Wellington, Fla.—March 30
Sure the $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix CSI***** grabbed headlines today, but show jumpers weren’t the only ones jumping off today for serious money at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
In today’s $50,000 USHJA Inernational Hunter Derby, a rare jump-off decided the winner of the class.
Both Friday Night, ridden by Kate Ross, and Kennzo, ridden by Molly Ashe-Cawley, earned cumulative totals of 371 between yesterday’s Classic Round and this afternoon’s handy. According to rules, a tie for first after the handy round prompts a jump off, a rare feat that’s happened just once before, when Peter Pletcher had to jump off against himself after earning identical scores aboard two mounts two seasons ago.
Friday Night lay sixth heading into the handy, and 17-year-old Kate Ross lay down the trip of her life with turns as slick as an equitation final. Her jaw dropped when she heard her scores (base marks of 90 and 90 with handy bonuses of 9 and 8 points). But when Ashe-Cawley tied her overall score four rounds later the radios started buzzing. Management checked and re-checked the scores and rules to be sure a jump-off was necessary and confer with Kenny Krome about another track (they used the first eight fences of the 12-round track.)
“I was ready to be done when they announced there was a jump-off,” said Ross, New York City. “I was so happy and so relieved after the handy it caught me a little off guard that I’d have to go again.”
In the end the short course was a bit anticlimactic, as Friday Night, first in the ring, ticked a rail heading into an in-and-out. Ashe-Cawley opted for a conservative track with no high options to secure derby blue for Kristen Abbatiello-Neff.
Chris Payne rode new derby contender Walk This Way to third, and longtime partners Generous and David Oliynyk took fourth.
Bad weather blew through Wellington, Fla., yesterday, prompting organizers at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival to move today’s second round of the derby from the grass derby field across the street back to the Eugene Mische Grand Hunter Ring where yesterday’s Classic Round was held.
Ashe-Cawley was disappointed at the move. This class has earned a reputation as one of the most prestigious stops on the derby tour, and has an unusual two-day format where the top 25, rather than 12, qualify for the handy round. As it turned out after an initial torrential burst last night’s storms weren’t quite as bad a predicted, and the sun was out all day today.
“I don’t understand why we can’t do two rounds out on the derby field, and give the hunters their moment to shine,” said Ashe-Cawley, while Payne nodded in agreement. “Some of them get it one night during world hunter week [for the $100,000 WCHR Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular] and 25 horses were going to get their moment [during the handy round.]”
Hunter riders have a reputation of being exceptionally particular about footing, and rarely compete on grass. But Ashe-Cawley, who has represented the United States in Nations Cup competition, wasn’t concerned about the effect of the showers on the field, which is a carefully maintained surface that hosts jumper competition several times throughout the season.
“I think the footing would have been fine,” she said. “If it was terrible, obviously, no I wouldn’t have gone.
“The derbies have made me do the hunters again,” she continued. “I haven’t done the hunters in years. [The derbies] are meant to revive everything. It doesn’t feel special to do it this way. I’m very happy that I won, but it could use a little more bang.”
As it turns out, even without natural obstacles hunter riders had plenty to worry about. Krome’s course included a bounce, which didn’t cause any problems in the ring (but tripped Walk This Way up in the schooling area) as well as two opportunities for inside turns to option verticals. Several horses that attempted the high options there off tight turns lost their form to the fences, so riders struggled to balance the high fences with the handy turns. Eight of the riders elected all four high option fences, and of those only three earned more than 5 handy bonus points from either judge.
Third from the end, Ashe-Cawley chose three of the high options.
“The high options are his thing, his way to shine,” said Ashe-Cawley, Wellington. “I think the different variations of the course that people chose were interesting, but it was a bit hard to figure out what they wanted from the way the scores were going as far as handiness. It felt like a guessing game a little bit.”
There were no major disasters in the handy. Yesterday’s leaders Tara Metzner and Come Monday fell from first to sixth without any dramatic mistakes, and second-ranked Unspoken broke stride en route to the first fence with Kelley Farmer up to drop out of the race.
Pathfinders Edeling van de Kroon and Sarah Schiering made the track look like a cakewalk, bounding from 24th up to seventh after a third-placed handy round. Walk This Way, sitting fifth, moved up to third after a great handy in just the second derby of his career.
“His first derby was last week,” said Payne. “He hasn’t been showing, never done high options or anything. It was a whole new ball game for him.”
Catch up on Scott Brash’s big win in the $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix. For full results, visit www.showgroundslive.com.For a full report from the last week of WEF, check out the April 14 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.