Elizabeth Towell Boyd had two goals when she walked into the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center for the second round of the $42,200 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular: stick to her plan for the course, and get pre-qualified for next year’s class.
She accomplished both of those goals as she rode Caroline Clark Morrison’s Brunello to first in the class, held Feb. 20 under the lights in Wellington, Fla., over Peter Pletcher on Becky Gochman’s Vibe, and Louise Serio on Bryan Baldwin’s Castle Rock.
“It all worked really nicely,” Boyd said. “It’s so nice when a plan works!”
Brunello and Boyd were the third-to-last pair to go out of 31 in the first round. Boyd set down a forward, galloping trip and scored a 91, winning that round over Vibe and Pletcher’s 88.16.
Pletcher turned up the heat in the 8-horse second round, however, and stood in first with a 91 until Brunello and Boyd, Camden, S.C., stepped into the ring for the shortened course. Boyd knew she had her work cut out for her after Pletcher’s nearly flawless performance. But another fluid trip sealed the victory for Brunello with a second round score of 91.83 and a combined total of 182.83. Pletcher, Magnolia, Texas, finished with a 179.16.
“Peter made me nervous,” Boyd said. “His horse is so, so beautiful across the ground. I said to myself, ‘Liza, you really need to gallop.’ I went in there and did that.”
Though she was pleased with her second round when she came out of the ring, she didn’t look back to check the scoreboard until after she heard her father yell.
“I knew from his tone it was good,” Boyd said. “I was very, very excited. This has been a real team effort.”
Though Boyd, 30, and Brunello, a 12-year-old Hanoverian, have been a team since 2007, Boyd hadn’t shown him in the regular working hunter division for several months until the WHCR Spectacular week at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. Boyd gave birth to a baby girl, Ellen, three months ago and was still getting back into riding.
“My horse had done this class before, so I walked in feeling pretty good about going around the course,” Boyd said. “I was a little rusty, but I pulled it together. It’s always a tense week leading up to this because everyone wants to qualify for the big class.”
Despite the tension, Boyd said the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular is still an enjoyable class for all involved. She was the first winner of the class in 1997 with her own Monday Morning, and it’s been a sentimental favorite since then.
“It’s the first big class of the season,” Boyd said. “It’s a good, fun start to the year. Its fun for all of our owners, and it’s a great way to get together and be social. I almost couldn’t get a babysitter for tonight because two of them were watching the class.”
Pletcher, 49, had to battle his nerves before walking into the ring on his mount, a first year green horse, but he ended up pleasantly surprised with how his horse, a 6-year-old warmblood gelding, handled the big ring, big crowd and bright lights.
“I didn’t even know if I would do the class,” Pletcher said. “I went back and forth all week. I was concerned about how he’d be in the lights, but his owner said, ‘Just try it. It’ll be good experience.’ And that horse rode as well in that ring as any horse I’ve ridden. It was a fun ride.”
Serio, Kennett Square, Penn., agreed with Pletcher, and added that the class offers hunter riders a motivation they don’t usually have.
“We don’t have a grand prix at the end of every week. It’s great for us to have a chance to show off our riding and abilities,” she said.
1. Brunello/Elizabeth Towell Boyd/Caroline Morrison/182.83
2. Vibe/Peter Pletcher/Becky Gochman/179.16
3. Castle Rock/Louise Serio/Bryan Baldwin/176.49
4. Second City/Kelley Farmer/Jane Gaston/175.25
5. Madison/Patricia Griffith/Chasonette Farm LLC/174.83
6. Kid Rock/Louise Serio/Bright Star 158 LLC/174.33
7. Travino/Samantha Schaefer/Heritage Farm/171.32
8. Savant/Morgan Thomas/First Partners LP/170.33
9. Peridot/Schaefer Raposa/Stephen Martines
10. Way Cool/Victoria Colvin/Scott Stewart