Aug. 19, Lexington, Ky.
With four horses in the top six, including all of the top three, Scott Stewart became the rider to beat in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. Only Lillie Keenan joined him in the top slots, taking fourth and fifth going into the second round tomorrow night.
Stewart, Flemington, N.J., and Keenan, New York, N.Y., both spent last week helping riders at the USEF Pony Finals in Lexington, so they hadn’t ridden their horses all week. But they didn’t seem to have any rust to knock off as they posted scores in the high 80s from each judging panel, with Stewart’s Declaration earning the high score of 91 from panel 3 (Carleton Brooks and Jimmy Torano). Empire, owned by Becky Gochman, also earned a 90 from panel 4 (Jim Clapperton and Mike Rosser). Scott Hofstetter, Otis Brown, Russell Frey and Julie Winkel also officiated.
“The course was great,” said Stewart of the track designed by Patrick Rodes and Bobby Murphy. “For once I couldn’t complain even if I had a bad day. It was really huntery.”
Check out the course map here.
Despite the huntery feel to the course, the leader, Carlos Boy, is a former jumper owned by Krista and Alexa Weisman who Stewart started showing this spring. He’d competed in grand prix classes in the same arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Watch his round.
Watch Declaration's round.
Watch Empire's round.
Keenan, who rode her horses Madison and C Coast Z (a former European show jumper) to the top spots, said the course reminded her of photos of her mother Pam Carmichael showing in the hunters decades ago. “I loved the course,” said Keenan, who trains with Heritage Farm.
Watch Madison's round.
Keenan and Stewart said they’d tried not to take too many risks in today’s qualifying round, just aiming to make the top 25 for tomorrow night, since the scores will not carry over. Stewart took three of the four high options on Carlos Boy but just two of the options on his other rides.
“Carlos could have done the last high easily, but I didn’t want to take the risk,” Stewart said. “I think it was harder to get into the second round this year. The top horses were really true hunters.”
Like most riders, Stewart chose not to attempt the biggest fence: the final gate oxer at fence 12. Only a handful of riders galloped down to the gate instead of negotiating the smaller USHJA oxer.
“I wanted to show off enough, but some of the bigger options I didn’t want to risk an unlucky swap or rail,” said Keenan, who took the high option at the hedges at fence 6 and the two-stride in-and-out at fences 10-11. “But I still wanted to stand out. [The hedge option] wasn’t too much bigger, and it’s not going to fall unless you crash. [Trainer] Andre [Dignelli] gave me the choice with the two-stride, but I wanted to do the bigger one to make the course flow better.”
Tomorrow, however, they know they’ll likely have to do the high options. “I’m looking forward to it if there’s a real hand gallop, showing off what I can do,” said Keenan. “I want to take some big risks.”
Stewart credited Samantha Conroy for prepping his horses while he was at Pony Finals, while Keenan said Heritage Farm had hers ready to go.
Despite five wins this season and top finishes in the last two Derby Finals, Jersey Boy and Jen Alfano didn’t advance to the second round after a hard rub at fence 8 kept them 28th. Alfano’s first ride, Miss Lucy, also wasn’t herself, tossing her head and fussing between fences and pulling a rail to finish 51st.
Kelsey Thatcher also had a disappointing round when Early Applause spooked at the water beside fence 8, refusing once, then stopping twice at the oxer at fence 9, on the other side of the pond, for elimination. Fence 9 also caused a refusal for Rex The Wonder Horse and Kris Killiam, as well as Usher and Michael Buckley Wallace.
Dominick stopped at fence 6, the brush, with Tori Colvin. Taylor Reid and Ovation missed the distance at fence 8, pulling a rail. Crown N Sceptor and Kelley Farmer ran up underneath fence 6, causing the crowd to gasp as they scrambled over. Valentino/Caroline Weedeen and Castleton/Maria Shannon Bishop dropped a rail at fence 11.
Saturday night’s action starts at 6:45 with the classic round for the top 25, followed by a handy round for the top 12.
The Top 25 By The Numbers
Number of Horses Ridden By Juniors: 4 (2 for Lillie Keenan, 2 for Victoria Colvin)
Number of Horses Ridden By Amateurs: 2 (Maggie Boylan and Susan Baker)
Number of Stallions: 3 (Empire, Praise, Crown Affair)
Number of Horses Ridden By Former Derby Final Winners: 1 (Crown Affair)
Numer of Riders With Multiple Mounts: 5 (Tori Colvin, Kelley Farmer, Lillie Keenan, Tammy Provost and Scott Stewart)
Number of Riders With Multiple Mounts To Qualify All Mounts: 2 (Tammy Provost and Scott Stewart)