wellington, and a grob. Bourns proved himself adept at the format recently, winning the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial for the Hickstead Derby (Great Britain) aboard Roundthorn Madios last year.
“The way [Americans] have small, medium and large [ponies], we do derbies on smalls, mediums and larges,” said Sweetnam. “We learned from a young age.”
Richard Jeffery's 20-fence track tripped up competitors throughout the course, especially coming into the grob. Kenny had a stop there, but he zipped right around again to clear it on reapproach. Any Given Sunday's footspeed made up for lost time, and he nearly caught Bourns, with just .03 seconds separating the top three rounds.
“As Shane said, I probably should have shown him it first, just so he could have a look at it,” said Kenny. “It shocked him a little bit the first time, but I spun right around and he was fantastic.”
Mount Wellington caused problems as well, and many of the riders who elected the faster, but tougher, option of coming straight down a steep bank felled an airy vertical at the base to add 4 seconds to their score. A pair of double liverpools shed rails regularly, and some horses just plain ran out of gas over the long course in the afternoon heat. Cara Anthony took a tumble after Caspar T landed in the middle of the water jump (she walked off the field unhurt), and four other riders stopped out.
The start list read a bit short this year, with just 20 entries. Many top jumper riders are taking a breather this week, as hunters have taken over the main ring at WEF during World Champion Hunter Rider week, sending the week’s biggest jumper classes across the street to the grass field of the Stadium at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Bourns just imported Gatsby, an Irish Sport Horse (Simba—Daisy Cruise, Cruise On), and began showing him at the start of this year. While he’s just 9 and light on serious experience—Bourns has been showing him at the 1.40m level—he still has faith in the horse.
“It’s something I believe in the Irish horses very much for their bravery and their honesty,” said Bourns, who hails from County Galway and now lives in Wellington. “It’s certainly an Irish horse’s forte, these derbies. They’re born and raised in Ireland pretty much in the wild and they learn to fend for themselves.”
Bourns, Kenny and Sweetnam felt especially confident with the all-Irish result heading into next week’s Nations Cup competition. The Irish squad is still being finalized, but Sweetnam is tentatively set to compete along with Cian O’Connor, Darragh Kerrins and Richard Maloney. They’ll face off against strong squads from Germany and the United States, among others.
Check www.showgroundslive.com for full results.