Wellington, Fla.—March 31
Jen Alfano  describes her pair of chestnut derby stars as polar opposites.
There’s Jersey Boy , the delinquent who’s always causing trouble, and his barnmate, Miss Lucy, who never puts a foot wrong, but often finds herself in Jersey Boy’s shadow. But with Jersey Boy taking the week off, Miss Lucy took over the spotlight at the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, winning the top spot for owner Helen Lenahan.
Inclusive showed off his usual knees-to-eyeballs style with junior Tori Colvin aboard to take the reserve title for Betsee Parker. And Kristy McCormack laid down the top handy round on Temptation, owned by Autumn Janesky, to move way up from ninth to third.
For the handy round, riders headed across the street to the grass field of the Palm Beach Equestrian Center’s stadium. The top 25 from yesterday’s classic round showed up, with a cutoff average of around 77.35. Five riders cracked the 90 barrier on Day 1 over a big course (two options stretched up to 4’5”), and Brunello and Liza Boyd finished on top in that leg. On the grass, things got tougher.
Course designer Bobby Murphy built even bigger there. The last fence, built out of Veuve Clicquot bottles decorated with faux corks, stretched up to 4’6”. Like last year, the table bank made an appearance, as did the huge hill and bank complex. Neither caused any problems. This year, riders had to canter up the hill, trot a 2’6” vertical at the top, then canter down. There were no strictly related distances aside from a table bank and a narrow in-and-out.
None of the fences in particular caused recurring issues, but as much as anything else, the length of the course—14 jumps—and the size of the field seemed to give plenty of room for problems to crop up.
Sienna dug in her heels early on course, sending Lexi Maounis into the dirt (Maounis was on her feet immediately and walked off course.) Sundance (McCormack), Mythical (Kelley Farmer) and HH Confession (Katherine Bundy) pulled rails to fall out of the running. Molly Ashe is out with a back injury, so Boyd took over on Kennzo, but that horse stopped at Fence 1. Skyfall, a new ride for Louise Serio, jumped spectacularly (he scored a 91.5 in Round 1) but got a little lost in Round 2 through one turn to drop from second out of the running.
But when things went right, the judges rewarded the riders. Kelli Cruccioti and Monterrey leapfrogged up the leaderboard from 19th to sixth after a great trip. And Kate Ross started the day in 23rd and put in a solid ride on Friday night to move up to 14th.
Coming into the handy, the top four riders were in tight competition.
“I was fourth, so I tried to be as handy as I could,” said Alfano. “I always try to do all the high options on her anyway, so that wasn’t really a question. We just went as handy as we could and go for the best.”
The 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood of unknown breeding didn’t put a foot wrong on her way around the course.
“When you’re looking between her ears, you would aim her at anything,” she said.
Colvin took a go-big-or-go home strategy when she came back in, as she lay fifth and didn’t plan on staying there.
“My plan for today was to go as handy as I could, and I figured, if I had a rail, I had a rail,” said Colvin, Loxahatchee, Fla. “I knew I had to move up.”
That paid off with matching bonus points of 9 to take second.
Class leader, Brunello, had one imperfect fence to fall from first to fifth.
A Long History
McCormack, Boston, Mass., has more in common with Alfano than a top derby placing. McCormack showed with Alfano as a pony rider. “I taught her her diagonals,” said Alfano.
The Handwalk Dilemma
Horses always have a chance to handwalk derby courses before the class, and nearly everyone takes advantage of that opportunity. Both Alfano and Boyd elected not to handwalk their top mounts on classic day.
“Yesterday I didn’t bother to bring her out here. We were in Tent 17, and she didn’t come up. She doesn’t need to see a ring to jump. She really is perfect," said Alfano, Buffalo, N.Y.
“I personally do think it would be better not to have that option,” she continued. “You don’t see the grand prix riders out there on Sunday handwalking their horses for the grand prix. I think it makes us look a little silly sometimes.”
Brunello stayed in the barn as well on Day 1 as well, fitting in with Boyd’s strategy of keeping the 15-year-old Hanoverian fresh. “I figure I’m doing it more for myself,” she said. “We did a jumper class in [another ring], and kept him off the property and trail-rode him. I told my dad when he rode him, ‘Don’t let him get near the Grand Hunter Ring.’ ”
For full results visit showgroundslive.com. Catch up on yesterday’s grand prix action  and there’s photos from the grand prix and first round of the derby .For a full report, check out the April 15 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. 
Did you know that Jen Alfano has an off-the-track Thoroughbred she's retraining? Check out her first blog  on the project.