Kristy Herrera and Miss Lucy.
Sophie Michaels and Wallenberg Race to Victory in the High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers at Bluegrass Festival Horse Show
Lexington, Ky. — Aug. 20, 2016 — A hush fell over the Kentucky Horse Park’s Rolex Stadium as the final two riders prepared to take the stage in the 2016 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. As Jennifer Alfano and the SBS Farms team looked on anxiously from the sidelines, Kristy Herrera entered the ring with Miss Lucy and laid down the trip of a lifetime to secure the sweetest victory, bringing a true fairytale ending to life for the SBS Farms team during the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show.
“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.”
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. Saturday’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.
“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.”
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.
“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!”
Sophie Michaels and Wallenberg Race to Victory in the High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers
Sophie Michaels was aboard Serenity Equestrian Ventures’ Wallenberg to capture the win in the High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper speed class at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show out of 15 entries. Michaels currently trains with Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith at Heritage Farm in Katonah, New York.
The 18-year-old rider, of New York, New York, sped to victory in an impressive time of 59.69 seconds that no one else could top. Despite the rain in the Rolex Stadium, Michaels was able to keep her composure and come out on top. Her mount, a 13-year-old Hanoverian by Stakkato, has also seen success in the jumper ring with another accomplished young rider, Kelli Cruciotti.
“I’ve had Wally since Florida. I leased him from Kelli,” Michaels said. “He’s been really great. He is really conventional and he’s really broke so he’s fun to do speed classes on. I can feel like I have a shot because he’s on his game to do neat turns and go fast.”
The plan going into the class was simple, to go fast, and Michaels was confident in her partner’s ability to do so.
“My trainer told me just to have the fastest time. I knew I could do it because he’s really good at going fast and I feel comfortable on him,” she said.
In addition to Saturday’s win in the High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper speed class with Wallenberg, Michaels won the High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers with her mare, Balouba, on Friday.
“I’ve had her for a few years now. She’s been so great – she’s super careful and really fun. I got to go last, so it was an advantage, for sure.”
She also won the Medium Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers on Friday with Darero. Michaels took MCB Maya in Friday evening’s $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic, where they put down a clear round but were 0.5 seconds over the time allowed.
Michaels is looking forward to beginning her freshman year of college at Yale University, where she will be able to continue training at Heritage Farm and gearing up for equitation finals in the fall.
Anna Beth Athey guided her own Samoa to the second place position behind Michaels, with 60.014 seconds on the clock. Banda De Hus earned third place honors with Ashley Fleischhacker in the irons. The chestnut mare is owned by Ashland Show Stables, LLC, of Lexington, Kentucky.
In the 1.40m Open Jumpers, Kyle Timm reigned supreme aboard his own Georgie B. He was able to navigate the course against 18 other competitors and finish clean. In the nine-horse jump-off, Timm and the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse rose to the top to claim the victory in a time of 40.46 seconds.
Timm, of Apex, North Carolina, trains at Apex Equestrian Center, where they specialize in importing, buying, selling, and training high-quality hunter, jumper, and equitation horses in the Raleigh and Durham areas. An international show jumping star, Timm grew up in Calgary Alberta, Canada.
Coming in second place behind Timm was Carlos Quinones aboard Michelle Navarro-Grau’s Sagu. The pair just missed Timm’s time, clocking in at 43.232 seconds. Quinones also took the third-place ribbon in the class, with Alhalil, also owned by Michelle Navarro-Grau. Alhalil galloped through the timers with a 43.585 second finish.
The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show will wrap up on Sunday with the $5,000 Hallway Feeds USHJA National Hunter Derby and the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, sponsored by Audi of Lexington.
For more information, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
Media Contact: Rebecca Walton
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