SEVENTEEN-year-old Francis Derwin finished third in the $25,000 Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix last Sunday morning at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, USA.

The Athlone native guided Vlock Show Stables’ Scarlett du Sart to the final place on the podium after a hugely competitive class, which saw a total of 74 combinations start over the 1.45m track.

Eventually, 15 progressed to the jump-off, where Britain’s Grace Debney continued her excellent run of form to post the winning round with Boheme de la Roque. They were the fastest of seven double-clear rounds in 39.20 seconds. It was the perfect 18th birthday present for Debney whose birthday was two days earlier.

In second place was USA’s Caelinn Leahy (19) who was just fractions slower in 39.35 with Coldplay 31. Leahy, who rode under the Irish flag in the past, is the daughter of Meath native Tony Leahy who is huntman and joint-master of the Fox River Valley Hounds outside Chicago and former president of the Masters Of Foxhounds Association of America.

Derwin’s time 40.47 seconds with Scarlett du Sart provisionally slotted them into second place and they eventually finished third.

Derwin is spending the winter in Florida training with Darragh Kenny, who previously rode the 12-year-old Stakkato mare Scarlett du Sart Z, who is owned by Israeli show jumper Teddy Vlock, also trained by Kenny and Galway’s Stephen Moore. It is Derwin’s second WEF experience, having competed in the 2020 FEI Junior Nations Cup at the venue.

“I really liked it the last time I came, and when I got a chance this year, I had to come back,” he commented. “Scarlett has been very easy to get on with, so it’s made my job easier. She’s a really nice horse and a very good jumper. She always tries really hard for you.

“It means a lot to have this finish. It’s brilliant to get such a good chance to ride in these classes. To get such a good placing is really rewarding. Hopefully this U25 series will help me learn as I continue in the sport.”

After winning a two-star ranking class the previous week, Stephen Moore placed fifth in Saturday’s three-star 1.50m aboard Vlock Show Stables’ Conner 58. The pair were the fastest four-faulters in the jump-off. Victory went to USA’s Spencer Smith, while the Irish Sport Horse Meadow Vale Cruise (S. Creevagh Ferro x Cruising), bred by John Higgins, finished fourth under Dominican Republic’s Hector Florentino Roca.

Darragh Kenny (Idalville d’Esprit) and Tom Wachman (Lazzaro delle Schiave) both finished with a time fault to place eighth and ninth.