Aug. 13—Lexington, Ky.
The question all derby season has been: Is Brunello retired?
The 17-year-old chestnut gelding and longtime rider Liza Boyd answered with an emphatic “no” from the moment they walked in the ring, scoring in the 90s to finish on a 287, just one point ahead of Kelley Farmer and Mindful who led for 32 trips.
“He just felt like he was 6 years old again,” said Boyd. “The horse is amazing. I’ll never have a horse like that again. I get a little emotional just thinking about it because he just tries so hard, and he loves what he does. He makes my life easy. He’s just really, really special. I can’t thank him enough.”
And thank him she did. After “Ike” powered over the final oxer on course, Boyd leaned over and gave him a hug.
She might have looked calm, cool and collected on course, but Boyd admits that she was feeling the pressure after becoming the first two-time winner last year following a return to the saddle after having her second child.
“I will have to say last year was 1,000 times less stress. I think I should go have another baby before next year because last year was just, ‘I hope I can just hold on. Let’s just have fun.’ This year was a lot more stress. My palms were—they’re still sweating,” she said. “I definitely was super nervous.”
Since last year’s light show schedule went so well, Boyd chose to only show Brunello once this year—in the USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Blowing Rock Charity Horse II (N.C.) on Aug. 1. Ike won the classic round of the derby there before having an unlucky rail in the handy.
“I sort of took it as, ‘Well that was a good rub for Derby Finals.’ ” said Boyd, Camden, S.C. “Do we want to win a $10,000 class at Blowing Rock or be sharp at Derby Finals? Even though the results didn’t look great I was actually really happy with the result. It just seems to work.”
Another thing that seemed to work for the veteran pair was the added pressure of going last in the randomly generated order.
“When I saw that I went I was a little like, ‘Oh God.’ ” Boyd said. “But it’s better than going first. Sometimes that horse and I do better the more pressure we’re under, so going last was actually good for that horse.
“It pumped him up; pumped me up. Honestly, going into it—Kelley was so amazing—I was hoping; I just wanted to be in the top five really,” she continued.
Watch Brunello’s round here…
There’s no doubt that Farmer and Mindful were ready to bring the heat when they cantered up to the first jump, and when “Grappa” finished, the trainer Larry Glefke’s signature whoop was joined by cheers from thrilled spectators.
Live feed commentator Tom Brennan agreed, saying, “That was breathtaking.”
“I can’t say enough about that horse,” said Farmer. “He’s a fantastic horse. He went beautifully today, and I hope it goes the same tomorrow!”
Watch Mindful’s round…
A New Face
While Brunello was the oldest horse in the class, sitting in third place is one of the youngest—El Primero, ridden by Sandy Ferrell, is only 6 years old.
“I’m very blessed to have him,” said Ferrell. “He’s obviously the newcomer to all of this. I’m a little intimidated sitting with this group of girls right now.”
That remark garnered some good-natured teasing from both Boyd and Farmer.
“Now she’s lying to you,” Boyd said. “You’ve been riding circles around us since we were in pigtails.”
“If she’s just going to sit here and tell us she’s intimidated we should stop this right now because that’s a crock of you know what,” said Farmer.
“Obviously he’s the newcomer to the derby world,” Ferrell said of El Primero. “He just turned 6 this year, and he’s a baby. I think it’s safe to say that for any horseman you’re going to fall in love with that horse—whether it’s his look or—his athletic ability is endless. His desire to perform is endless. His abilities are just—I think we’re just seeing the beginning of the his career.”
The Rolex Stadium is a bit intimidating—it’s design separating those in the ring from most of the horse park, and that unnerved “Sexy” just a bit.
“He was a bit talkative out there today,” said Ferrell. “I think he was wondering where his friends went because he couldn’t see anybody, and he kind of talked the whole way around the ring. I’m like, ‘It’s OK. It’s OK.’ ”
Watch El Primero’s round…
Though his connections and owners Bryan Baldwin and Meralex Farm missed today’s round, they’re on their way to Kentucky to root him on in the handy tomorrow evening.
“First and foremost I hope I don’t mess him up because usually if something goes wrong it’s something I’ve done,” she said. “There’s no pressure being put on me by any of my team, he’s already surpassed what we’ve wanted him to do. Do we want him to do well? Yes.
“If he just goes in there and behaves and jumps to the best of his ability and I don’t get in his way, and we just have a good night that’s all the really matters to me,” she finished.
Jen Alfano had a scary moment when Miramar tripped and fell following the first fence. Alfano said that the horse is fine following the incident, and she’s physically OK, but sore.
Alfano has her other three mounts all in the top 12. Miss Lucy is in fifth, Maggie May is seventh and Jersey Boy is eighth.
Only one horse and rider in a field of 79 was eliminated, and four elected to retire.
Follow the Chronicle for tomorrow’s handy round which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. EST.