BY LAUREN MAULDIN
It was a strong day in Kentucky for west coast riders. For some, a really strong day. Really, a ten-year-old Mecklenburg black roan gelding, earned a combined score of 270.5 to place third in the classic behind Tori Colvin and Nick Haness respectively. After enjoying some turnout following his flight from Southern California, he made the flowing course look effortless much to the delight of his team including owner, Michelle Cob, rider, Jenny Karazissis, and trainer, Devon Gibson.
“This is his MO. He loves to jump high—the higher, the better,” Devon said of his scope. “Jenny has said repeatedly, ‘If you pointed him at the VIP tent, he could jump it!’ Nothing is too big for him,” she added.
Owner Michelle bought Really from Lane Change Farm three and a half years ago, and this is his third Derby Finals. Even though he’s a veteran in the Rolex arena, she was a little nervous about how he might come back after some time off… but not to any fault of Really’s. “I’ve been riding him since June,” Michelle, who enjoys riding at home, explained. “I thought if he was bad, I’m going to be in trouble!” she laughed.
She needn’t have worried. Really started off the day in top shape, and never missed a beat. “We schooled this morning so we didn’t have to do a lot right before going in the ring,” rider Jenny said. “From jump one in the warmup ring, I felt we were ready. Today he was on, and it was like he wanted it. He let me ride him every step of the way. It was like riding butter.”
The course, full of single oxers and jumps as well as a triple combination, allowed Jenny and Really to establish a consistent pace that made the questions look effortless. “I had walked the first line and the last line, and decided not to count [strides],” Jenny said. “I tried not to count other people’s rounds and get that in my head. I felt like it really helped me ride off my eye.”
Tomorrow the team will come back to challenge Colvin, Haness and the other finalists in the evening handy under the lights. Even though she’s competed at derby finals since the show’s inception, the event hasn’t lost any of its appeal. “It’s thrilling,” Jenny said. “When you warm up and hear the applause, it gives you goosebumps. It’s really a thrill.”
Before tomorrow’s assuredly challenging course, Jenny will take time to herself to mentally prepare for the task at hand. “I’m the type of person that has to be completely ready way ahead of time, and know that the horse is ready for me to get on,” she explained. “That eases me. Also, I really feel like I need a moment. I’ll go in the bathroom and put myself in the stall to visualize the course.”
That extra time to soak in the moment, take a deep breath, and give it your best shot will hopefully pay off for the team behind the beautiful, black horse. But regardless of the outcome, the Californians are tickled with their third trip to Kentucky. “We wanted him to go and show off what he can do, and we were thrilled with it,” Michelle said. “I’m always so proud that he’ll be a derby horse one day, and a few days later his nervous amateur mommy gets on. He never looks at a jump, never looks outside the ring. He’s happy to work hard and try his best.”
That’s as much as any of us can hope for in our horses. One might even say those are the kind of qualities behind a really good one.