“I still can’t believe it,” Herrera said, fighting back tears of joy. “This is obviously a dream come true, and of course I have to first thank Jen for letting me ride Miss Lucy. I can’t believe it. Miss Lucy loves being in that ring, and I just steered, really. She just rose to the occasion. It’s unbelievable. I was in there riding, and I knew Jen was riding from the side for me. Every jump felt unbelievable, especially the last one.”
|Kristy Herrera and Miss Lucy|
Sitting snugly in third place after Friday’s classic round, Herrera gathered her composure before heading into the ring for Saturday night’s handy round. Herrera was able to shake off the pressure and put her faith in Miss Lucy to lay down a spectacular trip, earning scores of 90.5, 90.5, and 92.5 from the three judging panels to combine with her 25 handy points and all of the high options. Herrera’s round brought Alfano to tears.
“I’m still in shock, also,” Alfano said, also fighting back emotion. “Everyone knows that that horse has such a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons, and so does Kristy. It was hard for me to be here not riding, but I was in tears and had goosebumps. It was so beautiful to watch the two of them together. I’m so proud of both of them. It was meant to be.”
After sustaining an injury in late May at the Devon Horse Show, Alfano was rendered unable to finish the season on Helen Lenahan’s 14-year-old derby star, Miss Lucy. Herrera, a former student of Alfano’s, rose up to fill Alfano’s shoes, taking over the ride on Miss Lucy just three weeks ago.
Beginning at the young age of 9, Herrera started training at SBS Farms, where, under Alfano’s tutelage, Herrera began to blossom into the rider she is today. Tonight’s victory truly marked a mentorship coming full circle for the two riders, as Alfano quite literally handed the reins to her student, putting her faith in Herrera and looking on as the duo filled her with pride.
|Kristy Herrera and Miss Lucy|
“I really didn’t imagine this,” Alfano said. “I’m so happy. To be honest, I was a little nervous about tonight. Miss Lucy is an incredible horse, and Kristy is an incredible rider, but when you come to these handy rounds, that is when you really need to have a partnership with your horse. You have to know where all the buttons are. I think Kristy did something tonight that not a lot of people could have done.”
In a heartbreaking twist of fate, Kelley Farmer and Baltimore, who were leading after the classic round with a high score of 291 points, watched the win slip away as a piece of the final fence fell with Baltimore’s back hooves, bringing an unfortunate ending to an otherwise perfect round.
Standing proudly at 1.57m, the final fence not only marked the tallest obstacle on course, but also the tallest one in hunter derby history. The daunting wall dashed the dreams of many a rider, but Farmer’s mishap was easily the most devastating of the night.
“You know what, it is what it is,” Farmer said. “That horse did nothing to let me down tonight. It just happened to be a little bit of bad luck. The way Kristy went, and the way her horse went and with the scores she got, deservedly so, I wasn’t going to beat her doing anything else but trying to jump the high options. It’s not my nature to take the easy way out or jump the low side or anything. Kristy went beautifully, and she deserved to win. The only way I was going to beat her was to give it a shot.”
|Kelley Farmer and Kodachrome|
All hope was not lost, however, as Farmer still brought home the reserve championship aboard Nina Moore’s Kodachrome with scores of 89, 91, and 88 tacked onto 22 handy points, resulting in a grand total of 582 points. Another round laden with emotion, Farmer dedicated her ride to the late Russell Frey, who had the ride on Kodachrome until his passing in May. Making her stellar round even more special, Saturday’s finale happened to fall on Frey’s birthday.
“That horse had to carry the weight of the world over the past months, and he’s done nothing but get better and better,” Farmer said. “To walk out there and go like that, I couldn’t be more proud of him. Nina bought that horse for Russell to come to Derby Finals. When she sent him to me, she said that’s what she wanted him to do. She told Russell that he would, so I’m honored that she gave me the opportunity to keep going.”
Before heading to the Kentucky Horse Park, last year’s champion, Liza Boyd, kissed her superstar, three-time Derby Finals champion, Brunello, and teared up as she drove down the driveway without him. Boyd brought a piece of Brunello’s tail with her, which she tucked safely in her pocket and rubbed before her round aboard O’Ryan. With some luck from Brunello’s tail, the duo turned in the best handy round of the night, earning scores of 91, 90 and 92 in addition to a total of 27 bonus handy points for a total score of 578 points to finish in third place overall.
|Liza Boyd and O’Ryan|
“On a lighter note, I was a lot more laid back than Kelley and Kristy,” Boyd said, laughing. “With the pressure that these two had, I don’t know how they did it. I just had fun on my junior hunter, and he stepped up for me, and I couldn’t be happier. I thank the owners, the Styslingers, for letting me do this with him. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be in this press conference without Brunello, so I was glad to be here.”
Course designers Bobby Murphy and Danny Moore said that they were looking to raise the stakes with Saturday’s course, challenging the derby riders by pushing them to new heights. Murphy and Moore also decorated the ring with elaborate sand sculptures, crediting the generosity of donors such as Hugh Kincannon, Rob Murphy, Diane Carney, Ron Danta and the Gochman family for making that a possibility.
“If you have more people in the hunter industry that will step up to finance these courses, then we can create more spectacular courses,” Murphy said. “It comes down to money with this, and tonight moved this program a step in the right direction. I’m sure the Hunter Derby Program created new fans tonight through this course and through these riders, and through them jumping this gigantic wall. It was an exciting class. The specs say in bold, ‘no maximum height,’ so we’ll treat this as a hunter puissance, and we’ll just keep inching up. That half inch counts!”