Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 19
Want to test the vividness of Hunt Tosh’s memory? Ask him about his superstitions revolving around the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship at the Kentucky Horse Park. As the reigning champion with Cannon Creek, Tosh and crew had strict formation orders.
His wife, Mandy Tosh, held on to the family corgi and stood to the left of the in-gate of the Rolex Stadium. His daughter Maddie likewise had planted her feet in the same area as last year, and owner Kenneth Wheeler, Jr. sat in the same seats as before. He parked his motorbike in the same spot, too, as 2021. And that’s not even close to all.
“The things that I do—it’s like Groundhog Day,” Hunt said. “You have to follow everything.
“I do have on new pants; I bought new pants the last year,” he added. “Last year, Cannon Creek did one high performance class, went well, had a little rub, got an 88. Happened again this year. I did the first class, had a little rub, got an 88. I was like, ‘OK we’re stopping.’ Every day—every single thing. I drive myself crazy because I’m so superstitious. Certain things, obviously the old rocks I carry around everywhere.”
Haven’t heard about the rocks Hunt has carried around for over a decade in his pockets? Well, they were gifted to him by Maddie, and he’s never taken them out of his pockets, despite the confused faces of numerous airport security crews over the years.
“Maddie, when she was really young, would pick them up and tell me they were sparkly stone rocks, and they were really lucky,” Hunt said. “And she gave them to me, one before [I earned] grand [championship on] Cold Harbor at [the Pennsylvania National], I think. I keep them all the time, like what if? What if I don’t have them?
“My god it’s really, it’s out of control,” he added. “We’re not going to stop yet.”
Whether it was the sparkly rocks or the motorbike or the corgi—or just the undeniable partnership between Hunt and the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cancara—Tiffany S) owned by the Wheeler family—Hunt topped the classic round for the second year in a row with scores of 96, 92 and 92, plus three high options for a total of 289.
“I’m so lucky to have him,” he said. “You want to go in and have a nice trip—he owes us nothing at this point. But I wanted to go in and have a nice, solid trip to guarantee we’d get in tomorrow night. He went beautifully.”
Inaugural winner John French guided the 7-year-old Milagro to the second-place spot with a total of 287.
“The horse I have now, he’s never come back here and done the finals,” he said. “He started the year in the 3’3” for one show, then did the 3’6”, then moved to 4’. He’s just 7 years old, and I was very proud of him to be able to march around like that.”
French and Hunt praised veteran derby course designers Alan Lohman and Danny Moore for creating a track that didn’t overface yet still allowed for the cream of the crop to rise.
“I think it rode perfect. It was wonderful. I think Alan’s course last year was perfect. I think this course was perfect,” Hunt said. “I’m just going to follow Alan around I guess. It was nice; I think it was inviting. It kind of suited a lot of horses. I don’t think it overfaced anybody. But the horses all jumped well. It really was a strong field this year. I think the horses went really well. I saw very few major mistakes. But also, the horses performed well over it.”
French agreed, “Like my horse could come in there, not having done this or been in this ring, and he was very confident. It’s great to have that kind of round.
“I think this year, to get into the second round, it seemed to me it took a pretty high score—higher than it has in the past,” French added.
Lohman ended his course with a giant 4’6” option oxer that only a select few jumped. Many riders, including Hunt and French, took the “smaller” option of 4’.
“The Wheelers and Mandy told me not to make a bad mistake and try to jump the high jump and have it down, even if it I was going well,” Hunt said. “I landed at the next to last one and thought about it for a minute, and then I thought I better be safe. But he went beautifully. He was a blast to ride.”
But for third-placed finisher, Hannah Isop, that final oxer was the way to stand out with her horse Red Ryder.
“It wasn’t my plan when I walked to go to that high option,” said Isop. “But he felt great, and he felt like he was jumping better and better as the class went on. There were a lot of great riders in there, so I just decided to go all out.
“This is a dream come true sitting with these two right here,” she added. “It’s surreal. He’s a little bit of an older horse, so I wanted to come in and have a good trip today.”
Twenty-five horse-and-rider combinations return tomorrow to compete under the Rolex Stadium lights. Competition begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Section B final, which is limited to the top 25 Tier II riders from the classic round. The Tier II riders fall outside of the Top 40 money-earned from the past three years.
Isop plans to wear her lucky socks. Hunt has a long list of requirements—and French is contemplating moving a specific motorbike.
“I think the top dozen, it’s a fun class for tomorrow night,” said Hunt.
The Chronicle is on-site 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. You can read all of our coverage of the Platinum Performance USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championships and International Hunter Derby Championship here.
We will have a full analysis of the competition in the Sept. 5 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.