Wellington, Fla.—March 29
Most riders consider the handy round of the USHJA International Hunter Derbies the more stressful part of the class. That’s especially true at the two-day $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, when the second round is held on one of the most impressive venues of the derby tour, the grass derby field of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Stadium.
But Tara Metzner wasn't worried about that. She knew she had a bigger challenge today with Come Monday in the relatively straightforward Classic Round held in the familiar Eugene Mische Grand Hunter Ring.
“She’s so brave, she’s actually better in a [place] like that,” said Metzner, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. “Sometimes in a ring like this she can get a little bored and she’ll rub one here or there. For me this is actually the harder round.”
But Come Monday, owned by Davlyn Farms, rose to the challenge today, jumping to the highest scores of the day—a pair of 89s—to head into the handy round on top. She has a 3-point lead over Kelley Farmer and McLain Ward’s former ride, Unspoken. Molly Ashe-Cawley and Kennzo lay third, just a point ahead of Mayfair and Sandy Ferrell.
The biggest hunter class of week 12 of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has developed a reputation as one of the toughest derbies to win all year. Traditionally the start list’s jam packed with heavy-hitting combinations, and two years ago the second round of the derby started moving across the street to the grass, where horses haven’t had a chance to school or hack. This year's a little different.
There were still plenty of talented combinations of the order of go, but some obvious omissions. Scott Stewart and Tori Colvin both opted to leave their horses in the barn, and reigning USHJA International Hunter Derby Champion Liza Boyd is on maternity leave. Last year’s winner, Jen Alfano, headed to Pin Oak (Texas) with her derby string as well. Farmer, who won this class two years ago on Taken, was the busiest rider with five mounts, but those are all newer rides who aren’t quite confirmed in the derby ring.
Ken Krome built the track for the class, which included a one-stride in-and-out of relatively upright verticals, and another upright vertical away from the in gate.
“This is my first time doing this class here,” said Metzer, who also qualified her second ride, At Last. “What I’ve heard is that the course is very plain [compared to past years]. I think people were a little surprised at the lack of stuff. The 3'6" jumps were very small and plain and unassuming. The bigger jumps were a little bit bigger, but still plain. Seems like they could have done a little bit more to make it a little more impressive. It’s a $50,000 class. They could have tried a little bit harder to make it a little more special. It rode nice. The lines rode easy, and there was nothing tricky or difficult.”
That’s not to say it was easy for everyone. Monterrey and Kelli Cruccioti (second at ASPCA Maclay Finals [Ky.] last year and winners of a derby at Summer In The Rockies [Colo.]) got to an oxer wrong and hit it hard. Cruccioti hopped off a few strides later when Monterrey wasn’t right. The horse lifted up his right hind whens he dismounted, but walked out of the ring shortly thereafter looking much more comfortable.
Just Fred (Havens Schatt), So To Speak (Farmer), Rivano (Giavanni Rivaldi) Channing (Chris Payne) and Zebalt (Kylie Geddes) had refusals, and another five had rails on course. Enticement (Farmer) jumped with jaw-dropping style, but came undone by the atmosphere. The 6-year-old was completely distracted by the spectators and ado outside the ring for most of the trip.
Bobby Murphy, who for the last several years has built both rounds of the class, got to work today out on the field, putting together tomorrow afternoon’s track. He’d been telling riders for weeks he was planning on including the Devil’s Dyke in the handy track as an option, the first time that's appeared in a hunter derby course. But some unpleasant weather forced the handy to move back to the Mische Ring, with Krome in charge of the track.
A brief but violent thunderstorm blew through Wellington around 6 p.m. tonight, sending grand prix riders racing back to the barns in the middle of the course walk for the jump-off of the $100,000 Suncast 1.50-meter Finale. Most of that course toppled over, as did several of the full-sized potted palms decorating the International Arena. With the Doppler showing more eminent ugly weather, the evening program—including the $500,000 FTI Consulting Grand Prix CSI*****—has been rescheduled to tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., about the same time that the handy round of the derby will begin.
Average score needed from each judge to advance to handy round: 76.5
Number of horses who jumped all four high option fences: 14
Number of horses who jumped no high option fences: 24
Horses with major errors: 14
Number of riders who have represented the United States in international competition: 3 (Peter Wylde, Jeffery Welles, Molly Ashe-Cawley)
Number of juniors who advanced to the handy: 2 (Kate Ross on Friday Night and Sancho, Vivan Yowan on Shockwave)
Number of amateurs who advanced to the handy: 1 (Callie Seaman/Skorekeeper)
Highest single score of the day: 90 (Unspoken).