Always a force to be reckoned with in the derby ring, Victoria Colvin once again proved her mastery of the handy course and made history as a three-time winner of the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship on Saturday evening, this time topping the scorecard by nearly 25 points in the 2019 installment aboard Meralex Farm, Inc.’s El Primero. Entering the day as the frontrunners following the classic round, defending champion Colvin and El Primero extended their lead ahead of 35 of the nation’s best hunter contenders with a textbook trip that earned them near-perfect scores. Colvin and El Primero will leave Kentucky with nearly $45,000 in prize money and the coveted status as the 2019 champions, marking the professional’s feat in program history as the first rider to claim the championship rosette aboard three different horses.
Seasoned veterans as the course designers for the championship, the team of Alan Lohman and Danny Moore once again constructed an expert handy track for the returning contenders. Presenting 13 efforts that included four high-option fences, the pattern featured a two-stride combination, one-stride combination and a horseshoe jump, in addition to a number of inside turn options to aid competitors in showcasing handiness. Following the first day of riding, 36 of the best-scoring duos were invited back to the ring for one final chance at the title over the strategic course, but the championship excitement was truly seen as the top seven qualifiers took centerstage.
In seventh position after the classic phase, Patricia Griffith and Callie Seaman’s Diamante pushed themselves to the top of the leaderboard with a score of 302 as the first partnership to break the 300-point threshold, finishing on a composite score of 568 to jump to the lead by 15 points at the time. As challengers continued to contest the pattern, their scores would fall short until West Coast representative Nick Haness and Lindsey Schiefelbein’s Verdict logged a noteworthy score of 302, matching that set forth by Griffith and Diamante. Combined with their initial tally of 276.50, Haness and Verdict eclipsed the leading pair thanks to a two-round score of 578.50 as the second-to-last exhibitors, putting the pressure on Colvin and El Primero to deliver.
Ultimately, none of the scores from the previous 35 horse-and-rider combinations mattered, as Colvin and El Primero shattered Haness’ lead by 24.5 points to set themselves apart as the clear 2019 champions. Garnering base scores of 92, 94 and 95, plus 12 additional points for successfully navigating the high option fences and 26 handy bonus points out of a possible 30, the talented team landed on a chart-topping 319 points in the handy round and a cumulative score of 603 to emerge as the clear 2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship winners.
In his Derby Championship debut, Haness claimed the reserve championship honors with Verdict, and as the highest-placing of the Tier II pairs based on winnings throughout the qualifying period, he added to his total prize money thanks to the Tier II rider bonus. Griffith and Diamante held onto third position to round out the podium. With 562.50 points, California-based Jenny Karazissis and Michelle Cobb’s Really were awarded fourth place overall, and Jimmy Torano aboard Isalou Inc.’s Argentus concluded the 2019 edition of the finals in fifth position with a two-day point total of 562.
With her victory, 21-year-old Colvin etched her name in the record books as the first athlete to pilot three different horses to the championship honors. In 2017, the young professional topped the leaderboard aboard 10-year-old Cuba, owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, after an exemplary handy round that propelled the pair from second place to first position to capture the coveted title. Colvin returned to the Rolex Stadium in 2018 with a new eye-catching mount, Brad Wolf’s 8-year-old Private Practice, who had only recently transitioned from the jumper ring to the hunters. Over two days of competition, Colvin and Private Practice separated themselves from the pack thanks to the gelding’s impressive efforts and flashy style, ultimately jumping into a league all their own with a 16.5-point victory over the next closest competitor to easily secure the lead spot in the victory gallop. Prior to Saturday’s results, Liza Boyd held the distinction as the only three-time winner of the Derby Championship, each time aboard Brunello, but now Colvin has joined her in the ranks as a triple victor.
Colvin and 10-year-old El Primero have only been paired together since the winter, but have already accrued significant success together in high-profile divisions and derbies across the country including the tricolor ribbons in the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at Deeridge Farms during Deeridge Derby Week, as well as the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby to close out the competitive Winter Equestrian Festival.
Earlier in the afternoon, 35 horse-and-athlete combinations that missed the cut-off for the handy round took another shot at earning some prize money, riding in the $10,000 Derby Challenge. Similar to the evening’s handy round, Lohman and Moore’s course included plenty of high-option jumps and opportunities to utilize inside turns, allowing riders to exhibit their mount’s abilities. Riding 33rd in the order, Holly Shepherd showcased Mary Antonini’s High Society to a late high-scoring performance to shake up the standings, jumping to marks of 87, 89 and 89, plus six additional points for the high option fences and 26 handy points, for a total score of 297. The leaders for the majority of the class, Hannah Isop and Tracy Freels’ Red Ryder finished in the reserve spot with 290.50 points, followed by Amanda Steege and Cheryl Olsten’s Lafitte De Muze with the same score, but lesser points from the tie-breaker judging panel.
Saturday’s finale concludes the 2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, but hunter competition will continue Sunday in the Alltech Arena with the USHJA National Hunter Derby slated to begin at noon. In 2020, the championship will return for its 12th year.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Victoria Colvin – 2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby champion
“It feels amazing. He went in there and was the best he could be. I couldn’t have done it without the team was behind him. It’s been a special night. I was a little bit [nervous]. After Peter went, he was still a little bit impressed and then I thought ‘Uh oh, Primo needs to be really good’. He really rose up to the occasion. It never gets old. I’ve been showing in this derby for a long time. To win it once, and then now a couple of times, the feeling never gets old. It’s so amazing with the crowd here and the feeling is great. It never dies down. Today was just as special as the first time winning.”
On her strategy with El Primero:
“Well, I did walk the course tonight. With El Primero, I hadn’t done him in too many night classes so Lousie Serio said he could peak at things at first because she knows him really well. The first couple of jumps I was kind of just holding his hand a bit and then once I felt that he was comfortable, I just went with it and tried to be as handy as I could. During the first jumps, I wanted to make sure I didn’t spin back really tight. I wanted to make sure that he took his time with the first jump, then got a view of the scenery. I didn’t want to just throw it in his face. Having the trot jump early, I think relaxed every horse. They got to trot and then go for it on the rest of the course. We were a little worried he might peek at some things, but he went in and did not look at one thing out there.”
On preparing with El Primero:
“I really let Peggy Gehman get him ready. That was my plan. I rode him once before, but Peggy knows him so well and she did basically everything. Lousie helped me in the schooling ring to help me put it together in the ring.”
On the course:
“I really loved the handy. There were a lot of inside turns and there were places you could go wider and places you could go inside. The high options were quite high and the trot fence was a little high as well. I think the course rode well and none of the horses had any big issues, so that’s always a good thing on course.”
On watching Nick go:
“After he went and he got high scores and high handy points, I knew that I couldn’t not go for it. He went great so I had to go in and go for it. There was no holding back or going outside of the turns. It basically decided my plan.”
On his strategy:
“Per my interview last night, my good luck charm was donuts. Today I ate a salad, so that was my preparation for the day. But in all seriousness, my strategy today was to keep calm. I was in a good position coming into today’s round from yesterday. I wanted to put the course together like it was a puzzle, just one piece at a time. I wanted to be handy but be tactful because the jumps were really big tonight. There was a big atmosphere and it was a different climate. Executing my plan was my strategy and it paid off.”
On the course:
“I think as a rider it was really fun to walk the course. The course designer did a great job placing objects that made it so you had to decide ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. Those were also placed with some of the biggest jumps on the course so that played a factor in deciding what our track was going to be and how to show off the horse’s best jumps and also being handy. It’s the final day, it’s a big class, only all of America is watching – so there’s a lot of pressure. But it was a great course because it gave riders a lot of options for turns and it gave everyone an equal chance to produce the best for their horse.”
On gaining the ride on Verdict:
“Michael Croopnick is the trainer of this horse. I started riding [with Michael] when I was 4 years old up until I was about 13. I’ve seen him throughout the years and we’ve stayed connected but I was never able to ride for him until this year. He bought Verdict for his owner, Lindsey Schiefelbein, and that horse was instantly successful. Randomly one day we were at the same horse show and they asked I would show him in the derby and we had an instant connection. The partnership began there and our loyalty to each other has been really nice. It’s been really great to be able to reconnect a relationship that really started my love for horses so many years ago.”
Patricia Griffith – 2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby, third place
“I’m quite proud of him. He is very new to hunters, I think he started week 5 in Florida. I’m happy for his owner. 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, I’m very thankful to his owner for letting me have the ride on him for this. We imported him after flying over to Europe to try him at André Thieme’s place and it was freezing cold and I couldn’t believe how quiet he was, and he’s a stallion. But by the time we had him really going in the states, it was already mid-circuit in Florida. He did a couple of shows and the derby there. He is actually going tomorrow to Spy Coast and he’s going to have a busy couple of weeks because apparently there is a very high demand for Diamante babies.”
On her strategy:
“I didn’t really know what to expect. He is brave but you never know under the lights. I wanted to stay one step ahead of that track to keep setting it up for the next part. It all happened very quickly but it worked out. The course was great. For people that were on a little greener horse, you could have taken the outside turns if you wanted to. But it forced you to be quite handy if you were taking a shot to win.”
2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Final Score
1. El Primero / Victoria Colvin / Meralex Farm, Inc / 603
2. Verdict / Nick Haness / Lindsey Schiefelbein / 578.50
3. Diamante / Patricia Griffith / Callie Seaman / 568
4. Really / Jenny Karazissis / Michelle Cobb / 562.50
5. Argentus / Jimmy Torano / Isalou Inc / 56
6. Nobel Prize / Kristy Herrera / Emma Crate / 553
7. In The Know / Samantha Schaefer / Madeline Schaefer / 549.50
8. Private Practice / Victoria Colvin / Brad Wolf / 541.50
9. Flamingo-K / Hunt Tosh / Ceil Wheeler / 535.50
10. Aster De La Cense / Keirstin Johnsen / Kimberly Witherspoon / 527.50
11. Five Star / Amberlee Wentz / Dana Vollbracht / 519
12. Monday Balous / Jimmy Torano / Donald Stewart / 513.50