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:
A Handy Challenge
Dedication hasn’t show at Finals before, and as Stewart alluded, he's developed a disconcerting habit of winning the first round of major competitions then returning for the second trip and being a bit green. This happened at the 2011  and 2012 editions of the Wellington Hunter Derby (Fla.).
Stewart will have a more confirmed partner in Garfield—who lays fifth—tomorrow night. That horse finished tenth here last year. This marks Brunello’s third appearance at Finals, and Jersey Boy’s fourth.
To get ready, Boyd and Brunello campaigned in a 1.30-meter jumper class (she was happy with his 4 fault performance and the chance to try some jump-off turns.) When asked if Jersey Boy was on any jumper start lists Alfano laughed.
“[Liza and I] talked about it, and I told her that I didn’t think Ian Millar was here to ride him around,” joked Alfano. “We didn’t do anything special for any of the other classes, and he’s been really good all summer. We didn’t want to change anything.”
Watch Jersey Boy's Classic Round:
Unlike last year, scores from today’s round carry over for tomorrow. The top 30 riders will return for the handy, and the next 30 in line will compete for $15,000 in a new Consolation Round. That Consolation Round will start at 4p.m., and the handy will go at 8p.m. USEF Network will be broadcasting the event live, and you can join the conversation as The Chronicle of the Horse hosts a live interactive blog starting at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m just excited” said Boyd of tomorrow’s handy trip. “He’s always great under the lights, and I’m sure Steve will set something exciting for us.”
Right Or Wrong?
USHJA President Bill Moroney made several predictions in the Chronicle’s preview issue. Halfway through the competition, let's check in and see how they're holding up.
- Seasoned partnerships will win out. Yes—only one of the top 10 pairs (Caden and Peter Pletcher) doesn’t have a long history of winning together. Not that the Irish Sport Horse is a catch ride for Pletcher. His student, Carson Gibson, usually rides that horse in the junior division.
- The new format will make riders bolder in Round 1. No—Moroney sensibly suggested that riders would ride more aggressively as there was no longer a “giveaway” Qualifying Round. But this year’s first round was tougher than last year’s Qualifying Round (but in the neighborhood of last year’s demanding Classic Round). Rails were flying, so by and large riders made calculated decisions, not brazen ones. All in all, only two riders in the top 15 jumped all the high options.
- Horses with a good gallop and have experience in bigger venues will do well. Yes. Of horses advancing to tomorrow’s handy, most are veterans from last year. The overwhelming majority competed at this year’s Wellington Hunter Derby, and most of the top 12 here advanced to the handy round there, which was held on the grass derby field with plenty of atmosphere. Most of the top 30 are regular ribbon winners at venues where derbies are held on big fields.
By The Numbers
Total entries in the Classic Round—81
Number of full Thoroughbreds in the Classic Round—0
Number of judges—6 (Geoff Teall, Rob Bielefeld, Patrick Rodes, Linda Hough, Scott Williamson, Betty Oare)
Number of horses who attempted all four high option jumps—8 (Monterrey/Lillie Keenan, Ralph Lauren/Brian Feigus, Friday Night/Sandy Ferrell, Copperfield/Peter Pletcher, Kalifornia Dreamin’/Dana Hart Callanan, Declaration/Scott Stewart, Dinner For Two/Rebecca Reyes, Carson/Greg Crolick, Miss Lucy/Jen Alfano)
Rider with the most entries in the handy round—Kelley Farmer (Bases Loaded, who lays 6th; Clearly, 7th; Taken, 8th, Red Sky, 20th, Vox 22nd ).
Minimum average base score needed to qualify for the Handy Round—78.28
Minimum average base score needed to qualify for the Consolation Round—45.66
Number of amateurs advancing to the Handy Round—2 (Kaitlin Campbell/October Road, 14th, and Summer Catch/Ashley Hotz, 25th) out of 9 total
Number of juniors advancing to the Handy Round—5 (Inclusive/Tori Colvin, 10th; Monterrey/Lillie Keenan, 12th; Elliott/Shawn Casady, 24th; Lillie Keenan/Kid Rock, 26th; Havana/Tori Colvin, 27th) out of 23 total
Number of falls—2 (Aha/Callie Seaman, Lochland/Sara Stephens—both horses and riders walked off course without delay or incident.)
Full results are available at www.shownet.biz 
Watch Sienna and Patricia Griffith:
Watch Garfield and Stewart, who finished fifth:
Watch Bases Loaded and Kelley Farmer who finished sixth:
Watch Clearly and Kelley Farmer who finished seventh:
Watch Farmer and Taken, who finished eighth:
Watch Peter Pletcher and Caden, who finished ninth:
Watch Tori Colvin and Inclusive, who finished tenth:
Watch Dinner for Two and Rebecca Reyes, who advanced to the consolation round: