Aug. 20—Lexington, KY
The evening started out a little rough for Lillie Keenan at the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. But by the night’s end, she had an 8-point lead over some of the top hunter riders in the country, most of them more than a decade her senior.
In tonight’s first round of the top 25, Keenan, 14, was the fourth rider on course with Madison, and they added a stride in the one-stride in-and-out of hedges at fences 9-10. But Keenan regrouped and came back with a top-scoring round aboard Chansonette Farm LLC’s C Coast Z, placing second only to Scott Stewart and Carlos Boy heading into the handy round. As the next-to-last rider in the handy round, she went all out, galloping around and slicing turns to lay down a trip that would be almost impossible to beat with a score of 410.
Watch Keenan's handy round on C Coast Z.
Carlos Boy had won both the qualifying round yesterday and the classic round tonight, but when Stewart got back on him for the handy, “he lost it,” he said. The former grand prix jumper thought he was headed back into the Sheila C. Johnson Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park for a jump-off. Although Stewart said he usually settles once he’s in the ring, he just didn’t tonight, playing a bit between the fences and not acting as rideable as he’d shown he could be in the earlier rounds. He finished fifth overall for owners Krista and Alexa Weisman.
Watch Carlos Boy's handy round.
“His first round was great though,” said Stewart. “It was one of his best.”
Keenan, New York, N.Y., said she knew Stewart was well ahead of her, so she planned to give it her all in the handy. “I knew I really had to run in the hand gallop, and I trusted my horse to do it,” she said.
Stewart, Flemington, N.J., still took second with Fashion Farm’s Declaration, who had a hard gallop to the final fence as the crowd egged him on and launched huge over it.
“He saved my life at the last, because I thought for sure he was chipping,” said Stewart with a laugh.
Watch Declaration's handy round.
Tammy Provost claimed the third spot with the 7-year-old Carlson, who’s usually competing in the small junior hunters with owner Alliy Moyer. “He’s very green for this, but he’s incredibly brave,” said Provost, Westfield, Ind. “And he’s all of maybe 15.2 [hands].”
Watch Carlson's handy round.
Provost, 40, joked that she had to go off and be alone for 25 minutes to think about the course. “I’m famous for going off course, but I’ve never done it in a derby, thank goodness,” she said.
Keenan, who went home with the prize money of about $30,000, said she’s grateful for the ride on C Coast Z, as well as her other horses. “I couldn’t give him more credit,” she said. “He wanted to win here tonight, and he wanted me to win.”
She said that the crowd’s encouragement—whistles and yelling—inspired her to take a chance as she galloped at the final fence. “I heard the screaming and knew I had to give it my all,” she said.
It was just what her trainer Andre Dignelli had told her to do: to ride like Jen Alfano did when she won the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at Palm Beach (Fla.) this spring, to pick up a gallop and ride in looking like she wanted to win the class.
Patricia Griffith, who trains along with Dignelli at Heritage Farm, claimed fourth place aboard Sienna.
Watch her round on Sienna here.
The Farmyard Course
Stewart thought tonight’s courses—designed to look like a farmyard, with a shed, gates, fences, logs and straw bales—were just what they should be for this showcase class.
“It was cool that it looked like a farm, with horses jumping the hedges and going past the barn,” said judge Julie Winkel.
Judge Scott Hofstetter liked that there weren’t many rails falling. “It was an inviting course, and we didn’t have to judge a lot of rails coming down off flat cups,” he said. “It was nice to judge.”
An in-and-out of hedges at fences 9-10 rode long and caused quite a bit of trouble, making for some awkward fences. An outside line from fences 3 to 4 walked like it could be 10 or 11 but almost everyone rode it easily in 10.
“The longer lines walked pretty open, but I went off my eye,” said Keenan. “But the lines got easier. In one diagonal line I did one less stride than I planned. They walked longer than they rode.”
Praise and Kelley Farmer fell out of contention with three stops at the oxer at fence 8 in the handy round.
Crown Affair was on course to have a top finish for John French until he proved too strong after the hand gallop and knocked over the coop that came up afterwards.
Brunello and Liza Boyd were favored to be among the top finishers, but her bad luck began last night when she drew the first spot in the order of go. As the first rider over a complicated route, she jumped the wrong hedge in the classic round, taking a much higher option that wasn’t meant to be jumped.
Colleen Acosta on Posse and Maggie Boylan and Poetic also went off course in the classic round.
CR Haribo stopped at the second fence of the classic round with Hope Glynn.
Peter Pletcher was supposed to ride five mounts at Finals, but when he injured his back he had to stay in Magnolia, Texas to recover. Amateur Susie Baker had been planning to watch Pletcher campaign her Tell All in Lexington, but at the last minute decided to put her own saddle on the mare instead. She advanced to Round 2, finishing 14th overall and earning the award for the highest-placed amateur.
Watch Tell All's classic round here.
Officials estimated that there were 900 spectators in tents, and there appeared to be at least several hundred in the stands.
Read about Carlos Boy's win in the qualifying round last night.