Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 17
Heading into the Tier I Handy Round of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, Liza Boyd knew she had some ground to make up as she trailed Scott Stewart and Garfield by 10 points.
But when she was warming up for the class her father and trainer Jack Towell tried to get her to put that out of her head.
“He said, it’s a jumping contest—don’t go out there and try to get a 100,” said Boyd. “That’s a little hard for me to do.”
Boyd and Brunello marched in the ring, struck up a gallop and kept going to all the fences to earn the highest single mark of the day from any one panel of judges—a 93—and earn the overall blue. Stewart and Garfield looked ready to give Brunello a run for his money, but that seasoned horse had an awkward jump coming out of an in-and-out to fall to overall eighth, and Brunello took the title.
Watch Brunello’s trip:
“I’m really happy for the horse. He’s been third and second. Finally, finally,” she said.
Boyd, Camden, S.C., edged out handy round winners Mythical and Kelley Farmer, who moved up from sixth to the reserve spot. Mythical is a first year green mount making his Championships debut. Farmer went earlier on the class on On Q, testing out a bold inside turn after a trot fence that backfired when he had the next fence down.
“He was so far down,” said Farmer. “If I did it, and we worked, great. I had to try it.”
By the time Mythical walked into the Sheila C. Johnson ring, Farmer decided that turn wasn’t worth the risk. But she still didn’t dally, shaving the turns to top the round.
“He’s a little horse, stridey and scopey and light. I don’t ever have to muscle him and ask him,” said Farmer.
Watch Mythical’s handy round here:
While the top two riders are derby specialists and favorites for ribbons in the class, third-placed Kelsie Brittan looked surprised—in a very good way—to have won. She and Argentum focus on the junior hunters, and have contested a few derbies when the shows they attend happen to host them. Argentum has campaigned in the derbies plenty before with Brittan’s trainer Peter Pletcher, but in Brittan he’s found his soulmate. Danny Robertshaw, who judged the class alongside Jimmy Torano, Rick Fancher, Don Stewart, Carlton Brooks and Ralph Caristo, recalled seeing Argentum compete in the pouring rain during this year’s FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) and chatting with Brittan’s mother after the class. To him, what Brittan lacked in experience, she made up for in partnership.
“I said then, and I’ll say again: It’s so much fun when you see a horse who loves his rider as much as he loves you,” said Robertshaw.
Brittan, 17, also finished as the highest Tier II rider, so earned the top check in that championship as well. (You can learn about this year’s new format here.) Just one year out of the junior ranks himself, 19-year-old young pro Shawn Casady rode Ascot to overall fourth and second in the Tier II Championship.
Steve Stephens set today’s handy track, which included a trot fence and one in-and-out, but no other strictly related distances. There was nothing trappy in the course, but plenty of big fences. Several combinations who elected the 4’6” side of the last oxer did have it down, and junior Victoria Press was jumped loose there when her Mayfair made a tremendous effort at the last fence, but they left it up and she stayed aboard.
Eight horses had rails or stops, including last year’s champions, Jersey Boy and Jen Alfano, who took the top pole off the high side of an oxer. Harold Chopping’s partner, Caramo, dug in his heels two from home.
There’s plenty more derby coverage at the Chronicle, including a blog of the staff’s favorite sentimental picks for this year (yes, Brunello made the list.)