Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 16
This year marks the fifth incarnation of the UHSJA International Derby Finals, and by now we’re establishing a routine on Classic Day. Three of the last five years, Scott Stewart, Liza Boyd and Jen Alfano have jostled around in the top three spots.
This time around, Stewart led the pack on Garfield for Rose Hill Farm after earning marks of 90, 92 and 92. Boyd lays second with Brunello, and last year’s champions, Jen Alfano and Jersey Boy, sit in third. It’s the same standings as last year at this time, except Stewart had Dedication instead of the Holsteiner (Coriano—Love Touch). This year junior Kelsie Brittan jumped to fourth in the standings with Argentum as well.
“[The course] looked like it would be easy,” said Stewart of the Steve Stephens-designed track. “But it ended up being harder. It was a nice course, and I think you needed a little scope, like last year.”
Watch Garfield's winning round here:
That’s putting it mildly. Stephens didn’t hold back for the record 88 entries who came through the in gate at Championships. Two riders hit the dirt (Liza Richardson off Delorean and Kaitlyn Arnold off Dylan) and walked off course, and two others tipped their hats.
There was a bit of confusion with one of the retirements. Lauren Sogard and Concerto—overall 16th here last year—had an uncharacteristic round, and after their second refusal they were dismissed. Sogard slowed to walk, and the next rider trotted into the ring. When the judges realized they had dismissed her one refusal too soon (less than a minute after the announcement of “thank you”) paddock master Pat Duncan told Sogard she could continue the course if she wished, but she opted to take Concerto back to the barn.
Richardson’s fall came at the day’s bogey fence: an upright, airy white fenceline. That obstacle appeared last year (and had a few victims) but this year it proved especially influential. Tori Colvin and Inclusive had that down, as did Lugano and Greg Crolick, and Kennzo jumped out of form there for Molly Ashe-Cawley.
“Some really good jumping horses jumped it awkwardly,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J. “For my horse, I had to give him a little room at that jump. If you got too deep you had a bad jump.”
“And then if you got too long, you rubbed it behind,” chimed in Boyd. “I think we’re lucky that our horses are seasoned and they’ve seen this and done that, but on a green horse or something, it was tricky.”
Some seasoned mounts struggled today too. Stewart’s other partner, Declaration, took a pole off one high option vertical, and Bob Bralwey and Amadeo notched a heartbreaking rail at the last fence. SVS Caremunde and Hope Glynn also picked up four faults, as did Monterrey and Kelli Cruciotti.
How do the top riders prepare?
The three top mounts all finished in the top three last year, with Jersey Boy on top, Brunello in second and Garfield third. All three are seasoned chestnuts, and Stewart describes his as especially easy. He hasn’t even ridden Garfield since the National Horse Show (Ky.)—his assistant Samantha Conroy has been keeping him legged up along with junior rider and owner Cloe Hymowitz.
While everyone else piled into the Sheila C Johnson ring this morning, to walk the course (some people stayed in there a full hour), Stewart opted to stay back at the barn.
“I’m better off not walking [the course], so I didn’t walk,” he said. “I knew I could watch a lot. For this round I’m better off not watching, I’m superstitious I guess. I’ll walk the handy.”
Boyd also prepared her star a little differently than the rest of the pack. She’s established a winning routine with the horse she co-owns with Janet Peterson, and a major part of her strategy has been keeping things fresh, and keeping him happy. Yesterday, derby riders and their assistants hopped aboard to flat in the show ring during a schedule flatwork session. Boyd got on too, but took Brunello on a walk, letting him graze a bit and not letting him get to close to the ring so he’ll stay bright for tomorrow.
“I did him in the 1.30-meter class [earlier in the week],” she said. “We galloped up to the first jump and got there a little huntery, and he hit the front rail and was like “I can’t believe that! How did that happen!” Then I thought maybe we should pull up because two jumps later we had a triple combination, but he was great. He sailed through it. I say I do [the jumpers] to get him sharp, but I think I do it for myself also, just to get in the ring and gallop around and do some bending lines.”
Alfano focused on getting Jersey Boy, owned by SBS Farms, fit for the big ring in Kentucky. That chestnut Hanoverian by White Star has had a light season. He stumbled while schooling at Devon (Pa.), and he wrenched his neck, while Alfano hit the ground hard, injuring her ribs and shoulder. They’ve been back in form this summer, winning at State College (Pa.), and Alfano has been lengthening his flatwork sessions to get him strong for the big ring.
By The Numbers:
Total number of entries in the Classic Round—88
Number of full Thoroughbreds in the Classic Round—0
Number of judges—6 (Ralph Caristo, Rick Fancher, Jimmy Torano, Danny Robertshaw, Carlton Brooks and Don Stewart)
Number of horses who attempted all four high option jumps—31.
Number of horses last year who attempted all four high option jumps in the Classic Round—8
Rider with the most rides in tomorrow’s Tier I Handy—Tammy Provost (Carlson, Westray, Santerno)
Number of riders with multiple rides who qualified all their mounts for the Tier I Handy: 3 (Havens Schatt, Tammy Provost and Shawn Casady)
Number of previous Derby Championships winning riders in the Tier I Final—2 (Jennifer Alfano, Lillie Keenan).
Average base score needed to advance to the Tier I Handy: 79.41
Number of Tier 2 entires in the Tier I Final: 16
Number of juniors in the Tier I Final: 3 (Kelsie Brittain/Argentum, Victoria Press/Mayfair, Lillie Keenan, Skyfall)
Number of amateurs in the Tier 1 Final: 1 (Alliy Moyer)
Number of riders who have represented their home country in international competition who advanced to the Tier I Final: 2 (Peter Pletcher/USA, Harold Chopping/Canada).
Average number of trips per hour: 16
What’s the deal with tomorrow?
The top 30 riders will advance to tomorrow’s Tier I Final, which determines the overall championship. To learn more about the new Tier format, check out Mollie Bailey’s blog, “The Tier Format, Explained (Sort of).”
You can find results, orders of go, course maps and more on the USHJA website. For blogs, photo galleries and up-to-date information, check out the Chronicle's 2013 Derby Championships page. Plus we have news from the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship and last week's USEF Pony Finals.
The Consolation Round kicks off first, at 3 p.m. The Tiers II and I handies kick off at 6:30 p.m. All three rounds will be broadcast live on USEFnetwork.com.