There was a lot on the line during Thursday night’s CSI 4* Las Vegas National “All In” Speed Classic, and Lillie Keenan made up for it when it counted.
With a hefty purse and a prime position in the starting order for Saturday top-billed $150,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Las Vegas up for grabs, Keenan (USA) and Agana van het Gerendal Z dashed through timers just ahead of Ireland’s notoriously speedy Conor Swail (IRL) and Theo 160 to earn her first win of the week. Egypt’s Nayel Nasser and Jiminy Cricket took third.
“This is my first time ever in Las Vegas, and it’s obviously also my first time at the show,” Keenan said after the class. “It’s so much fun to be in a place that has so much action. I definitely went gambling for a bit, and I lost enough, so I think I’m going to stick to the show jumping!”
She may have been cold at the tables, but Keenan has been on a hot streak of late in the irons, taking home the MLSJ Monterrey CSI5* Grand Prix earlier this month in Mexico aboard Queensland E, her biggest career-win to date. In Vegas, Keenan says, she took full advantage of her position as last to jump in the order, as well as the 11-year-old Zangersheide stallion Agana van het Gerendal Z’s natural foot speed.
“Tonight, being a speed round, obviously, you had to have your foot on the gas the whole way. I watched probably the first 15 riders go, and I saw a few quick rounds with some unlucky faults. I knew I had to be quick, but I knew where it was possible to be quick without taking too much risk,” Keenan explains, noting that she made one tweak mid-jump-off, realizing she didn’t need to do an additional leave-out in one of the lines.
“My horse is quite quick, so as long as I keep up the rhythm, he’s pretty [fast] across the ground.”
“Aggie,” as he’s known in the barn, is also a bit of a character. Produced by Keenan since his six-year-old year, the stallion has earned consistent, top-10 2022 placings at venues including Rome, Italy; Dinard, France; and Wellington, Florida. Though the pair earned another speed victory in the 1.45m SAP Prize at CHIO Aachen last year, this is their first time topping the podium in the 2022 season.
“He’s incredibly special to me, but also to my entire stable. [When I first] sat on him, I felt like I couldn’t ride him. I knew he was really talented, but I wasn’t so sure that I was going to be able to mesh with him so well,” Keenan says.
“My mom said to me that I had to learn to ride the horse, because she wanted him no matter what. [She] thought that he was incredible. I took a little bit of time in the beginning, but it was probably only about three or four months. Then we really hit our stride.”
Aside from being Aggie’s biggest cheerleader, Keenan’s mother, Pam Carmichel Keenan, also works to keep him in top form.
“My mom [helps] me work him and keep him fit,” says Keenan, noting that the stallion goes in a snaffle when he’s not competing.
“When he’s at home, and I ride him, he can really act like a stallion, and show off a bit to the other horses. And then when my mom rides him, he totally understands that it’s a different rider, and he becomes like a pony. I think that’s really a key to our success. I believe we have to keep the horses happy, and that’s been really, really an important part of his program.”
And while Keenan may have had her fill of dice games and slots, this is one stallion she’s pleased to have put her money on.
“I was the first one to jump [Aggie] in any grands prix classes, and I’ve really been his only [show] rider since then. It’s been exciting to grow as a partnership, and now, he’s really stepped up to the highest level.”