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Fitting award on United States circuit for Babington

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Kevin Babbington on Shorapour, with whom he is enjoying a new lease of life on the US circuit

Kevin Babbington on Shorapour, with whom he is enjoying a new lease of life on the US circuit

Kevin Babington had tremendous success with the legendary Carling King

Kevin Babington had tremendous success with the legendary Carling King

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Kevin Babbington on Shorapour, with whom he is enjoying a new lease of life on the US circuit

Riders will always have that one special horse which will stay in their hearts forever. For Kevin Babington, it was Carling King, and the Co Tipperary-born show jumper was almost reduced to tears recently when he was presented with the Carling King Leading Jumper Award during the closing ceremony of the Silver Oak jumper tournament in Halifax, Massachusetts.

It was a fitting, but emotional end to a weekend which saw the US-based rider claim the richest class of the show, the $75,000 Agero Grand Prix.

Just moments earlier Kevin, along with his wife Dianne and daughters Gwyneth and Marielle, had watched a tribute to the great Irish-bred horse on the large screen which had been specially compiled by show organiser Jeff Papows and his team.

On completion, it was decided that the leading rider award be named after the great chestnut, but little did Babington realise that, less than three hours later, he would be the recipient of the accolade named after his great partner of almost a decade.

"The Carling King Trophy means so much to me," he said afterwards.

"It brought tears to my eyes. I always knew how great a horse he was, but just to see a flashback of what he actually was and what he had done was incredible."

Carling King, who died in February of this year at the age of 23, was indeed a wonderful ambassador for Irish-bred horses. During his career, he amassed countless accolades.

As well as being a member of several winning Nations Cup teams for Ireland, Babington and Carling King placed eighth individually in the World Equestrian Games in Spain, and two years later finished individual fourth in Athens.

Highlights

This had been undoubtedly one of the highlights of their career which came to an end in 2007 when the horse was retired from competition.

"He was my once in a lifetime partner that many riders only dream of having," Babington said.

"We travelled all over the world and jumped at the Olympics, European Championships, World Championships, had numerous Grand Prix victories and he was one of the most successful Nations Cup horses to ever represent Ireland. This horse put me on the map and I will be forever grateful that he came into my life."

As the legacy of Carling King was fondly remembered during that presentation in Halifax, Babington reflected on the special day which saw his next top horse, Shorapur, outpace 10 rivals in the jump-off to claim top honours in the curtain-closing Grand Prix.

"I've always said that she is the next Carling King," he said of the nine-year-old mare by Stakkato Gold. "I was like a kid in a candy store the first time I sat on her."

Since his arrival in America in the 1990s, Babington has always had a keen eye for a 'good one', and it seemed his early judgement was correct once again.

"I first saw her as a seven-year-old in Germany and a friend and I bought her through Ernst Hofschröer, whom I deal with in Germany all the time," he said.

"We bought her in early 2013 with the intention to sell her here, but instead we put a syndicate together to keep her.

"I really think she is everything. She is the best horse I have ever had and I made room for her to stay with me and now compete her myself.

"I have really high expectations for her," Babington continued as he prepared her autumn campaign. This includes the upcoming Gold Cup in Old Salem, New York.

In the summer of 2013 the pair quickly worked their way up the grades, and completed the year with notable results at Grand Prix level.

However, it was earlier this year when the mare really began to shine and their first major win came in the $40,000 HITS Grand Prix in Culpeper, Virginia in April.

Along with the Irish-bred Mark Q, she was also well-placed in New York a few weeks later before returning to the venue of Saugerties to win the $25,000 Smartpak Grand Prix in early June.

As the weeks passed, the partnership grew, and it was not surprising that the pair finally hit the jackpot by winning the $75,000 Agero Grand Prix.

It is no secret now that Shorapur is the catalyst that has brought Kevin Babington back into the sport with new gusto.

"Before she came along I was kind of half thinking about just being a trainer and starting a feed business," he said. "But, she came along and really put the skip back in my step. I think she is really, really special."

Grateful

For a rider who has ridden so many good horses over the years, Babington is quietly confident that Shorapur will be the one to get him back wearing the team jacket for Ireland, but he is also grateful to the others that have given him so much success of late.

One such horse is Mark Q, a 12-year-old by the successful Irish-based Oldenburg sire, OBOS Quality 004. Previously owned in partnership with Deirdre Bourns, the gelding was recently bought out by Babington and will now compete solely under the 'Babington LLC' banner.

"He's an extremely sensitive horse and has always been tricky to ride," said Babington. "But recently he's come into his own and mellowed out.

"He knows his job now and will next be aimed at the Zoetis $1 Million Dollar Grand Prix over the first week in September."

During the $100,000 Grand Prix in Saugerties early last month Babington had been hopeful of a win on Shorapur, but a tack malfunction put paid to that. Instead it was the ever-reliable Mark Q who obliged in the 12-horse jump-off to net a winner's cheque for $30,000.

"These last few weeks have been amazing," said Babington, whose hat-trick of wins was completed in the $33,500 Derby at Spruce Meadows in Canada with another Irish-bred, Goodwins Loyalty.

"It is great to breed a winner but to breed a winner of a Derby is unreal," said breeder Larry Costello after the momentous victory.

While Babington prepares for a busy few weeks between shows in New York and Pennsylvania, he never forgets his roots, and where it all started.

As the youngest of 11 children, he knows he has come a long way from the riding school days of the 1980s.

"I get home whenever I can to see family, and friends in Carrick-on-Suir, particularly my mum, Mary, who is now 88.

"She has been a huge supporter of mine over the years, and it means so much to her to see me do well."

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