IRISH Olympian Kevin Babington and the Irish Sport Horse Mark Q came out on top in Thursday’s $72,000 Equinimity Challenge Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, USA, where Irish riders were in superb form filling three of the top four places.
Just six of the 65 starters managed to jump clear in the opening round with Carrick On Suir-born Babington drawn second last to go against the clock. Carly Anthony (USA) and Clochard had set the time to beat at 44.13 seconds, however Babington and his longtime partner, a 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, shaved off more than four seconds to ultimately clinch the win with a time of 40.03.
Fellow Irishman, Offaly’s Darragh Kenny, was last to go aboard Chinook II, owned by Veronica Tracy, and a time of 40.84 would secure second place and relegate Anthony and Clochard to third. Fourth place went to another Irish rider as Lorcan Gallagher with Hunters Conlypso II, owned by the Dacantos Group, finished with four faults in a time of 40.27.
“With Darragh Kenny following me, it was a lucky day for me!” said Babington in describing his jump-off round. “[Mark Q] was great across the ring. He’s a lot of Thoroughbred, so he galloped like a racehorse across to the vertical.”
Babington purchased Mark Q as a seven-year-old, and the pair have accumulated a large number of noteworthy wins over the past decade – particularly on the grass.
“He’s just been a great partner,” said Babington of the gelding. “He’s good indoors. He’s good in the sun, but he loves the grass! He just loves the grass. For the older horses, I think it’s a little easier on them. He’s 17 now, but he doesn’t feel it. He’s probably one of the soundest horses that I have in the barn.
“My plan was to do another horse today, but then I was thinking, ‘You know what? He loves the grass,’” continued Babington. “The ground feels amazing. It’s a credit to them. We used small studs, and it was really good and held up.”