Liza Boyd and Brunello. Photos by Emily Riden.
Lexington, KY – August 17, 2013 – Liza Boyd and Brunello have consistently been top contenders at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, but they have always come just short of the victory. Tonight at the Kentucky Horse Park Boyd and Brunello made the shot when it really counted, finally securing the win and earning the title of 2013 USHJA International Hunter Derby Tier I Champions. With a huge smile on her face, Boyd led the victory gallop in the Rolex Stadium with reserve champion Kelley Farmer following aboard Mythical.
“I don’t know where to start,” Boyd said following her win. “I’m really happy with the horse. He was third one year and second last year. He really deserves it; he’s amazing.”
Rounding out the top four in this year’s prestigious USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show were Kelsie Brittan on Argentum and Shawn Casady aboard Ascot. Their finishes also earned them the top two spots in the overall Tier II standings.
The tier system was newly introduced this year with the hope of creating opportunities for riders to vie for more prize money and for different riders to see a share of that prize money. The 20 highest money earning riders from throughout the year were placed into Tier I, while other contenders qualified as Tier II riders for the shot at additional prize money.
Following yesterday’s Classic Hunter Round, the 30 highest scoring riders, no matter what their tier designation, returned to compete in tonight’s Tier I Handy Hunter Round and vie for the overall honors.
Riders returned in reverse order of their rankings from yesterday to compete over tonight’s Steve Stephens designed course, which included four higher option fences. Prior to the start of the class, Stephens took the crowd and exhibitors alike through a narrated course walk, which eventual winner Boyd took to heart.
“I tried to listen when Steve talked about how he wanted the course to ride,” Boyd said. “He said, ‘This is a jumping contest. I don’t want the course to win. I want the riders and the horses to win.’ There were no traps. It was really, really well done. I kind of took that to heart, what Steve said. He designed it so he knew what he wanted and had in mind, and that helped me. You needed scope, and you needed to be careful, which is what these derbies are supposed to be.”
Of the eventual top four finishers, Casady and Ascot, owned by HJ Group LLC of Sewickley, PA, were the first to return. Casady picked up a strong canter out of the in-gate and headed straight to the first fence, positioned down the centerline of the ring. The pair continued seamlessly from there. They came into the day in seventh place, but their Handy Hunter Round scores of 84, 85, and 85.75 plus handy bonus scores of 4, 8 and 5 earned them a round total of 283.75, including all four high option fences. That score, coupled with their score of 266.10 from Friday’s Classic Hunter Round, shot them to the top of the leaderboard with an overall score of 549.85.
Farmer and Mythical, owned by Larry Glefke and Kenneth Garber of Keswick, VA, finished Friday’s round in sixth place, positioning them to return immediately following Casady.
Farmer is well known for her handiness and daring inside turns in the handy round, and earlier in the night she tried an extremely tight inside turn aboard her first mount, On Q. When that resulted in a rail down, she, and the other riders knew that option was better left alone.
“Liza and I were talking about that turn earlier,” Farmer said. “I said, I’m going to try it with On Q, and we’re all going to know a) whether it’s possible b) whether it’s going to work or c) whether we even need it.”
With Mythical, Farmer proved that the tight inside turn was not needed to still be extremely handy, as they earned handy bonus scores of 10, 8 and 8. Those were added to scores of 89, 88.5 and 89 plus all four high options for a Handy Hunter Round score of 304.50. Casady’s lead was short-lived as Farmer jumped straight to the top of the list with an overall score of 571.75.
“He’s an amazing animal,” Farmer said of Mythical, who is currently competing as a First Year Green Hunter. “He tries to step up on the biggest stages. Every time it gets hard or it gets big, you call on him, and he gives you his all. I can’t ask any more of him. He’s an amazing horse. He does not let you down.”
Returning in the fourth place position were 17-year-old Kelsie Brittan and her mount Argentum. The talented young rider soared over all four of the high options, earning handy bonus points of 6, 7 and 5 and scores of 85, 85.25 and 84.75 for a Handy Hunter Round total of 285. Their grand total of 553.50 earned them the third place finish.
“I’ve just been doing the Juniors Hunters on him this year,” Brittan said of Argentum. “Every now and then there would be a derby in Texas or in Michigan, and I’d say, ‘Okay, well, I’ll do it.’ I’ve been a little chicken. I’ve been just doing the small options, playing it safe. I’m here, so of course I’m going to try and be like all of the top riders and do all of the big jumps. I just had to really trust him tonight, and yesterday too. I just had to let him show off, and not ride it like a Junior Hunter anymore. I had to ride him more like a derby horse. It’s a big adjustment for me.”
Her trust in Argentum and his trust in her were apparent throughout the class and did not go unnoticed by the judges.
“I saw them in the pouring rain in Florida last winter,” judge Danny Robertshaw said. “I was talking to her mother. I said it then, and I said it yesterday and today – it is so much fun when you see a horse that loves his rider as much as he loves her.”
Following Brittan and Argentum, last year’s defending champions Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy entered the ring. They looked like they could win it again until an unfortunate rail hit the ground midway through the course.
While luck sadly was not with Alfano, she did share some luck with the next to enter the ring, Boyd and Brunello, co-owned by Boyd and Janet Peterson.
“Jennifer Alfano called me this morning and said, ‘I have a gift for you,'” Boyd shared. “She had found a ton of four leaf clovers, and she gave me one. That was so nice. It’s so much fun that the sportsmanship is that good. She was really genuine, and it was special to have.”
Boyd had another special token of good luck for her round: a necklace her mother purchased for her at last year’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. The necklace reads, “Make the shot when it counts,” and that’s exactly what she did. She and Brunello earned scores of 84.25, 93 and 88.5 plus handy bonuses of 8, 9 and 7 for a round total of 301.75 and an overall total of 577.75.
Yesterday’s front runners, Scott Stewart and Garfield, had yet to return, but when their final overall score came in as a 535.50, it was apparent that Boyd and Brunello had earned the victory gallop.
Robertshaw had high praise for Boyd and Brunello’s round following her win. “I liked the gallop right from the beginning,” Robertshaw said. “The horse’s ears pricked looking for the jumps. There wasn’t a jump where his hind end wasn’t a foot and a half higher, finishing the arc and landing with his neck out and galloping away. She never pulled the reins and just went right to the next one. It was all forward movement like it’s supposed to be. She knows him, and she puts her heart right into it. He takes it and believes it, and it worked. It’s just exciting to watch that.”
Earlier in the day, those who did not make the top 30 cut for the Tier I Handy Round had the opportunity to compete in the $10,000 Consolation Round, sponsored by Moyer Farm LLC. Winning the consolation class was Scott Stewart aboard Declaration, owned by Fashion Farm LLC, while Victoria Colvin and Inclusive, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker, finished in second.
The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show concludes tomorrow with highlight events for both hunters and jumpers. In the hunter ring, the $5,000 Hallway Feeds UHSJA National Hunter Derby will wrap up this week’s prestigious hunter competition. At 2 p.m., jumper riders will gather at the Rolex Stadium for the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, bringing the week to an exciting finish.
For more information on the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show and all of the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows, visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
To learn more about the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship Finals, visit www.ushja.org.
Emily Riden for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International