Friday, May. 24, 2024

John French Presents ‘Paradigm’ Of A Hunter In First Round Of Derby Finals

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Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 18

If you wanted to earn a spot in Saturday evening’s handy round for the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, you basically had to score at least one 90 from the three panels of judges today.

The 83 horse-and-rider pairs who contested Alan Lohman’s course were ready to show off, and the judges—Mike Rosser, Holly Orlando, Jeanne Marie Dunford-Miller, Jennifer Bauersachs, Troy Hendricks and Jessie Lang—were ready to reward them. Throughout the morning, the scores in the Rolex Stadium kept getting higher, and when it was done and dusted, John French and Paradigm sat atop the leaderboard with a final total of 300.75, with base scores of 95, 97.75 and 96, plus four high options.

“We never had gotten scores like this today,” he said. “I mean, I don’t even know if you made it to the second round unless you were in the 90s.”

John French and Paradigm. Kimberly Loushin Photos

French, who won the inaugural championship in 2009 with Rumba, is no stranger to sitting in the center spot during a press conference, but he also knows that it’s a precarious position.

“Hopefully it’s better than last time I was in this position,” he said. “Last year I was second and moved down to eighth. A few years ago, I was first and second in the first round and didn’t do very good on either [horse] in the second round, so hopefully this will be better this year.”

French brought two horses to this year’s championship, and both will get a chance to jump tomorrow. His second ride, Milagro, sits in 13th place.

Watch Paradigm’s winning round, with commentary from French, courtesy of USHJA and ClipMyHorse.TV:

“I’m pretty happy with Paradigm,” he said. “I only showed him in one class this week. He’s a type of horse even when you’re a little bit nervous, he’s good to ride because he has a very relaxing canter and has such a good rhythm. If you get excited that’s fine he’s not going to get that excited. It was a good horse to go in on first.”

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French has been riding Meredith Lipke’s 11-year-old warmblood gelding since last spring. Mike McCormick and Tracy Fenney found “Mikey” in Europe, where he was a breeding stallion, before selling him to Lipke. French’s show ring debut with the gelding was delayed when he had a fall that resulted in hip replacement surgery, but when he returned to the show ring in July 2022, Mikey was the one he wanted to ride.

“When I started riding again, he was the only horse I wanted to ride at the beginning because I trusted him, and he was super comfortable,” he said.

While Lipke will soon take the reins herself, she first wanted to let French aim him toward the derby championship this year.

“I started him last year right in some bigger classes because he has the scope and everything to do it, but really he could be doing second year green,” French said.

Paradigm was picture perfect.

Geoffrey Hesslink sits just 2.5 points behind French in second on Drumroll. He also leads the Tier II standings, which reserved for riders who sit outside of the top 40 in rider money won for the last three years as of Dec. 1, 2022, meaning he could come home with quite a hefty paycheck on Saturday.

“My goal was to just have a good round on the horse,” he said. “He’s relatively new for me, but I have been lucky enough to do a few bigger classes, and he is, I think, made for a competition like this, so I just really wanted to be confident and have a good round.”

Geoffrey Hesslink and Drumroll.

Hesslink showed Merdian Farm LLC’s 9-year-old Holsteiner (Diamant De Semilly—A-Comme Ci) for the first time in Michigan in July and won the $100,000 WCHR Central Spectacular in their first class together.

“I feel like there’s nothing Drumroll couldn’t jump or do, so I felt very confident in the class in Michigan and here as well,” he said. “He never spooks and is quite scopey … and I hope to have the same luck tomorrow.”

Amanda Steege and crowd favorite Lafitte De Muze, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Darco—Everlychin De La Pomme) owned by Cheryl Olsten, slotted into third on a 297.75.

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“I was thrilled with ‘Lafitte’ today,” Steege said. “He’s 12 years old; I think this might be my fourth derby finals with him, but for me he’s still developing as a horse. In a class like this and in these big classes, sometimes he and I both get a little overly excited, so our goal was calm confidence today which I feel like he did that perfectly out there, and I am happy with my spot. Usually I’m lower, just hoping to make the second round and trying to claw my way back, so I feel really good about coming in in third and having a few years’ experience already.

“I thought today’s round was great, not only for myself, but in general,” she continued. “Sitting up there I thought there were so many beautiful rounds and very few big mistakes or horses that looked overwhelmed, so hats off to Alan for that. I thought in general the horses all jumped really well and looked happy out there.”

Amanda Steege and Lafitte De Muze.

The top 30 horses from today’s classic round will return tomorrow evening for the handy round. Two-time defending champions Cannon Creek and Hunt Tosh will not be making it a three-peat, as the gelding had a rail at the high option at Fence 11, a vertical with natural rails.

In Tier II 25 riders will also have the opportunity to compete in the Section B handy and are eligible to compete for 20% of the overall prize money. Ten of those Tier II competitors were in the top 30 overall—including Hesslink and Drumroll—so they will be competing for ribbons and prize money in both the Section A handy and the Section B handy. While it’s never happened, it is possible for a Tier II rider to take home the top prize. The closest someone has come to doing so was Hesslink, who was second overall in 2017 on Cadoretto.

Riders who did not qualify for the handy round have the option of competing in the Derby Challenge round at 3 p.m. EST Saturday. The Section B handy will kick off the evening at 6 p.m., with the Section A handy immediately following.

Full Results.


The Chronicle will be on-site with a reporter bringing you gorgeous photos, great interviews and behind-the-scenes stories. Make sure to follow along at www.coth.com, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @chronofhorse. For more championship coverage, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the Sept. 4 issue of the Chronicle.

2023 Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship—Classic Round

Kimberly Loushin / August 18, 2023 5:37 pm

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