Wellington, Fla.—March 31
Scott Stewart and Dedication couldn’t have had a much better start to the Wellington edition of the USHJA International Hunter Derby series. Together the pair jumped to the top of the classic round in the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby during Week 12 of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, heading into tomorrow’s handy round with a 4-point buffer over two-time class winners Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy.
Nancy Amling’s Taken and Kelley Farmer sit third just 6 points off the lead, and 2010 winners Castle Rock, owned by Bryan Baldwin, and Louise Serio looked spot on to lay fourth. Farmer also lays fifth aboard Red Sky.
A quick but strong rainstorm interrupted the class just as Stewart was about to warm up.
“I had to get on when it had just finished pouring rain,” he said. “When I jumped my first couple of jumps it was still raining, and he was shaking his head all over the place. Fortunately it stopped before I had to go.”
Watch Dedication’s round below.
(Videos of the top 12 classic rounds follow the story.)
Dedication, owned by Fashion Farm, advanced to Round 2 of this class last year. His fantastic 2011 season included grand hunter titles at the Pennsylvania National and the Alltech National (Ky.), the U.S. Equestrian Federation first year green Horse of the Year award, and the Chronicle of the Horse Hunter Horse of the Year honors. He’s shown lightly through the circuit in anticipation of this class.
“The size of the jumps really doesn’t matter to him,” said Stewart. “He can be a little playful, and when it started to rain, he was out here and being a little wild since he doesn’t like anything touching him.”
That willingness to jump the bigger fences meant that Dedication picked up 4 bonus points, as well as the class high score of 92 from judges Danny Robertshaw and Jim Clapperton, and a mark of 91 from Bob Crandall and Kitty Barker, to top the field of 54.
A Good Looking Track
All week, the ring crew, led by course builder Bobby Murphy, has been re-decorating the Eugene R. Mische Ring. They built a stone wall around much of the perimeter of the ring, adding in a gazebo at one end. Murals depicting horse country covered one wall.
The track included a two-stride in-and-out option and a combination down one side, but otherwise had plenty of single fences, but only two oxers. The track included a plank on flat cups designed to look like a fence line, with a “grass liverpool” underneath. The course was lushly decorated with straw and greenery and included a few sponsor fences as well. Those sponsor fences included the last fence: a green wall set at two heights with an Adequan topiary horse head stretching up to 4’6” on the high side. Despite all the decorations, it seemed a fairly inviting track.
“There was a lot to look at other than the jumps,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J. “It looks good, and I hope they keep the stone walls because they really look great. Mine jumped everything really well, and the jumps were different enough to give them something to focus on.
“I thought Bobby actually went a little easy on us,” he continued. “In the past it’s been quite a bit harder; even last year and the year before the first round looked a little bit harder. We walked like it was going to be simple but thought it wasn’t going to be.”
A few fences came down occasionally, and Condonas took a tumble coming out of an in-and-out four fences in. He and Lacey Gilbertson walked off the course. But overall the track proved quite inviting.
Tomorrow’s Another Day
In previous years the second round of the derby has been held in the International Ring at night, but this year the top 25 riders will cross the street and head to the field at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center’s Stadium. The giant grass field, which is home to occasional jumper classes, has never hosted a hunter class. There are natural obstacles built in (a grob, double-liverpool, open water, bank and massive hill for starters), but it’s not clear which, if any of these, will be included in tomorrow’s course.
Riders seemed a touch nervous at the change—after all it’s a brand new venue for their mounts, and very few derbies are run on actual derby fields (the Chicago edition being a noteable exception).
But it’s not a surprise for any of the riders. Stewart has been schooling at his farm and practicing banks and other natural obstacles, and other contenders have certainly been following suit.