Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 17
The in-gate of the Rolex Stadium rippled with nervous tension. As the final few riders headed down the ramp to compete in the handy round for the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, gradually more people filtered down to watch. Room along the fence disappeared, and everyone craned their necks to catch every second.
As Nick Haness’s scores with Verdict popped up with base scores of 90, 88.5 and 86.5, with handy points of 9, 9 and 7, he pumped his fist victoriously. But while he was temporarily on top, he had a worthy adversary in Tori Colvin, who was sitting on a significant lead following yesterday’s classic round.
As she guided Bryan Baldwin and Meralex Farm Inc’s 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Numero Uno—Zo-Special, Indorado), El Primero, around the Alan Lohman-designed course, that in-gate crowd bunched closer together, eyes glued on the pair. And as horse and rider landed off the final fence, the cheers erupted, and Colvin, who usually keeps a straight face in the ring, had a smile plastered on her face.
There was no question—she’d won.
And the judges—Danny Robertshaw, Tom Brennan, Rick Fancher, Geoff Teall, Jimmy Toon and William Sparks—agreed, awarding her base scores of 95, 94 and 92 for a two-round total of 603 to take home the win.
“It feels amazing,” Colvin said. “He went in there, and he was as best as can be. I couldn’t have done it without the team that was behind him, and it’s been a special night.”
Watch Colvin’s winning round, courtesy of EQSports.net:
Colvin has set herself apart in derby championship history. Only Liza Boyd has won the championship three times—and she did so consecutively with Brunello (2013-2015)—but Colvin’s put her own twist on it, winning with three different horses. She first won on Cuba in 2017, and last year she took the victory with Private Practice, who finished eighth this year.
Yesterday Colvin admitted that things haven’t always gone her way when she’s leading after the classic round, and the normally cool-under pressure wunderkind admitted she was feeling the pressure just a smidge tonight.
“After ‘Peter’ [Private Practice] went, and he was very good, still a little impressed, and then I was like, ‘Uh oh ‘Primo,’—which is El Primero’s barn name—needed to be really good, and he really rose up to the occasion.”
And Haness did his best to ensure that he wasn’t going to hand her the victory—she had to earn it.
“After he went, and he was great and got high scores and high handy points I kind of knew,” Colvin said. “I couldn’t not go for it basically, which I probably wouldn’t have done even though I should’ve sometimes, but he went great, so I kind of had to go in and go for it. There was no holding back. No going outside the trees and stuff like that; it basically decided my plan.”
Haness is riding high this week after a fourth-placed finish with Reese’s in the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’/3’3″ Green Hunter Incentive Championship on Thursday, and then tonight’s second-placed finish overall and a win in the Section B championship, as he’s considered a tier II rider based on his winnings the past three years, with Lindsey Schiefelbein’s 8-year-old warmblood (Ustinov—Lady Deister, Douglas).
“The tier II bonus [money] really is a bonus,” he said. “I’m very excited about the checks, and that’s really cool, but most importantly I’m really excited for my horses. What I came here to do and accomplish was to produce a successful week with my pre-green horses and with my derby horse, so I’m just completely on Cloud 9 that this week went so well.”
Watch Haness’s round, courtesy of EQSports.net:
Haness joked yesterday that the ringside donuts in the morning served as his lucky charm, but since the handy was an evening class, what did he use to bring him luck?
“Per my interview [yesterday] my good luck charm was donuts; today I ate a salad, so that was my preparation for the day,” he joked. “But in all seriousness, my strategy today was to just keep calm. I was in a good position coming into today’s round from yesterday and just to really put the course together like it was a puzzle, and just one piece at a time focus on what the horses needed to produce the best outcome and be handy, but also be tactful. The jumps were really big tonight; it was a big atmosphere. It was a different climate; it was a little colder; it was dark, so I think just having a plan, walking the course and executing that plan was my strategy, and it paid off.”
Patricia Griffith rounded out the top three with a newcomer to the hunters, Callie Seaman’s Diamante. The 9-year-old Oldenburg (Diarado—Kampari W, Argentinus) finished second in the 3’6″/3’9″ section of the Green Hunter Incentive already this week, so she’s feeling pretty excited for when Seaman takes over the reins.
“I’m quite proud of him,” Griffith said. “He’s very new to hunters, I think he started Week 5 in Florida [at the Winter Equestrian Festival], and I’m happy for his owner because she’s been through a lot. She’s had a rough year with some injuries, and that’s the reason I got the opportunity. So I’m thankful for that because I haven’t done this class in a very long time and what a great horse to aim at those fences with the feeling of no leg needed. So I’m very thankful to her for giving me that opportunity to kind of make him up for her, and hopefully she’ll be back soon.”
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For more in-depth coverage, check out the Sept. 2 issue of the Chronicle.