Antioch, Ill.—Sept. 9
When you’re hot, you’re hot, and these days it seems like Jersey Boy simply can’t be beat. Fresh off their win at the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals (Ky.),  the derby specialist and Jen Alfano scored a wire-to-wire finish for owner Susie Schoellkopf at the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the CN Chicago Hunter Derby. Not to be outdone, Alfano’s other mount, Miss Lucy, jumped to second, with Peter Pletcher’s brand new ride Savvy taking third for Ashley Cross.
The horses faced serious challenge again this year, especially with plenty of newer partnerships on the start list. Greg Crolick was thrilled with his second-placed handy round on Carson that bumped him up to overall fourth. He took over that ride from Courtney Calcagnini a few months ago and he finally feels like they’re hitting their stride. Holly Orlando is helping Kelley Farmer with the Lane Change Farm mounts, and took over the ride on six horses while Farmer competed at the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix in Saugerties, N.Y., this weekend. Pletcher had one veteran in his lineup—eighth-placed NLF Shakespeare’s Rhythm—but another newer ride in Ivory Coast.
Bobby Murphy was back to build courses for the fourth year of the standalone event. With double last year’s prize money, he didn’t hold back, especially on the second day. He designed a gorgeous track on the field to honor the event’s title sponsor, Canadian National Railroad. Several jumps were set to look like a train, complete with a locomotive, and the in-and-out was built to look like a railroad crossing.
Several riders and trainers pointed out that the fences didn’t look too steep in the classic round, which was held yesterday on the undulating grass field of Annali Farm. (The highest fence was a hair over 4’ and the lowest at 3’6”.) Today they had to ride a little harder for ribbons, with two of the four high options were set at 4’5”—a straw cart and a 4’ wide oxer—and the other two at 4’6”—a big upright gate and another straw cart. This towering jumps prompted plenty of joking comparisons between the track here and the standalone Evergreen Invitational Grand Prix (Wis.) held ten minutes down the road.
Two of the monster fences caused plenty of chatter during the course walk. The first was the big 4’6” high gate, which initially sat in flat cups, but after further conversation went into deeper ones. Complaints about the bigger straw cart didn’t effect the same change. Riders and trainers pointed out that a decorative piece of wood sitting on top of the straw bales that was neither in cups nor otherwise secured was unfairly precarious. The steward confirmed the jump’s legality, and the jump stayed.
Both Ivory Coast and Bases Loaded had that jump down. Plenty of riders had rails in the handy, namely over the final fence of the course, that 4’5”, 4’ wide oxer. Two stacks of firewood—set as low options— shed logs easily if horses got a touch casual.
Before the class riders also expressed concern about a lack of brush or groundline at the airy fenceline that debuted at the Finals two weeks ago. But the fence stayed solid and no one had a problem.
The field itself added its own difficulty. For the handy, riders had to traverse a small forest, and a few fences were set on significant inclines.
Eighteen of the 23 initial entries came back today, with plenty of small problems keeping the majority out of contention. The course wasn’t overly technical, with plenty of big looping turns and aside from an in-and-out, no related distances to speak of. There was no trot jump, and no hand gallop marked on course, but the riders who finished near the top didn’t dally.
“I tried to keep a good gallop the whole course, and turn back tightly to the USHJA fence [a vertical with a Riviera hedge] and to the in-and-out,” said Alfano, Buffalo, N.Y. “I just tried to keep galloping and be handy that way, which is his strong suit anyway.”
Schoellkopf felt strongly about coming to Chicago, despite having final preparations to make for next week’s Buffalo International (N.Y.) at her stable in downtown Buffalo. She also sits on the USHJA High Performance Committee and has been involved with the development of the derby program.
“The jumps were huge,” she said. “I’m happy to see that for $50,000. I keep saying it: we have to keep raising the bar.”
- Jersey Boy/Jen Alfano/SBS Farm
- Miss Lucy/Jen Alfano/Helen Lenahan
- Savvy/Peter Pletcher/Ashley Cross
- Carson/Greg Crolick/Orchard Lake Farms
- Contemporary/Tammy Provost/Wendy Hofmeister
- Ariano/Lisa Goldman/Brooke Saltzman
- Taken/Holly Orlando/Jessica Stitt
- NLF Shakespeare’s Rhythm/Peter Pletcher/Nordic Lights Farm
- Bases Loaded/Holly Orlando/AM Free
- Casino/Holly Orlando/Golden Oaks Farm
- The Spy/Caroline Weeden/Ila Lemonis
- Ivory Coast/Peter Pletcher/Eva Bisso