The 11th edition of the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship returned to the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park on Friday morning, showcasing the best hunter horses and athletes in the country for the first of two days of competition. Offering more than $250,000 in prize money in 2019, the event has become a popular goal for challengers with exceptionally skilled horses that possess noteworthy movement and jumping style. With 76 entries tackling the classic phase of competition, horse-and-rider combinations were in top form, all fighting for a coveted spot in the top 40 to advance to Saturday evening’s championship handy round. Ultimately it was defending champion Victoria Colvin aboard El Primero who stepped up to the plate to earn the highest day one score and lead the pack.
The 13-obstacle course, designed by Alan Lohman, offered both the veteran and newcomer athletes four high option fences around the lofty course. With a variety of natural-looking fences, including a high volume of brush and logs, the course intended to bring competitors back to the basics and tradition of the hunter sport. Obstacles included a solid wall, a gate and a two-stride triple combination.
Returning to Kentucky as the two-time winner from the 2017 and 2018 championships, Colvin was ninth in the start list to try her hand at the course, piloting Meralex Farm, Inc.’s El Primero. Opting for all of the high option fences to add extra points, Colvin set the bar high for subsequent contenders by accumulating base scores of 89, 91, and 92 from the judging panel, to end on a total of 284 points. Though nearly 70 derby contenders chased the frontrunners’ early tally in an attempt to secure the day one lead, none would match their performance.
Colvin will return to the ring Saturday evening with the chance to win on both El Primero and Brad Wolf’s Private Practice, the 2018 champion horse, who currently sits in fourth position with a cumulative score of 269.50. If Colvin tops the scorecard following Saturday’s finale with the reins on El Primero, she will become the first rider in the history of the event to win the championship title on three different horses. Should she claim victory on Private Practice, she will tie Liza Boyd for the most number of championship wins, each with three apiece.
Though the 21-year-old professional and El Primero will have the advantage of navigating the handy track as the final entry with a 7.5-point lead Saturday evening, they will have to face off against a group of 39 other top talents. Riding 45th in the order-of-go, California-based athlete and Derby Finals newcomer Nick Haness came the closest to Colvin’s chart-topping score aboard Lindsey Schiefelbein’s Verdict as the only other exhibitor to hit the 90-point benchmark. With individual scores of 90, 91, 83.50, Haness and Verdict concluded on a total tally of 276.50 to finish in the reserve spot. Jenny Karazissis and Michelle Cobb’s Really follow in the standings with 270.50 points after an impressive trip to earn third position over the classic course. Colvin and Private Practice claimed fourth place to add to the rider’s success, followed by Hunt Tosh and Ceil Wheeler’s Flamingo K in fifth position thanks to a score of 268.50.
The 2019 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship will return to the Rolex Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with horses and athletes pegged to compete in either the Derby Challenge or the coveted handy hunter round, which will determine the new champion. The top 20 highest-scoring pairs have qualified for the Section A portion of the prize money, representing the largest percentage of the pot, while the top 20 tier two duos, determined by money won throughout the year, from the classic round will vie for the Section A and B prize money. Ultimately, the horse and athlete with the greatest composite score from both rounds of competition will be crowned the 2019 champions.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Victoria Colvin – 2019 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship classic round leader
On her reaction to her top placings:
“My day was good! El Primero was really good. He went in there and marched around. I’ve only been riding him since [the Winter Equestrian Festival], so not too long, but he has never given me any issues or anything. He marched around like a champion like he has done it all his life. He was really good. Private Practice was good, as well. He hasn’t shown in a bit, so he went in and was a little excited, but I’m hoping tomorrow he will be a little more relaxed. He jumped his heart out.”
On whether or not she walked the course:
“I did not. I did really like a course like this, though, because I like single oxers and single jumps, so for me that was great. You could just pick up a gallop and go and not have to worry about strides or anything.”
On jumping early in the order on El Primero:
“It doesn’t really matter to me. I kind of prefer to go first or last. The middle around 20 or 30 isn’t my favorite spot. I don’t know why because it doesn’t mean anything, but it shouldn’t really affect it. If you have a round going first and you have a round going last, you should still get the same score. You think going early that you might not get as high of a score, but it shouldn’t be like that.”
On jumping last Saturday evening:
“I have to say, every time I have come in on top I have always lost. Last year in came in [to the handy round] in second and the year before I was fourth or fifth, so every year I have come in on top – I think I was in the lead once on Inclusive – and every year I have always lost. They are both really great in the handy so we wil see. Some horses will go in there and get excited and some don’t care.”
On El Primero and Private Practice:
“They are both similar. Private Practice might go a little more up with that faster rhythm, and El Primero is a little bit slower and stays on the same rhythm. They both jump great and they are both, brave, handy, scopey and ride almost the same.”
Nick Haness – 2019 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, second place
On his reaction to finishing in second place:
“It feels great! I was happy with yesterday’s results [during the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship], and then whatever happened today happened, so that it went well was a bonus. I’m really excited for the rest of the week. This is a magical ring to ride in. It is unlike anything else and it really is quite special. When you come out and you had a good round, you feel like a weight lifted off of you. It is super fun.”
On his handy strategy:
“Hang on tight, be handy, stay on, produce good jumps and smile for the camera. I’ve never done Derby Finals before – this is my first year – so I’m a little nervous about the change of atmosphere. Tomorrow is sa nighttime class so hopefully my horse adjusts well to the atmosphere change. It is going to be a fun and new element to show at night. I’m not a big course walker [like Tori], but in the handy round I like walking the course more just to see where the turns are. That is an important factor just to have a plan and know where you can maybe stand out and be better than your fellow competitors and make the best plan for your horse. That’s one of my biggest strategies for the handy rounds. That and eating donuts in the morning. That was a good luck charm for today.”
On the decision to bring Verdict from California to Kentucky:
“It’s been a teeter-totter decision for the last few months. This is a horse that I don’t live with normally and it is not in training with me at home. An amateur owns him and she shows him. He has been very successful with her and I have catch ridden him a few times in the derbies. It is actually a really sweet story because this horse was trained by my first trainer when I was a kid growing up, so this is really special that he was able to have a horse at this caliber and be able to be competitive at the highest level. I’m very excited for them and proud that the horse can come back here for this reason. After we started doing well in California – he won a derby at HITS Thermal and was third in two other derbies – so once we saw that and the team was coming together, we figured it would be a fun opportunity and a safe bet to send him back east.”
Jenny Karazissis – 2019 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, third place
On her reaction to finishing in third place:
“I couldn’t be happier, I’m really pleased [with Really.] He was very good and I’m so pleased for the owner, who stuck her neck out. It is a gamble to send the mall the way here [from California]. It paid off so far and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night because he is super fun to do the handy on.”
On her strategies in both rounds:
“Today I had walked the first line and the last line but I decided that I was not going to count. I actually tried not to count other people’s round because then I get that in my head and I feel like it helped today to just ride off my eye. My horse was so rideable and it was really fun. I definitely will walk the course tomorrow and try to come up with a strategy. It is nice to be able to go so late in the order, but knowing that I have these two going after me is going to be a lot of pressure to do the difficult inside turns and all the high options. I’ll just be going for it.”
On riding Saturday in the evening:
“It is hard to wait all day. I kind of like going first thing in the morning. The excitement builds and it is thrilling. When you are warming up out there and you hear the applause and the crowd goes crazy over the rounds, it gives you goosebumps. It is really a thrill.”
International Derby Classic Hunter Round
Place / Horse / Owner / Rider / Score
1. El Primero / Victoria Colvin / Meralex Farm, Inc / 284
2. Verdict / Nick Haness / Lindsey Schiefelbein / 276.50
3. Really / Jenny Karazissis / Michelle Cobb / 270.50
4. Private Practice / Victoria Colvin / Brad Wolf / 269.50
5. Flamingo-k / Hunt Tosh / Ceil Wheeler / 268.50
6. Argentus / Jimmy Torano / Isalou Inc / 267
7. Diamante / Patricia Griffith / Callie Seaman / 266
8. Catori / Kelli Cruciotti / Serenity Farm / 262
9. Monday Balous / Jimmy Torano / Donald Stewart / 261.50
10. Cayman / Renee Lenkart / Macmillan Sport Horse / 258.50
11. In The Know / Samantha Schaefer / Madeline Schaefer / 257.50
12. Nobel Prize / Kristy Herrera / Emma Crate / 255