He finished at the back of the pack in every race he ever started, but MVP beat all comers to take the 2021 TAKE2 Hunter Final at the Kentucky National Horse Show in Lexington Sunday afternoon. The splashy chestnut, owned and ridden by Tess Fortune and trained by Chris Bennings, was a model of consistency through the two rounds of the event to earn the championship sash over 15 competitors. Frank and Susan Seman’s Irascibull, ridden by Jenna Drago and trained by Scott Petrie, was the reserve champion.
Riley, trained by Megan O’Dwyer Thiel and owned and ridden by 16-year-old Cyanea Robine, was the winner of the TAKE2 Jumper Final, going clear in the jump-off to nip Kathryn Currey’s A Lil Evil.
The $20,000 TAKE2 Hunter and Jumper Finals were created in 2019 to honor the memory of TAKE2 founder Rick Violette Jr., who passed away in 2018. A total of 32 horses representing 14 states traveled to the Kentucky Horse Park to compete this year.
Based in Louisville, KY, Tess Fortune only had to drive a little more than an hour to get to the Finals. She’d made the trip twice before, finishing second with MVP in the Finals in 2019 and 2020. The two have been a team for seven years, ever since the 10-year-old made two inauspicious starts at Oaklawn Park under his Jockey Club name of Kit’s Captain, and was retired from racing through the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s Galloping Out program. Galloping Out has long been a supporter of the TAKE2 Program.
“He ran twice and he was slow,” Fortune said with a smile. “I watched the videos, and he was last in both; in one, he was very, very last.”
The young horsewoman connected with Captain, as he is known around the barn, by chance.
“My hunter was hurt, and I was looking for another, but on a very low budget,” she recalled. “I was working at a tack shop, and someone from Galloping Out came by with a flyer. I reached out, and they sent me videos of three horses. He had a lot of white, and he was by far my favorite.”
Fortune knew from the start she had something special in MVP.
“He looked like a hunter from the first day I tried him,” she said. “He’s the best horse. He’s very opinionated, and super picky – he’ll eat peppermints and carrots, but he doesn’t like weird snacks. But he’s a very, very good boy.”
The two have won numerous championships in the TAKE2 and the Amateur-Owner Hunter divisions. They will head to Harrisburg next month to compete in the Zone 2 Hunter Championship. Fortune has a soft spot for the TAKE2 Thoroughbred Program.
“I love TAKE2,” she said. “I love that the horses don’t age out of the program, you can develop a horse properly and continue to show in the division. With the Green Hunters, you feel rushed, and off-the-track Thoroughbreds are as green as they come. With TAKE2, you can take the time you need and use it as a stepping stone to other divisions. The program is fair and friendly to the horses.”
She added, “TAKE2 is absolutely increasing the popularity of the Thoroughbreds. You can see that the quality of the competition in the division is better every year. The program is encouragement to get the Thoroughbreds going again.”
Andy Belfiore, executive director of the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program, was thrilled with the turn out for the Finals. “It is wonderful to see all these amazing Thoroughbreds and their enthusiastic owners, riders, and trainers demonstrating just what Thoroughbreds can accomplish after they leave the track,” she said. “The mission that Rick Violette set for us is to pave the way to happy and healthy second careers for retired racehorses. I think he would be gratified at the support our program receives from both the show horse and the racing communities.”
Teenager Tops the TAKE2 Jumper Final
Riley and Cyanea Robine were competing in their first-ever TAKE2 Finals this year. The teenager from Marietta, GA, has been riding the 13-year-old gelding for a year and a half. Riley never made it to the races, managing just a couple of slow workouts at Delta Downs under his Jockey Club name, Pic Me First, before retiring to the show ring.
“I found him through our trainers,” Robine said. “I had been looking for a little bit, and nothing was the right fit. But he came along and as soon as I sat on him, I fell in love with him.”
In the saddle since the age of 8, Robine prefers the excitement of the Jumpers to the discipline of the Hunters.
“I like going fast,” she said with a grin. “I like the thrill of it, I like the adrenalin.”
She also would rather ride a Thoroughbred than any other breed.
“I had another Thoroughbred before Riley, his name was J.J., and ever since riding him, I’ve preferred Thoroughbreds,” Robine said. “They are such athletic animals – they are just great horses.”
Cozmic One Steps It Up in TAKE2 Jumper Final
Cozmic One, the celebrated son of champion mare Zenyatta, had to earn a wild-card berth to get into the $20,000 TAKE2 Jumper Final, and only squeaked in as the last of five wild cards to qualify, but he made the most of the opportunity. Showing marked improvement over his performances in the TAKE2 Jumper Division at the Kentucky National Horse Show earlier in the week, where he failed to earn a ribbon, Cozmic One was faultless in the first round of the Final, one of only four competitors to go clean. He had one rail down in the jump-off and finished fourth overall.
“I was very happy with Cozmic One’s performance during the four days of showing,” co-owner Sergio De Sousa said. “This was only his second time jumping this height at a show, and only his second class ridden by Summer Hill. He showed improvement with every round and was jumping fantastic at the Final. We are very happy with his result. Hopefully we will continue improving and we are looking forward to compete again next year.”