Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 17
For Scott Stewart, winning the Classic Round of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals feels a bit like a double-edged sword. Sure, he’s glad that Dedication topped the class with marks that stretched up to 93 and only dipped as low as 91, but doing quite this well only makes tomorrow night’s Handy Round tougher.
“I’m a little nervous going late in the order because I’ve never had a good class under the lights with him,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J. “He’s still really green. I’m hoping he matures a little bit by tomorrow night. He never does anything really bad but he could get a little looky. Pretty much he can jump any jump you want or any angle, he’s really good about that.”
Dedication, owned by Fashion Farm, got ahead of the pack by a solid 6 points, but three combinations are almost completely neck and neck behind him. Brunello, owned by Liza Boyd and Janet Peterson, is closest, with Boyd aboard (279). Jersey Boy, owned by SBS Farms, and Jen Alfano are right on their heels (278.75), and Lexi Maounis’ Sienna and Patricia Griffith lay right behind them (278).
Watch Dedication's winning round:
There was a serious challenge this year: Steve Stephens’ course. Stephens ordered a dozen trees dug up on Monday, and had them set up in the Sheila C. Johnson arena on Tuesday, running a days’ worth of jumper classes in the ring the next day. Four historical carriages also decorated the arena, as well as a fenceline installed midring.
The track included mostly single fences with one vertical-oxer and one oxer-oxer in-and-out, and looping turns. Many fences were set on long bending lines, which proved surprisingly tough. Rails came across the course, and Stewart summed it up the mood neatly, describing it as a great course, and scopey, even without the high options.
One long line, a vertical to an option of oxers, tripped up plenty of combinations with horses ended up at the oxer alternately far too late or too early. Favorites Declaration and Stewart were tripped up there. Declaration, was slow to respond to Stewart’s leg early in the course, so when Stewart got after the gelding later on course, he overrode the line and ended up at the oxer half a stride early. Miss Lucy and Alfano had an unusual front rail at that oxer as well.
Four riders tipped their hats. Valobra took a disliking to the out of the in-and-out so Peter Pletcher retired that mount. Liza Richardson’s 19-year-old veteran Shine wasn’t his usual self, so after an unspectacular start she pulled up, gave the stallion plenty of pats and bowed out. Praise, who returned to competition a few months ago after an injury, had a rail at the high side a vertical, and wasn’t quite up to scruff, so Farmer elected to end her round early. And NLF Shakespeare’s Rhythm, usually a reliable partner for Pletcher, wasn’t having his best day, and after he pulled a rail pulled up and headed back to the stable.
Other regular winners ran into trouble. Boyd’s catch ride, Triompf (Holly Shephard broke her back and asked Boyd to take over the ride) belied his extensive derby and grand prix experience, spooking at a gazebo and opting out of the in of an in-and-out. Genuine and Tori Colvin circled before fence 3 to take them out of the running, and Rex The Wonder Horse opted out of the out of the vertical-oxer in-and-out with Kris Killam. The oxer-oxer double got the better of Richardson's better mount, and he stopped out there.
“When you looked at it on paper, it looked a little easy,” said Boyd of the track.”But [Liza’s brother] Hardin [Towell] made a good point. He said, Liza, Steve designed the Olympics. He’s going to throw some tricks in there and you don’t realize unless you really think about it. He did an amazing job."
Watch Brunello's Classic Round: