Darragh Kenny (IRL) was taken a bit by surprise when he ended up on top of Wednesday’s opening CSI5* class of Desert Holiday 2, presented by Visit Greater Palm Springs. Out of the 41 entries, he and California Pie, owned by Oakland Ventures, LLC, cruised to victory in the $76,000CAD CSI5* 1.50m Speed, sponsored by Granite Bay Farm.

“There were some really fast horses and riders behind me so I thought for sure somebody was going to catch me,” Kenny said, after going fourth in the starting order of go over Peter Grant’s single-round track. “My horse jumped great; there were one or two places I didn’t take as much risk but he jumped fantastic and stayed really good the whole way around. There were a lot of people faster, they just had one down.”

Specifically, there were six pairs who were faster than Kenny, but the most important factor was clear rounds, of which there were only nine. Erynn Ballard (CAN) found herself on a podium again, this time in second place aboard Gakhir, owned by Ilan Ferder. Amy Millar (CAN) and Truman, owned by Millar Brooke Farm & Overland, took third place.

Darragh Kenny (IRL) and California Pie. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I was really happy,” Kenny said about his win Wednesday. “I was not expecting it at all but he jumped great. I thought I could go quick and try to stay smooth and it turned out that it paid off.”

California Pie is an 11-year-old Westphalian gelding (Captain Cooper x Ramiro’s Son) that has already taken top FEI placings with Kenny in the irons, but they had still been seeking their first FEI win together. “He has a big stride so I can do all the leave-outs easily,” Kenny said of where the natural speed came in. “I didn’t go crazy but I just went at a good speed, and if it held up great and if it didn’t then I was still going to be very happy with how he jumped.”

Confidence is a great thing to have going into a weekend like the one planned for Desert Holiday 2. With two CSI5* events under the lights once again, Kenny has his eye on both prizes.

Darragh Kenny (IRL) and California Pie in their winning presentation, pictured with Lindsay Stefanko and Katie Hauss of Granite Bay Farm. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I’m going to jump this horse in the [$221,700CAD CSI5* Classic Saturday night] so it’s great to have that confidence going in and with him feeling as good as he does,” he remarked. “I was second last Saturday in the two-star Grand Prix with him so it was nice to get a win this week. It just puts you in a good mood for the whole week.”

One of the prizes is the overall season title for Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ), which will be decided after Saturday night’s $571,000CAD CSI5* MLSJ Team Final, complete with team bonuses that brings the prize money to $1 million.

“I think we’re in a quite solid position with three really good people that will jump Saturday night,” Kenny said of the roster for the Trelawny Trailblazers, who have a strong lead in the season standings. “I’ll ride the same horse as last week, Lillie [Keenan] will ride her same horse as last week, and Nayel [Nassar] will ride on the team this week. He’s been a key part of winning two or three of these team classes already, so I think we have a good solid team. We’re in a good position so we just have to keep it together.”

Time will tell whether Kenny will be on the podium yet again before the week comes to a close, but having the extra confidence on his side can only be a positive.


James Chawke Goes One-Two in $10,000 IDA Development Welcome Speed

It was a good evening in the office for James Chawke as he brought home first and second place in Wednesday’s $10,000 IDA Development 1.35m Welcome Speed. Having won the class several times during Desert Circuit 2023, Chawke is seasoned at the very class, which opens National show jumping each week.

This week, he brought forth two rides and placed them as high up as they both could go. Going early with Vanessa Mannix’s One Edition, he put in a time of 59.893 seconds, which was the fastest by about four seconds at the time. Though a few came close, only his other mount, Nacara Van Berkenbroeck Z, owned by Alison Locke, was quick enough to secure second, in 61.664 seconds, further proving just how fast his first ride was. Mariano Maggi and Gogolinus, owned by Brylee Dickey, claimed third.

James Chawke and One Edition. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“We bought her in April,” Chawke said of the newly-acquired 8-year-old mare (Tangelo Van de Zuuthoeve x Kannan). “She’s a bit green; she’d jumped maybe one 7-year-old class when we bought her and she came out of Sweden. Vanessa jumped her a bit this summer and then I just started riding her in October. I took her to Vegas and then here, so I’ll keep her for a little bit and then give her back to Vanessa.”

So far, so good for Chawke and the mare. “I think she’s very nice. I have big hopes for her,” he shared. “I’m just trying to teach her a little bit, get her a bit more mileage. She’s not that experienced in jump-offs, so I’m trying to teach her to look where she’s going and be a bit more rideable around the course. Everything just came up really nicely today.”

Chawke is part of an unstoppable trio, joined by Vanessa Mannix and Conor Swail. This season, they’ll all be in the desert and they’ll all likely be unstoppable.

James Chawke and One Edition in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“Conor is going to come out here for the whole winter this season, so all three of us will be here all circuit,” Chawke explained. “Vanessa and I will make a plan for which weeks her horses will show and we’ll build towards which weeks we’ll want to.”

With several new rides for Mannix, including a horse she rode to second place in the FEI Jumping World Cup Las Vegas, she’s got the horsepower to really be a top contender, and Chawke is thrilled to share the rides and help her navigate her way through top FEI competition. While Swail heads to Geneva for the week, the two of them will hold down the fort in the states and hope to continue the forward momentum.

Swail and Mannix are also fierce on the golf course. While they will continue taking the competition away from the horse show and onto the links, Chawke admitted when asked who will win: “Not me.”

Show jumping continues Thursday with the $39,000 Highland Farms CSI2* Speed and the $38,500 Morning Star Sporthorses CSI5* Winning Round.


Pizarro and Chad Take Two Phase Wins

Nicolas Pizarro (MEX) and Mamacita. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Nicolas Pizarro (MEX) was the one to kick off wins in the Grand Prix Arena for Desert Holiday 2, presented by Greater Palm Springs. He and Mamacita rode to victory in the CSI5* Two Phase. Last week’s Coachella Cup winner Karl Cook (USA) was second with Caracole de la Roque, owned by Signe Otsby, and Amy Millar (CAN) was third with Christiano, owned by Future Adventures.

After winning 1.35m Open action during week one, Kara Chad (CAN) and Curraghgraigue Obos Flight moved up into CSI2* action, taking the win in the CSI2* Two Phase. Pizraro was second with Clover RM, while Keri Potter (USA) and Cornet’s Prinzessin, owned by Tres Palomas, took third.

Kara Chad (CAN) and Curraghgraigue Obos Flight. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo