|Aaron Vale and Finou 4 Win $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic at Bluegrass Festival Horse Show|
|Written by Lauren Baker|
|Saturday, 20 August 2016 11:46|
After winning the 1.40m Open Jumpers on Thursday, Aaron Vale was looking to continue his winning streak under the lights on Friday night. The Ocala-based professional and Finou 4 did just that, stealing the win from Shane Sweetnam and Cobolt in the $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show.
“This was a great class,” Vale said. “It was good fun, and I’m glad I came out on the long end of the stick. It ended up being an entertaining class. You get a little flavor this week with the jumps for [USHJA International Hunter] Derby Finals. The horses are so used to jumping stripes, so tonight we got more of a natural tone to some of the obstacles, so that was a fun thing.”
Bobby Murphy’s first-round course produced a 16-horse lineup for the jump-off, with Sweetnam and the Blue Buckle Group LLC’s Cobolt going double clear and setting the early lead with a time of 36.909 seconds.
Vale re-entered the ring aboard Thinkslikeahorse and Don Stewart’s Finou 4, and used his horse’s massive stride to his advantage, cutting his turns and tripping the timers in a blazing fast 33.035 seconds.
“Each horse you have to ride to their strengths, you know,” Vale said. “Finou has a big enough stride that I can leave a stride out, even in a forward line. It’s a strength of his, covering ground.”
Two more challengers came close to Vale’s time. Sharn Wordley and the Sky Group’s Famoso D Ive Z were the first to come within seconds of the lead, clocking a time of 35.84 seconds to eventually finish in third, bumping Sweetnam down to finish in fourth.
Going second-to-last in the order was Benjamin Meredith and Shader Sporthorses LLC’s Anabelle 28. Meredith and Anabelle finished strongly in second place after stopping the clock in 34.022 seconds – just fractions of a second behind Vale, whose time proved unbeatable.
“I didn’t see Aaron go, but for sure I was going to try to beat him,” Meredith said. “The only place I could have gotten ahead of him was the first line. I jumped the first jump, and I landed and said there’s no way I can leave a stride out. But, the rest of the course Anabelle kept up with him. We tried to win again, but we just couldn’t get there.”
Vale said he began riding Finou 4 about a year ago. Surprisingly, the gelding is blind in his left eye. Vale said that Finou 4 is instinctively very protective of his body, and will swing himself around worriedly to be able to see.
“He’s a little difficult to train because he’s working against his instinct and he’s worried,” Vale explained. “When he has a good day he usually wins. He’s got enough stride, he has a lot of ability, and he can be really fast in the jump-off. When I have his brain right, he gives me a great class. There were a few things I was worried about for him tonight, but he handled it all.”
Making his victory even sweeter, Vale has reclaimed the top spot from Pablo Barrios in the Hagyard Challenge Series standings, moving one step closer to earning the leading rider bonus.
“We’re all chasing the $50,000 bonus,” Vale laughed. “I’ve got a wedding next week, so I’m missing that class. I know Pablo was at the Olympics this week, so he missed this one. You’re not supposed to count points. You’re supposed focus on riding your horse in the class, so it’s just an added pressure. For people like me it makes a difference, so thankfully we got it done tonight. Hopefully we can come out on the right end of the bonus, because it’s a great thing for Hagyard to do and Kentucky to put it on. We love coming here.”
The Hagyard Challenge Series consists of seven grand prix classes to be held during the 2016 show series at the Kentucky Horse Park. Following the final event, a cash prize of $50,000 will be awarded to the rider accumulating the most points throughout the series as well as a $10,000 prize for the reserve champion.
The series concludes with the $65,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic held during the Kentucky National Horse Show. Following that exciting competition, the winner of the $50,000 Leading Rider Bonus will be announced and presented with the cash prize by the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. New this year is the $200 Best Turned Out award, sponsored by Bob Mickler's, which will go to a well-deserving groom following each grand prix. In addition, a Hagyard's Handsomest Hound contest will also be held at each grand prix, sponsored by MedVet Medical & Cancer Centers for Pets.
The title sponsor, Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, is one of the oldest and largest equine veterinary practices in the world. Founded in 1876, the institute offers a staff with qualifications unparalleled by any single non-university veterinary group in the equine industry. Hagyard veterinarians have dedicated themselves to the health and well being of the horse.
The facility at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute offers 13 digital radiology systems, 1.5 Tesla Siemens MRI, nuclear scintigraphy, an on-site laboratory, an on-site pharmacy, full medical and surgical services, 24-hour emergency services and hyperbaric medicine. The practice has performed veterinary medicine for more than 137 years and is currently composed of over 50 experienced veterinarians, with 13 board certifications in specialty areas of medicine, surgery and theriogenology. For more information on the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, please visit www.hagyard.com.
The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show will resume on Saturday with the finale of the 2016 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. Other highlight events include the $5,000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby. Jumper highlights include the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, sponsored by Audi of Lexington.