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Darren Dominates in Dressage at Jersey Fresh
Allentown, NJ, USA
by Karen Briggs
John Strassburger and Master Merlin
Photo: Anthony Trollope
It was muggy, sticky, and damp, but that didn't deter 44 intrepid CCI*** and 37 CCI** competitors from dancing in the dressage ring at the New Jersey Horse Park in Cream Ridge, New Jersey, this weekend, May 31-June 4, 2006.  

For some, it was their first big three-day event, while for others, it was a last-ditch opportunity to redeem themselves after less-than-ideal performances at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, four weeks previously, and perhaps still attract the notice of the selection committees for the upcoming World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany.  Among the riders taking another shot were Darren Chiacchia and Windfall II, Mara Dean and Nicki Henley, Jonathan Holling and Lion King II, and Mike Winter with Kingpin.  

At the end of two days of dressage, it was Chiacchia and Windfall II, to no-one's surprise, who led the three-star division with a score of 39.3 penalty points.  Windfall is well-known for his knock-your-socks-off dressage tests, and has proven a very, very tough act to follow, though Chiacchia noted heavy rains on Thursday night had made the footing in the dressage ring somewhat squishy and might have prevented the Trakehner stallion, owned by Timothy Holekamp, from dazzling even more convincingly.  

Chiacchia was frank about his stallion's appearance at Jersey Fresh this weekend.  "Unfortunately I'm here because we ran into trouble at Rolex (the stallion had a number of stops on cross-country and finally retired at the Lexington Bank). He was awfully quiet going into the start box there and I thought, 'finally, he's matured!' ­ but it turned out he just wasn't feeling himself.  He obviously needed a bit of a break.  So we went to an Intermediate horse trial after Rolex to get him back on his game and build confidence, then came here.  He's a stallion and he's got a personality for sure ­ he has to feel good about himself to perform well."

Also stellar were second-placed Mara Dean and Nicki Henley (40.9 pp), who confessed to being at Jersey Fresh for similar reasons.  "We started off okay in Kentucky and ended up in a ditch!  So here I am, just like Darren," said Dean.  "Fortunately I only hurt my pride, but Nicki was very sore after Rolex, and at first we thought he was colicky.  Within a week he was back to being himself, though.  So we've just been schooling since then and we'll see.  I was really pleased with our test ­ he can be very fresh, but he behaved himself yesterday."

Jan Byyny and Task Force, who were second-last to go on Friday afternoon, slipped into third place in the CCI*** division with a score of 45.4 pp, ahead of Buck Davidson and Idalgo.  Task Force, too, had originally been aimed for Rolex Kentucky, but a moment's naughtiness when schooling, a week before the event, led to him slipping and hyperextending his shoulder.  "The next day he was dead lame," said Bynny.  "He'd already injured his other shoulder once before, so despite him being really close to sound for Rolex I decided I'd be second-guessing it all the way around.  So we chose to wait for this show."

Georgia-based Mike Winter was the top-placed Canadian in the CCI*** at the end of dressage.  With the striking chestnut, Kingpin, he posted a score of 50.2 pp for fifth place, well within striking distance.  "I got a big piece of humble pie at Rolex!," admitted Winter with characteristic honesty.  "He just felt overwhelmed, and we retired at fence six, the coffin.  He's only being going Advanced for a year and maybe he wasn't quite ready.  He's a difficult horse even if his record doesn't show it!"  Still, the gelding he acquired from American Julie Richards after he proved almost impossible to get from barn to show ring, has improved immeasurably in terms of rideability and should be one to watch on Saturday.  

In the two-star division, Becky Holder, who so recently topped the leaderboard at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** -- until the stadium phase ­ once again found herself on top with Glorious Joy, a 10-year-old ex-racehorse owned by Jill Gill.  Their score of 43.5 pp bested Kim Severson's by 0.9 points.  Said Holder, "She's a hot horse and Jill has brought her up slowly.  I helped her move up to Preliminary and have been competing her myself for about a year and a half.  I gave her back to Jill for her first CIC* last year, and then took over the ride again to prepare her for Jersey Fresh.  If this weekend goes well, we'll upgrade to Advanced."

Severson is riding her own Tsunami, nicknamed Susan, a seven-year-old mare who's also off the track.  "She was just this big, gorgeous mare with big feet ­ I couldn't pass her up.  She's got one of the best work ethics.  I think very highly of her and I wish I could find more like her!"

Tucking into third place at the end of two days of dressage were 23-year-old Kate Ditchey and Belmont, who are tackling their first CCI** after having completed one Advanced horse trials.  Top Canadian pair are Kathryn Morgan and Galileo, in a three-way tie for 13th with 61.5 pp.  

Though the riders' consensus was that this year's Jersey Fresh courses are somewhat softer than they were last year, they still provide lots to do.  Said Holder, "There's enough galloping out there.  John (Williams, who has returned to Jersey Fresh as course designer) did a good job setting us up for the tougher questions.  There's a good progression out there."  

Severson added, "At this point, we're most concerned about the rain that's forecasted for Saturday."  And Holder agreed, "Yeah, there are a few spots in the woods where there's no grass cover.  One might have to be sensible there!"

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