Wellington, Fla.—March 5
When you’re a kid in the candy shop, it is easy to get distracted by all the different types of sugary goodness offered before you—but Kristy Herrera kept her eye on the prize in the derby candy shop to clnch the blue ribbon in the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.
For many riders, course designer Skip Bailey’s handy hunter course presented that amazing yet overwhelming feeling. With a circle of four jumps commanding the center of the Deeridge field, Bailey told riders that they could pick any track or fence for the first two fences of the course, as long as they didn’t jump the same fence twice or cross their path. This left riders thinking of direct lines or rollback turns or loops—so many options for glory, and for disappointment.
But Kristy Herrera used the flexibility to focus her ride Candid, despite the course shaking up the field of her competitors. While Jennifer Alfano’s 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding is green to the derbies—having only competed in one prior to Deeridge—Alfano and Herrera knew his strengths.
“It was a really interesting choice to be able to have so many options. Jen and I talked a lot about the course when we walked it—and just chose something that was best for our horse,” said Herrera, who is taking the reins for Alfano as she continues to recover from her injury last summer. “Candid is a pretty good turner so we just did a couple of rollbacks versus trying to do a direct line anywhere. And when I got to do [Miss] Lucy, I chose something else that was different for her. So I think it was nice to have an option that was best for each horse.
“When I’m on Jen’s horses, I totally follow her lead and she said, ‘This is the best thing for him,’ ” she continued. “And we talked about it and it’s something that both of us felt really comfortable doing so that was our plan from the beginning.”
Herrera and “Sheldon” stood in second place after yesterday’s classic round—but as the 22 combinations before her demonstrated, a ribbon yesterday didn’t guarantee a ribbon today. A total of seven pairs moved up to the top final 12 placings that were initially in the bottom half of the class. And prior to Herrera’s round, young professional Kelli Cruciotti and Monterrey—who initially stood in 20th place—held the overall lead.
“Yesterday my horse was great but I made a bit of a rider error and I was pretty upset with myself,” said Cruciotti, who admits to not expecting a second place finish in the end. “So today I kind of had a little bit of ‘go for broke’ attitude and just took all the options I could. And luckily for me, it turned out like it did. It’s not usually that that ever happens but obviously I’m thrilled with the result.
“He’s kind of like my old clipper, I mean it’s so much fun,” said Cruciotti of Monterrey, who she rode to win the Pessoa/USEF Medal Final and ASPCA Maclay Final in 2015. “I don’t get to show him that often because he is 17 years old, so when I do show him, it’s really special. And it still makes me feel like sometimes I know what I’m doing. He’s a horse of a lifetime for me and I don’t think I’ll ever have another partner like him. So every round I get to do is a bonus for me.”
While Cruciotti made her stake as the score to beat early on in the class, Herrera overtook her at the last second. Despite electing to not take any of the high options, Herrera earned raw scores in the high 80s with enough handy bonus points to claim the blue 3 points ahead of Cruciotti.
“What’s best about him is he trusts his rider so that made the day go really well,” Herrera said of Candid. “He stepped up like a champion.”