Photo: Tori Colvin and Cuba.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 19, 2017 – The country’s best hunter horses and riders returned to the Rolex Stadium 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 competition, Hesslink and Cadoretto had accrued only $1,200 together in derby winnings, but 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 was 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.