Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 19, 2017 – The country’s best hunter horses and riders returned to the Rolex Stadium Saturday evening for the second and final phase of competition in the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. Competitors returned with their classic round scores in tow, and had one last chance to show off their horses and their skills around designers Allan Lohman and Danny Moore’s skillfully-planned course. John French, the 2009 champion, sat in the prime position with the one-two lead after day one, trailed by Victoria Colvin and rookie Geoffrey Hesslink in the next two spots. As the early leaders, these three were targets for their counterparts, with Colvin and Cuba ultimately pulling away from the pack with a standout round to secure the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship Honors.
Young rider Taylor St. Jacques and Heritage Farm, Inc.’s Charisma separated from the field for the early lead as the seventh of 25 pairs to take their turn in the handy round, pulling in a score of 299.75 for the day and an impressive total score of 559.75. Just a few turns later, sitting in 12th position entering the day, Amanda Steege knew she needed to ride boldly aboard Wendy Salomon’s Maitre D’ if she were to have a chance at the title, and instead of focusing simply on where she could cut strides to promote handiness, the veteran rider honed her efforts on exemplifying a steady and confident pace. Based on the scores of 88.00, 86.75 and 85.25, plus handy scores of 8, 8 and 7 that she received from the judges panel, it was obvious Steege did her job well. She and “Mr. Lucky” earned a nightly score of 295.00 once the high option points were added, bumping her to an overall score of 560.50 and the class lead with 11 pairs still to ride.
Whittled down to only the top three individuals left to go, Steege still sat atop the leaderboard. French and Hiller Farms, LLC’s Center Court, his second-place horse, rode ahead of their place in the reverse order to allow French time to swap mounts, but they were unable to overtake Steege with their two-day composite score of 535.50. Hesslink and his own 6-year-old Cadoretto took the stage sitting in fourth place after the first phase, and though the young Hesslink professed to be nervous in his debut USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship showing, he exuded confidence in the ring and was rewarded by the highest scores of the night to eclipse Steege and take over the lead. Hesslink and his chestnut gelding garnered scores of 90.00, 88.50 and 87.00 from the three panels of judges and, when combined with handy scores of 8 across the board plus 12 option points, broke the 300-point barrier with their nightly tally of 301.50. Combined with Friday’s score, Hesslink earned a lofty 574.50 points over the two phases, and was one of only three pairs to hit the 90 mark.
Unfortunately for Hesslink, his score would not hold, as Colvin, no stranger to the winner’s circle in the hunter ring, out did herself aboard Cuba, the 11-year-old gelding owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC. Colvin navigated the handy round like a seasoned pro and, like Steege, paid attention to not just taking the tightest turns possible, but treated her high position with respect and rode a steady round, which paid off. She and Cuba earned scores of 92.00, 88.75 and 88.25, plus the highest handy scores of the night at 10, 9 and 9. The four high option fences further added to her score for a grand total of 309.00 and a two-day score of 584.25, nearly 10 points ahead of Hesslink. As the day-one leader and last to go in the class, French and Laura Wasserman’s Skyhawk had a high standard to beat with Colvin’s score, and though the pair laid down an efficient round, an unfortunate knockdown at the stone wall, not an uncommon occurrence for the night, knocked them out of contention, solidifying Colvin and Cuba as the 2017 champions.
Colvin rode to a total payout of over $45,000 to go along with her championship winnings, followed by Hesslink in the reserve position. Prior to the weekend’s competition, Hesslink and Cadoretto had accrued only $1,200 together in derby winnings, but tonight the pair, who have only been a team since the spring season, will leave the Rolex Stadium not only with the nearly $30,000 check that goes to the overall reserve champion, but also prize money for the highest-placing Section B pair, an amount that exceeds $10,000. Steege and Maitre D’ retained their third place position to stay on the podium, and St. Jacques, also in her debut showing, and Charisma finished in fourth place by less than a full point. Kelli Cruciotti and her own Monterrey nabbed the next spot with their total score of 553.50 to round out the top five finishers.
Earlier in the afternoon, 38 horses and riders who did not qualify for the handy round took another shot at some prize money, riding in the $10,000 Derby Challenge, sponsored by Spring Gathering Charity Horse Show and PJP Farm. Like the handy round, Lohman and Moore’s course included plenty of option jumps and inside turn options, allowing riders to exhibit their mount’s handiness. As the first to go in the order, Timothy Maddrix and Wimberly Debono’s Indecision did not have the luxury of seeing any competitors ride the track, but as it turned out, they did not need the insight. The pair navigated the course brilliantly and were rewarded with scores of 89.00, 87.00 and 83.00, in addition to 12 option points and 24 handy points from the judges panel, for a composite score of 295.00 to set a high standard at the onset of the class. Though they were hunted by all subsequent entrants, only two managed to come within 10 points of the class leaders. David Oliynyk and Generous, owned by Lori Gaudet, laid down a spectacular trip but ended up just shy of the top prize, finishing on a 294.50 score, just one-half point behind Maddrix and Indecision.
Steege, with the ride aboard Loxley, owned by Finale Partners, LLC, was the next-closest competitor, earning a 291.00 with the bay stallion, followed by Evan Coluccio and Lisa Vesterstein’s Anthem with total marks of 281.00. With a score of 279.00, Daniel Geitner and True Story, owned by Kelly Sims, rounded out the top five.
Prior to Saturday’s handy round of the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, Jersey Boy, famously ridden by Jennifer Alfano and owned by Susie Schoellkopf, was honored and recognized for his incredible athleticism, talent and success as one of the best international hunter derby horses in a special retirement ceremony held during the opening ceremonies. The pair won the 2012 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, and also claimed the reserve championship in the prestigious competition in 2009 and 2014. In addition, the hunter derby superstar still firmly stands atop the USHJA lifetime money-won leaderboard and has won the George H. Morris Perpetual Trophy four times as the highest money earner. Next, Jersey Boy will enjoy his well-deserved retirement at Stacy Sandbothe’s farm in Prospect, Tennessee.
Saturday’s finale concludes the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, but hunter competition will continue Sunday in the Alltech Arena with the USHJA National Hunter Derby, slated to begin at noon. In 2018, the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship will return for it’s tenth anniversary.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Victoria Colvin – 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Champion
On her win:
“[I feel] amazing. It was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked [Cuba] to go any better. I’ve been doing this for many years, so it was very nice to be able to win it. It was amazing.”
“He’s not very spooky and he’s an honest horse, so I didn’t really think he was going to bat an eye or anything, but I didn’t know how much experience he would have with a very large ring. It’s more intense than regular classes. I felt like he was going to go really well in the handy. All day he’s been quiet and perfect and in a good frame of mind, so he went how I thought he was going to which worked out as planned.”
On her derby experience with Cuba:
“I started really showing him in the beginning of WEF and I don’t think we really had [the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship] on our mind at that point, but I think the more that he did the more we could see that he had scope to be able to do this. Then we started jumping bigger and trying to test him out to see if he would be able to do it. Then we did the derby at the end of WEF and he was amazing. We couldn’t have asked him to be any better so then we decided that we might as well start gearing him up for this because it seems he has endless scope – way more than we thought. He’s just been spectacular.”
On the course:
“I thought [the course] was perfect. You could pick up a nice gallop from the start and be able to keep the pace throughout the whole course. That is one of my favorite things to do so it was fun. There weren’t many lines and that was also a favorite thing of mine – single jumps, oxers. They all jump these jumps amazing. There is big fill. There weren’t many airy jumps so they all jumped them with a lot of style. I think my favorite part of the course was turning from [fence] 1 to [fence] 2 – [Tom Wright and I] were discussing that. We didn’t know which option fence to do and I thought the handiest one would be to go to the third one. I think that was the most fun part because I got to turn really tight back and just slice it.”
On planning her handy round:
“We were thinking as [we saw] a couple people go diagonal and then went right back to [the next fence] what we could do, but then Tom [Wright] and I discussed that it was not really completely worth it. There was a lot to lose and there wasn’t as much to gain so we stuck to [some wider turns].”
Geoffrey Hesslink – 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Reserve Champion
On his reaction to placing second:
“I’m extremely happy. I came here with low expectations with some goals, but this was amazing and I’m over the moon that my horse was that good.”
On the course:
“It was a lot of single jumps again. I thought the first part of the course was kind of more technical – maybe some harder jumps – and then as the course went on it rode really nice and you could kind of flow to the second half.”
“He’s amazing. He rides like he’s completely made up and for being as young as he is I thought he was exceptional. From basically the day I got him, he’s been nothing but easy and wonderful. I’m really lucky. He came into our barn at the end of Florida to be tried as an equitation horse and we didn’t really have anyone for him at that time but I thought the feeling was special and I really liked it so then I bought him. Next he’ll probably still do the derbies. He might do some equitation. You never know.”
On his nerves:
“I was very nervous [yesterday]. I was a little unsure with my horse being so young and I felt a lot of pressure being up there. This is my first time so I tried to stay away from this ring as much as possible today, but then I walked the course and I felt pretty confident about it. When I warmed up he felt amazing so I took a shot and he was great.”
Amanda Steege – 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby, third place
On her reaction to finishing third:
“I really can’t believe it. I think I’m still digesting the whole thing. [Maitre D’ ] just went out there like he owned the place and it was an amazing feeling.”
On her plan after watching competitors ride the course:
“I mostly learned that I wanted to ride with pace. Some of the early rounds I saw, they didn’t necessarily make any mistakes, but to me it looked like the judges were looking for you to show off a little more pace, so that was my plan when I went. I was in 12th after the first round so it was easy for me to go in there and try to take a shot a little bit as opposed to when you’re coming back high up there.”
On earning handy points on course:
“As riders there was a whole group of us watching, and I think we riders get really focused on the handy and ‘where’s the tree – should we go inside the tree or outside the tree,’ but when I stood there watching some of the early rounds in the B section, what I noticed was that the handy bonus points weren’t about that. They weren’t about if you were inside the tree or outside the tree – they were about your pace. Yes, they don’t want you to go all the way to the other end of the ring, but it was more about pace than it was about the exact track. I think those handy bonus points really start to come into play in this class so it’s kind of important to try to figure out where you can get those.”
Danny Robertshaw – Judge
On what he was looking for in a round:
“From the judge’s point of view everything Amanda said is dead on. She did exactly what she said. There were some nice trips in the beginning, but they were very safe and not flowing or fluid and [Colvin, Hesslink and Steege] – what was beautiful about [their rounds] is they went for it, they tried. They rode like they were going to win and they did that. They stuck to that rhythm and the horses were beautifully prepared. They followed the ring beautifully and looked out of the bridle and they were able to turn and yet keep balanced, and then find a real distance and not a made up one because of choking and freezing and that made the ultimate difference in the end.”
On handy points:
“The bonus points come out of smoothness because a real handy horse is a very rideable horse, and these three just looked like they could do no wrong. The riders knew [the horses] and did exactly that. They put their faith and trust in them and it paid off.”
Alan Lohman – Course Designer
On if the riders followed his vision:
“They did follow [the track I designed] pretty much. There was always a part for each horse to separate themselves depending on what they did well. I just wanted them to be able to show their horses off and give them some options to do that.”