Traverse City, Mich.—July 20
For a little while, it almost looked like Kelley Farmer wasn’t going to win the $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. And that would almost be bigger news than her winning it.
“Argh! If I’d just gone a bit faster,” Molly Ashe-Cawley said with a smile and a shake of her head after she picked up her red ribbon with Kennzo. Indeed, Ashe-Cawley had a shot to win it. She and the classy bay Kennzo turned in a solid Round 1, with scores of 92 and 88, with 4 bonus points added to each score for high options for a 188 total. They went third in the first round, and their lead held for quite a few horses.
It wasn’t until the next-to-last horse in the order, 38 horses later, that Farmer and Taken topped them, with two scores in the 90s. Her total of 194 gave her a pretty healthy lead going into the handy round.
Farmer has become a derby specialist. With their traveling band of hunters, Farmer and partner Larry Glefke stay on the road almost full-time and win derbies all across the country. In fact, just a few days before the derby at Horse Shows By The Bay III, Farmer topped a derby in Colorado.
In Michigan, the odds were certainly stacked in her favor. Out of 43 horses on the start list, Farmer was riding seven of them. But she didn’t have the best of luck on some of them. Her first ride, Praise, put in a good classic round for scores in the low 80s. But then the gorgeous dapple gray Vox pulled a rail, and Spoken For only broke into the 70s with his scores. Red Sky put her back in the hunt with a round that qualified for the handy, but disaster struck for the winner of last year’s derby at Horse Shows By The Bay.
Clearly won the derby with Farmer last year, but on this evening he didn’t want to play. He stopped at the fourth fence, and after Farmer got him going again and over the next few, she dropped to the walk and waved to the judges, leaving the ring.
Bases Loaded, the winner of this derby in 2010, came close to besting Ashe-Cawley’s mark with a round that scored just 2 points lower. But it wasn’t until Farmer’s last ride, Taken, that she finally relegated Ashe-Cawley to second place going into the handy. As the sun dropped lower on the horizon, bathing the expansive grand prix ring with golden light, Farmer piloted Taken to a flowing round. “He has a way of knowing when I need him,” Farmer said of the bay gelding. “He’s learned how to overcome me,” she joked.
Ashe-Cawley put the pressure on Farmer again in the handy round, riding Kenzo over the high options for scores of 85 and 88. She was a bit conservative, though, and her handy bonuses left the window open for Farmer, at 4 and 4 points. “There weren’t a lot of options for being handy out there, and I just couldn’t get out of the frumpy mode,” she said, obviously regretting her caution.
Ashe-Cawley’s frustration multiplied when Farmer and Taken’s handy round wasn’t quite as stellar as their classic round. They scored in the low 80s, with handy bonus points of 5 and 6. Kennzo and Ashe-Cawley’s handy round score—at 189— was a few points better than Taken’s, but not quite enough. Farmer’s healthy Round 1 lead stood her in good stead, and she won by 2 ½ points.
Farmer also took third with Praise, who had the best handy round score, sixth with Bases Loaded, and 11th with Red Sky.
Though Farmer and Peter Pletcher certainly did their part in plumping out the field for the derby at Horse Shows By The Bay, with seven and six entries respectively, there were quite a few other contenders, bringing the order of go to a full printed page of 43. Trainer David Beisel had an unusual way of prepping his derby ride, Ammeretto. On the morning of the derby, he rode the feisty bay stallion to fourth in the $10,000 Open Jumper Welcome class. Ammeretto does double duty in the hunters and jumpers often, and after a quick braiding job, certainly looked the part. They scored in the mid-80s in both the classic and the handy rounds to take seventh place overall.
Martien van der Hoeven caused quite a few giggles at the in-gate when he showed up with CR Beethoven for his handy round. The elegant bay didn’t quite look the part, with an unbraided mane and tail. Van der Hoeven’s explanation for the costume change between rounds? “Bad math,” he quipped, indicating a misread of the Round 1 scores. “This is embarrassing.” CR Beethoven had a lovely handy round with his mane waving in the breeze, but the judges kept their scores in the 70s, and they ended up ninth.
Patrick Rodes built a beautiful course for the class, with unique decorations and truly natural-style fences, using straw bales and split rails to their best advantage. But Glefke voiced quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the actual track of both the classic and handy rounds. “I thought it was one of the most ill-conceived courses I’ve seen.” Glefke said.
He was frustrated that Rodes chose an unusual way to incorporate the bigger fence options. On many courses, riders can pick and choose which bigger jumps to jump. But Rodes built a track where the two bigger options were on two completely separate tracks.
If riders wanted to jump the bigger options, they rolled back to a large natural wall, then flowed up the long side to a two-stride in-and-out, followed by another flowing turn to a 4’ white gate. If they chose the smaller option, they jumped the smaller of the natural walls, rode directly to a different two-stride, then rolled back to a smaller white gate jump. These lines were also included in the handy course. The handy course also didn’t have any real inside turn options, or places where riders could take a chance.
The only rider to vary the track taken was Peter Pletcher, in his ride on Tell All. As he stood at the in-gate, he said, “I'm going to make this turn, and it had better earn me some handy points!” He turned back to the smaller natural wall the opposite way that everyone else had, whipping the bay mare around in a tight rollback. But the daring turn also put him on the track to jump the smaller options. The judges rewarded him with the best handy scores of the class—two 9s—but he missed out on the two scores of 4 for the bigger options.