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Henri Kovacs and Sassicaia II Flash Through the Finish Line in the $55,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix

Lexington, KY - May 10, 2009 - It was a beautiful, sunny day at the Kentucky Horse Park for Henri Kovacs' first grand prix victory gallop aboard Sassicaia II following the $55,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show. The pair was faster than five other horse and rider combinations during this afternoon's ten horse jump-off in the main outdoor stadium. Rebecca Johanson Hofmann riding Corona, and Mario Deslauriers aboard Vicomte D both attempted to catch Kovacs' time, but were unable to do so and followed with second and third place honors during today's class.

Richard Jeffery designed today's course, which featured 13 fences and 16 jumping efforts. The first round began over a triple bar and also included a vertical-to-vertical plank double combination, a triple combination, and a wide water jump. The jump-off course began with a single oxer to a single vertical, followed by two more oxers on a bending line. Riders then continued across the arena to a single vertical and made a tight turn to the second half of the triple combination. Finally riders made a final turn for home over a large orange and black oxer towards the gate.

The first horse and rider combination to have the opportunity to compete over the short course was Todd Minikus and Presidente, owned by Sleepy P Ranch of Bartonville, TX. The pair had an unfortunate fall at fence 14, a single blue and green vertical, and despite both horse and rider emerging unscathed, they were eliminated and placed tenth in the competition. Next on course was LaGran, owned and shown by Pablo Barrios of Wellington, FL. The duo had an unfortunate rail at fence 14 for four faults and stopped the clock at 39.67 seconds to earn seventh place. Angela Moore and Claus, owned by Stealaway Farm of Wellington FL, would be the next pair to compete over the short course but they also had difficulties, finding faults at the end of the double combination and the last oxer, for an eight-fault total and the ninth place award.

Henri Kovacs and Sassicaia II, owned by Plain Bay Farm of Middleburg, VA, were the next to enter the ring to compete in the jump-off. The pair picked up a gallop and soared over the first jump with ease. As they continued over the course their pace picked up and the crowd began to hold their breath as they left each jump standing. Kovacs and Sassicaia II raced through the finish line in a blistering 38.84 seconds to take over the lead and win the class.

Despite Kovacs fault free effort and fast time he still had to wait through six more rounds to be sure he had secured his first grand prix victory. Ricardo Villa was the first to challenge with VDL Bubalu, but they also had a rail coming out of the double combination for a four-fault score in a time of 44.84 seconds, placing eighth in the competition.

Ljubov Kochetova of Wellington, FL and her mount, Chambertino, would be the second pair to go clean, posting a time of 44.61 seconds, which would hold up for sixth place honors. Margie Engle rode into the ring next aboard Hidden Creek's Coraya Z, owned by Hidden Creek Farm of Oak Creek, WI. The duo also completed a fault-free effort and would come closer to catching Kovacs time after stopping the clock in 40.39 seconds, but with three more entries to show that time would move into fifth place.

Rebecca Johanson Hofmann competed next over the short course aboard Corona, owned by Blue Hill Farm of Salt Lake City, UT. The duo came very close to taking over Kovacs' lead as they raced through the turns while still leaving every rail in its cups. Hofmann and Corona tripped the timers in 39.27 seconds, a fraction slower than Kovacs', to earn to the second place ribbon.

Next in the ring was Mario Deslauriers riding the always fast Vicomte D, owned by Jane F. Clark of New York, NY. They also posted a fault-free effort and crossed the finish line in 39.68 seconds after losing time to the last oxer and taking over the third place position. The final horse and rider combination to compete during today's jump-off was Michael Morrissey and Crelido, owned by Eugene Mische of Bradenton, FL. They also left all the fences standing, but their time of 39.91 seconds would not be fast enough to slip past the leaders, earning them the fourth place honors and securing Kovacs victory.

"This is my first grand prix win, I can't explain how happy I feel," smiled Kovacs after leading the victory gallop. "I want to dedicate it to my grandfather, Sylvester Kovacs, whom I lost a few months ago; this is for him."

Kovacs began showing Sassicaia II last year during the Winter Equestrian Festival and thinks that she is very special. "I was second in Charlotte in the Welcome Stake and I had some low ribbons in really big grand prix classes in Wellington but this was our first win," he noted. "She is a really fast horse so you have to keep everything slow, but you can still have a winning time. She's very careful and has a lot of scope; she's a good horse."

Kovacs continued by explaining his plan for the first round. "During the first course there was a plank double combination that was really steady, so I had to pay attention to that," he explained. "Then the triple was difficult too because from A to B it was long, and then a really steady two stride. The last line from the water jump was a stead seven to the vertical, and then a steady four. She was very careful and jumped everything great."

"Before the jump-off Katie [Prudent] told me for the first two jumps not to think about being in a jump-off," said Kovacs. "It was a direct line from one to two. We added one more in the next line because we knew even if I added she'd be as fast as the other horses. In the middle of the ring there was a vertical and I was really fast there. Then the double and the oxer coming home she was really amazing, she didn't touch a rail."

Kovacs will compete again during the Kentucky Spring Classic next week and will then continue to Spruce Meadows. Later in the year the Hungarian native will be flying back to Europe to compete in the European Championships.

Second place finisher Rebecca Johanson Hofmann was also thrilled with her performance. "I'm really happy," she said. "In the jump-off I was just thinking of going clear. I didn't think I'd go near as fast as Henri did, but Corona jumped amazing and really helped me out."

Hofmann enjoys competing at the Kentucky Horse Park and is especially happy with the new OTTO Sport footing system that has been installed in the main outdoor stadium. "They've done an amazing job with the footing in this ring," she noted. "It's the perfect combination, it gives when you need it to give and it's firm when it needs to be firm. You don't feel the horses jarring and you also don't feel them getting stuck in the ground. I think this facility might be the top facility in the world after everything is finished."

Today marked the final day of competition for the Kentucky Spring Horse Show, but next week the Kentucky Spring Classic will get underway beginning Wednesday, May 13. The Kentucky Spring Classic will feature the $30,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic on May 14, the second class in the Hagyard Challenge Series, which includes a $50,000 Leading Rider Bonus. The $55,000 Mary Rena Murphy Grand Prix, CSI 2*, sponsored by Air 51 and Audi of Lexington, will be held on Sunday, May 17.

For more information on the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows please go to http://www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.

Photo Credit: Henri Kovacs' victory aboard Sassicaia II during the $55,000 Commonwealth Grand Prix at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show was his first grand prix win. Photo By: Rebecca Walton Photograph may be used only in relation to this PMG press release.


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