|LEXINGTON, (Phelps) - The crème de la crème of the hunter world gathered at the Rolex Stadium for the first day of the long awaited 2012 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. All the attention turned toward the classic hunt course that decorated the Rolex Stadium at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Scott Stewart rode to the top of the leader board with Dedication, laying down a stunning round and showing the necessity of fluidity, athleticism and rideability along with finesse. Elizabeth Boyd piloted Brunello to the second place finish, while Jennifer Alfano navigated the famous Jersey Boy to the third place slot.
This is the fourth year the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals have been in existence, created purely to bring show hunters to the world stage in an effort to increase spectators, media, sponsorships, and bring tradition and basic riding principles back to the sport of show hunters. The top 81 qualifying horses were invited to showcase their talents over the demanding traditional hunter course this morning. The International Hunter Derby Finals include a 12-month qualifying period, and only the top 30 horses will continue into tomorrow night’s handy round with the hopes of garnering the championship title and lion’s share of the prize money.
Today’s judging panels were comprised of Rob Bielefeld, Patrick Rodes, Linda Hough, Geoff Teall, Betty Oare and Scott Williamson. Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL, and Allen Rheinheimer of Zionsville, IN, worked in tandem to design the first of three courses in the derby finals. They utilized 14 obstacles to challenge the pairs with fences ranging from 3’6″ to 4’0″ with four additional options set between 4’0″ to 4’3″. Riders were able to increase their overall score by attempting the high options and adding an additional point per fence to their base score. The fences being used throughout the weekend are reminiscent of those that would be found on a traditional hunt field.
Obstacles on the course included oxers made up of natural posts, rails and white board fences, gates, hedges, hay bales, a brush, logs, an aiken, natural foliage and a fence symbolizing the bourbon industry in Kentucky with barrels as standards. Trees were scattered across the Rolex Stadium, with brightly colored flowers enhancing the scenery. Vintage wagons, wheels and gates set the scene as the horses and riders navigated the course with care.
Top contender of the day, Scott Stewart said, “I thought it was a beautiful course. I think it rode harder than it walked, but I thought it was the perfect test for this group of horses. You had to think, and there were some big jumps. It maintained the traditional hunter attitude, but it was also challenging enough to be a derby course.”
Out of the original 81 entrants, only 30 will continue into the Handy Hunter Round, set to take place in the Rolex Stadium tomorrow night. Veteran of the hunter sport, Scott Stewart was the 68th entrant in the order to go, but he guided the talented Dedication, owned by Fashion Farm to the impressive scores of 92, 91 and 93, as well as earning an additional four bonus points to each base score for an overall total of 285 points.
“Dedication was prefect,” Stewart beamed. “He had the right amount of energy, and he was really good today, especially during the bending line. I wasn’t sure which side we should go to, it seemed as though he got a little lost, but at the last moment he proved he could handle the option just fine.”
Stewart continued, “The truth is that he is still green, and I wasn’t sure before yesterday if we were even going to do the derby, but I am glad that we did, he definitely stepped up and proved himself today. I haven’t had the best luck with him under the lights yet, but I am hoping that tomorrow night will be the night and we will exceed all expectations.”
Stewart was able to best the earlier leaders of the class, edging Boyd and Brunello, owned by Janet Peterson, into the second place position. The dynamic duo had previously posted the target scores of 90, 89 and 91 with three out of the four options chosen for a score of 279 points. Boyd also qualified for tomorrow’s Handy Hunter Round with Quatrain, owned by Finally Farm, Inc. Her relationship with Brunello has been nothing short of fantastic, riding the 14-year-old Hanoverian to the top of the hunter sport with over $30,000 in prize money in this derby season.
“We have an unbelievable team that is always doting on Brunello and giving lots of support,” Boyd described. “He was very well prepared for this. We had derived a good strategy, and the plan went accordingly. It was a great course, and Steve made it so rider-friendly. It allowed me to take a mature horse, like Brunello, and really make him shine.”
“Right from the beginning the course rode fantastic,” Boyd continued. “The whole thing was fun and couldn’t have been a better course. He was spunky, biting and was being enthusiastic. You have to keep him fiery over the jumps. He actually did the 1.30m Open jumpers on Wednesday, and although that is not the normal schooling class for a derby horse, I think that it definitely allowed for him to get a little fire going and get his jump up a bit.”
Although the riders came and went with beautiful rounds, Stewart’s score held strong and steadfast. Boyd proved to be a worthy adversary for the qualifier, but it was Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy who left nothing to chance with their stellar round and had the audience on the edge of their seats. The 10-year-old Warmblood gelding has proven himself consistently throughout the years, earning $33,100 alone in the 2011-2012 Derby Season. Alfano guided the chestnut to a beautiful round, eventually falling a half-a-point behind Boyd for the third place finish.
“I am so excited,” Alfano smiled. “I always love to ride in this ring. The course was so beautiful, and after seeing it last night I was just really excited to come and ride today. Jersey Boy was great today. It was such a smooth flowing course, you could really pick up the gallop and keep flowing.”
Patricia Griffith piloted Sienna, owned by Lexi Maounis, to the fourth place position. They were awarded scores of 89, 88 and 92 along with three additional bonus points for a score of 278 points. Stewart also picked up the fifth place finish with Garfield, owned by Alexandra Crown. As the penultimate pair to compete, Stewart and Garfield posted a fantastic finish with three out of the four high options chosen, as well as the notable scores of 88.5, 88.5 and 88 for their consistent round.
Out of the top 30 qualifying horse and rider pairs, there were many riders that qualified multiple mounts to continue into tomorrow night’s main event. Kelley Farmer finished in the sixth, seventh and eighth place positions with Bases Loaded, Clearly and Taken, respectively. Griffith also place with her second mount, Arico. Scott Stewart will have a little comfort in having two top mounts in the top five, but the anticipation is high as the riders await the new day and the exciting opportunity to excel with their talent and handiness.
Picking up other notable honors was Kaitlin Campbell aboard October Road, owned by Emma Tchen, who took a good position moving into tomorrow’s Handy Hunter Round, as well as the Top Placing Amateur Rider in the Classic Hunter Round. Lillie Keenan and Monterrey were dually awarded with the Top Placing Junior-Owner Award for their twelfth place finish.
The Consolation Round will begin tomorrow at 4 pm in the Rolex Stadium, where qualifying riders who narrowly missed the cut off will be welcomed back for a second round of competition, as well as the chance to vie for $15,000 in prize money. The top 30 riders from today’s qualifying round will then return later in the evening for the Handy Hunter Round, which will determine the champion of the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park will continue through Sunday, concluding with the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix.
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows please visit www.KentuckyHorseShows.com.
USHJA HUNTER DERBY FINALS ROUND 1 RESULTS