If you’re a Chronicle fan, you already know who the top contenders are for this year’s USHJA International Derby Championships, and you’ve probably already picked your favorite among the regular winners. You don’t need me or anyone else to argue why you should join Team Brunello, root for Jersey Boy for a second consecutive win, or cheer on Inclusive.
But at last count there were a record 97 entries on this year’s start list for the Aug. 16-17 event, which means there are all kinds of interesting contestants coming to the Kentucky Horse Park. There are plenty of special competitors to look out for and not just because they’re favored to win the top check.
So find one who fits your style, so you can cheer on a special someone whether you’re watching from the Kentucky Horse Park or online at usefnetwork.com.
Scroll down to hear the other Chronicle staff weigh in as well, and add your own favorites in the comments.
If you’re looking forward to this year's event, be sure to check out this year’s Aug. 12 Chronicle’s Derby Championships Preview issue. We’ve compiled a roster of all the competitors (with Bill Moroney handicapping the field) and recruited Colleen McQuay to give us the skinny on this year’s new format. There’s a photo spread of Louise Serio’s Derbydown and a candid Q & A with self-proclaimed derby man Larry Glefke, on top of all your usual Chronicle goodies. We’ll have loads of coverage during the event, so check back all weekend at chronofhorse.com, and we’ll have full coverage in the Sept. 2 issue.
1. If you’re obsessed with watching videos online
Choose: Charlie Brown and Peter Pletcher
Owner: Spruce Meadows
Why Charlie Brown and Peter? I’m usually lucky enough to attend a lot of derbies year-round, but this late spring and summer I stayed closer to home. I watched an awful lot of videos of rounds in the meantime, and this classic round of Charlie Brown and Peter Pletcher is one of my favorites. “Peanut” is a recent convert from the jumper ring, but he certainly doesn’t look like it. He looks like a perfect partner for Peter to finally claim the top check at Finals, and I can’t wait to see him in person. Check it out for yourself.
2. If you’re a pedigree aficionado
Choose: Rose Hill and Jennifer Alfano
Owner: Sharon O’Neill
Why Rose Hill and Jen? If there was ever a superstar hunter pedigree, Rose Hill has it. She’s by Popeye K and out of Rox Dene (by Aristos B). Jen Alfano picked out “Rosey” as a youngster on Elaine Boylan’s farm, and she’s brought her along over the last few years to a solid contender.
Rosey is a sentimental favorite of Jen’s, named after a cemetery where her late friend Stephen Comunale is buried. She suffered a setback in May of 2012, when a bout of colic required surgery, and she sat out most of her second year green season. She doesn’t have quite the miles of Jen’s other star at Derby Championships, Jersey Boy, but she’s a lovely, consistent trier.
Bonus points: Check out Caramo (ridden by Harold Chopping) and Class Action (ridden by Allison Toffolon). If you’re a Rumba fan (and who isn’t!) these contenders are by Carano, the same horse who sired the inaugural Derby Finals winner.
3. If you like an underdog with a real shot
Choose: Carson and Greg Crolick
Owner: Orchard Lake Farms LLC
Why Carson and Greg? Whenever editorial staff at the Chronicle is covering horse shows, we love to share our favorite photos on Facebook, and sometimes it turns into something of a competition to see whose photos can get the most likes. Around indoors season, Molly Sorge and I got a little Greg Crolick/Carson obsessed. I think it started with a super cute leadline photo of Greg and his wife and daughter at Harrisburg, then on to Washington, then the National.
Greg is a modest and truly nice guy who always puts the horse first and worked his way up after riding on the IHSA team at Cazenovia College (N.Y.) to running Top Call Farm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Carson and Greg paired up right before Derby Finals last year. Greg blamed himself for mistakes that kept them out of top contention, but he started to put the pieces together quickly over the season, finishing fourth a month later at the Chicago Hunter Derby, and earning second in the handy hunter class at Pennsylvania National. In HITS Ocala (Fla.) this year he spent hours hand-walking and grazing Carson near the main hunter ring to help him feel more comfortable, and sure enough they ended up winning the derby during there and taking the high performance circuit title.
Bonus points: Look for Monterrey and Kelley Cruciotti to advance to Round 2—that junior and her equitation mount have been steadily progressing and earning ribbons on both coasts.
4. If you like a little horse with a lot of heart
Chose: Mythical and Kelley Farmer
Owner: Larry Glefke and Kenneth and Selma Garber
Why Mythical and Kelley? OK, OK. Kelley and “Phillipe” are on a hot streak, especially since they just won at Traders Point and made Kelley into the first million-dollar hunter rider, so they’re not a terribly original pick. But they’re a really fun pair to watch, and a solid bet, despite the fact he’s not her most seasoned partner.
To hear Kelley tell it, Mythical drew some interest before Larry Glefke bought him, but everyone dismissed him when they saw his size. (Kelley hasn’t put a stick on him, but he’s not nearly 16 hands.) But with Kelley up, he goes like a phenomenal little athlete. Kelley compares him to Taken, who’s also a diminutive stature, and both horses do lots of extra galloping to stay fit. He’s earned lots of fans so far this season with his incredible technique, and he was one of the first horses Bill Moroney mentioned when I asked who he thought could be contenders.
Larry Glefke once told me of his charges: “We don’t do a lot of pulling around here. We go forward, and when you live by the sword sometimes you die by the sword.”
In an age when so many lament the slow pace in the show ring, watch Kelley who knows no fear. She digs in and kicks on, and so many horses absolutely love her for it.
5. If you want to cheer for a horse you’d love to ride
Chose: Sundance and Meredith Lipke
Owner: Meredith Lipke
Why Sundance and Meredith? If you lined up all the derby entries and told me I could ride exactly one, I’m getting on Sundance. Kristy Herrera (née McCormick) trained Sundance along with her sister Kimberly, transforming him from a spooky horse she hated into one Kimberly would ride to win ASPCA Maclay Finals and Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals. (He won Maclay Finals the next year, too, with Kels Bonham.) He’s been a good contender in the derby series and doesn’t look like anything could faze him.
Amateur Meredith Lipke is a strong, competitive rider, and she’s not intimidated by the pros. She always gives “Tommy” a positive ride, in the amateur-owner ring or on the derby field. They’ll be a pair to watch for sure.
Bonus points: Declaration. It’s always tough to pick just one photo of Declaration to run in the magazine because he jumps every single one in identically perfect form. I don’t think I could ride him nearly as well as Scott Stewart or his owner Glenn Senk, but I’d love to try!
6. If you like a quirky horse
Chose: Carhartt and Louise Serio
Owner: Amy Guth
Why Carhartt and Louise? Carhartt will have a special companion at Derby Championships: his “brother” Inspired. He doesn’t go anywhere without Amy’s fellow amateur mount, as he needs the constant support.
It doesn’t hurt that he came from Ireland, and horses from there tend to know a little something about bravery over tough courses. Check out this video of Carhartt—then named Loughnatousa McLovin. Check out what he could do as a 4-year-old—I’ll bet he’s ready for Derby Championships!
I think Louise is due for a great finish at Championships. She’s an amazing rider who has incredible feel for a horse. She’s been a strong supporter of the program since its inception and had to miss a year because of injury. But with “Mickey,” as well as contenders like Bonaparte and Cinemagic, I think we’ll be seeing her toward the end of Saturday night.
Runners up: Last year’s champion Jersey Boy doesn’t go anywhere without four stuffed chestnut horses with blazes. He’s a notoriously obnoxious charge in the barn, in a good spirited way. You’ve got to love those overgrown ponies with oodles of talent, and he has an amazing partnership with Jen Alfano. You can count on Jen to bring her A game when it counts.
7. If you love a rider with great attitude
Choose: Hope Glynn and SVS Caremunde Z
Owner: Shelly Gambardella
Why Hope? For the last two years, Hope advanced to the final round of competition on Woodstock, only to have him drop out of the running when he spooked at the Jumbotron. Another rider might be frustrated at having traveled from California to have a goofy mistake, but Hope went home and posted on her Facebook page about how she needs a Jumbotron for her Sonoma Valley Stables for Christmas.
Hope’s star has been on the rise the last few years, and she’s just the sort of great role model you’d want for the sport. She rides well, never has a bad word to say about anything, and still makes time for an occasional triathalon and her PTA meetings. She’s bringing three great horses to Kentucky, and she could have a shot on any of them, but I have a hunch it’s “Mickey’s” year.
The Chronicle staff weighs in:
Molly Sorge, Associate Editor
“It’s hard to bet against the trio of derby queens, Jennifer Alfano, Kelley Farmer and Liza Towell. And then there’s that Tori Colvin, threatening to upset the applecart with Inclusive. Sure, there are some obvious choices in that mix-up. It’s going to be a derby finals jam-packed with talent and should be a lot of fun to watch.
But it’s also going to be anyone’s day. I’m making my two picks based on the riders, and they’re two of my favorite people. I’m going with Amanda Steege, who is making her derby finals debut, on Zidane, and Molly Ashe-Cawley on Kennzo.
There are few people more gracious and gosh-darn-it nice than Amanda. She’s a favorite of mine to interview, and it’s been fun for me to see her work her way up through the professional ranks. She loves her horses, and her barn just seems fun to be a part of. If a money tree sprang up in my back yard overnight, I’d buy a few nice hunters and ride with Amanda. So, I hope she wins!
And you might accuse me of picking Molly just so I could see our name in the headline (hardee har har), but she’s also one of my favorites. I’ve known her since my days grooming, and she’s a genuine, hard-working professional. And a devoted mom! I know Molly would rather be traipsing around the world with a string of killer grand prix horses, as her heart lies in the jumpers, but she’s having fun in this hunter phase of her life, too. She listened to Kennzo when he said he didn’t want to jump the colored poles anymore, and I admire that. I hope she has a blast out there in the Sheila C. Johnson Ring in the Rolex Stadium; she’s got one of the biggest smiles when things go right, so here’s hoping we see lots of her teeth after her round.”
Dawn Kirlin, Advertising Director
“My pick is easy: Jessie Lang and C Quito. I love the relationship these two have and with him being for sale, I'd love for them to be able to clinch the win this year! Plus I'm a sucker for a gray, and he looks like a giant pony! I am secretly hoping he ends up in my barn. I'm hoping to get Jessie out here to my farm to teach a ‘how to ride a hunter derby’ clinic next year.”
Kat Netzler, Senior Editor
“Temptation, AKA Hershey, jumped straight into my heart the day his photo appeared in our July 8 issue (p. 48) after his win at the $15,000 derby at Skidmore College Saratoga Classic (N.Y.).
‘What an athlete!’ I exclaimed to my computer screen while proofing the layout. (OK, maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but he definitely did catch my eye. And I do believe I gushed to more than one co-worker that ‘He could just jump right into my arms!’)
This spunky little gelding is a Derby Championships first-timer, but he's known for his handiness, and he looks like such a fun ride. I love his bouncy adjustability (no surprise, since he doubles as owner Autumn Janesky's equitation mount) and the keenness and athleticism he shows when his derby jockey, Kristy Herrera, really kicks him on. Watching him wind up and go makes me wish every jump was a hand-gallop fence.”
Lisa Slade, Editorial Staffer
“Last year I chose Brunello and Liza Boyd as my staff pick, and I have to go with them again this year. They came so close to victory in 2012, and I believe they can pull through this year! Brunello reminds me of an old-school hunter—elegant and a little bit rangy with that big, open stride. The pair's been on a roll lately, and I love how Liza patterns the care of her longtime partner after Rich Fellers’ care of Flexible.”
Lauren Maruskin, Editorial Production Manager
“I love, love, LOVE Listen and have since I saw him at the 2010 Derby Championships where he finished fifth with Kelley Farmer when he was only a 6-year-old. I was mostly impressed, but also a little jealous because my own horse, also 6 at the time, wasn't nearly as consistent and unflappable. Tori Colvin is now his rider, and she's on fire. I think they have a really good shot at winning.
I admire a well-rounded horse and am always wowed by Triompf, the horse that regularly competes in hunter derbies and grand prix jumpers. He certainly deserves a good ribbon at Championships. I'll also be rooting for Declaration, as he continues to be my "heartthrob" horse (so handsome!) and Amanda Steege and Zidane because I enjoyed talking to her for our Derby Championship Roster in our Preview Issue (Aug. 12). I'm very excited for this year's championships; there are so many talented horses and riders that will be there. It should be lots of fun to watch.”
Lindsay Berreth, Editorial Staffer
“This year I'm rooting for Hope Glynn and Woodstock. Glynn had bad luck at Derby Championships last year when Woodstock spooked at the Jumbotron, but she handled the incident with finesse.
The gelding seems to have put his demons behind him as he rose to the occasion this spring under the lights at the WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular at the Flintridge Spring Classic to win the class, just a few weeks after Glynn had a health scare.
Glynn was determined to ride in that derby, and she even ran a triathlon with her husband the Sunday before the show. I think that determination, combined with her sportsmanship and a talented horse, deserves some good vibes!”
Haley Burton, Editorial Intern
“I had the privilege of interviewing Lillie Keenan after her recent win at USEF Junior Hunter Championships—East. Hearing her speak about her passion for her horses was incredibly inspiring. I had to keep reminding myself that she was just 16 years old during our conversation because she was speaking so eloquently about Skyfall. She is leasing “Beetle” especially for Derby Championships and only has positive things to say about the horse, except maybe about his unfortunate barn name!
I would have gone with Emily Williams and All That, because he seems like a cool dude, and I would love to chill at the barn and feed him carrots, but Emily’s other ride, Tory Burch, is just so beautiful. Plus, I love the designer she’s named after (even though I can’t afford it!). If you look at the pictures of the pair jumping, Tory Burch’s knees are always tucked up nearly to her chin, and she has this look on her face like, ‘This is awesome!’ ”
Bernadette Palmeri, Editorial Intern
“Natalie Geller is a true horsewoman who works incredibly hard to improve her riding skills and has a big heart for all types of horses from the smallest school horse to the winningest grand prix jumper, including her derby partner Amplitude. Of course, I have to root for a fellow teammate as Natalie and I were on the Connecticut College IHSA equestrian team together. Go Camels!
When I asked Eleanor Hellman about her future plans for Nigel as they gear up for one of the biggest events on the calendar, Eleanor excitedly reported on her mom’s progress with Nigel at home and her hopes to see the new pair working together in the show ring. Eleanor is a team player who gets joy from seeing those close to her succeed–what else could you ask for in a winner?”