Saugerties, N.Y.—Sept. 9
As she walked in the in-gate for the last round, Patricia Griffith got to use a little bit of the advice she’s been repeating to her students for years.
“I was just thinking ‘I want to have a round that I’m happy with and whatever happens happens,’” she said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s really easy to mess yourself up. When I teach kids, I always tell them ‘Worry about yourself.’ I think that’s what I tried to do.”
To be fair, her biggest competition was also operating on the same advice. Her student, Lillie Keenan, had just posted big scores of 90, 92 and 94 to take the lead in the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix. The two were neck-and-neck after Round 1, with just three-quarters of a point separating them.
Griffith picked up a long, loping canter on Sienna and looped her way around the sprawling course in the grand prix ring at HITS-on-the-Hudson again in perfect form. As Griffith pulled up, patted Sienna and walked out of the ring, she—and everyone watching—listened intently for the scores. When announcer Peter Doubleday read 92, 93 and 93, Griffith broke into a smile. She and Sienna had done it, earning the top check for $150,000.
It’s hard to beat Keenan on C Coast Z. The junior rider won the prestigious $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals on the gray last year, and she only brings him out of the barn for special classes. But Sienna was on her game. “I’m so happy, because that horse deserves to win a big event. She is a real superstar and a very special horse. I wish everybody could have a horse like that,” Griffith said.
Griffith shows Sienna sporadically, in special classes like the USHJA derby finals, and the WCHR Hunter Spectacular in Wellington, Fla. The mare’s day job is in the junior hunter division with owner Lexi Maounis. “She doesn’t need me to ride her; Sienna does everything perfectly without me, so they’re nice enough to let me use her for big events,” Griffith said.
In Awe Of The Money
Both Griffith and Keenan have plenty of mileage in derby classes, but Amanda Steege doesn't. She took a chance, and rode Lisa Arena’s Balou into third place and a $60,000 check. “I wasn’t planning to use him for this class. He felt really good over the week, so I asked Lisa if I could,” Steege said. “She was generous enough to let me.” Balou also shows in the amateur divisions with Arena.
Steege took advantage of the fact that the top 25 riders from Rounds 1 and 2, held on Sept. 7 and 8, came back on a clean slate for Round 3 on Sept. 9. Read all about action from Round 2. “Unfortunately, the first day, he made a little mistake at the first jump. Luckily for me, the format of this class allowed me to come back on day 2 and have a really spectacular round and still make it into the final,” she said. Steege and Balou were in 23rd in the standings coming to Round 3 on the final day, but since no scores from the first two rounds carried over, a phenomenal Round 3 boosted her right into contention.
Steege continued the success in Round 4, when the top four riders returned for another trip, with the scores from the two rounds added for a total. Her 91, 91 and 87 on Balou couldn’t quite catch the leaders, but was good enough for third.
Because Rounds 1 and 2 were very derby-like—held in a massive ring with natural jumps and incorporating a bank and option fences—Balou was at a bit of a disadvantage, because he’s never shown in a USHJA International Hunter Derby. “He’s done the handies, but I’ve never any classes with him that weren’t traditional green hunter classes,” Steege said.
“Even though he doesn’t have a lot of experience with this, he’s a small horse with a big ego, so I had a lot of faith that he’d handle the situation. He felt perfect right from the moment I got on. It was so fun to ride in a venue like that. I haven’t gotten to do derby finals yet, like these guys have, so for me, other than Medal and Maclay finals years ago, that felt the most important I’ve done,” she continued.
“I also want to thank [HITS President Tom Struzzieri] and the sponsor, Diamond Mills. I don’t think the courses could have been better and it was so much fun. I think we’re all in awe about how much money we won; it doesn’t seem real!” Steege exclaimed.
The amateur riders who claimed the top three spots in the $250,000 HITS Hunter Prix were also flabbergasted by their paychecks. Winner Chiara Parlagreco, who doesn't own a horse, hope to buy a mount of her own if she gets a cut of her $75,000 winnings. And second-placed Amy Zettler almost sabotaged herself with a wrong turn, but pulled the right rein to earn $45,000.
And after the hunter action was over, big jumpers took control, with McLain Ward winning the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.