Written by: Kendall Bierer and Elaine Wessel of Phelps Media Group
Client: Kentucky Horse Shows LLC http://www.kentuckyhorseshows.com
Release Date: 2015-08-15
Lexington, KY – August 15, 2015 – Last year, Brunello won the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship for rider Liza Boyd. This year, the tables were turned as Boyd gathered her emotions, picked up the reins and rode to their third consecutive USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship victory.
“Last year, he definitely did it for me and boosted me back up and got me confident,” Boyd smiled. “This year, I did feel obligated to do it for him. I just really wanted to keep it together, and it was all for him.”
The 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding has proven himself year after year for his rider, yet this year he exceeded all expectations, figuratively jumping out of his skin to the high scores of 94, 96 and 94. The pair earned additional handy scores of 9, 9 and 8, and took all high fence options to top the leader board with an impressive second round score of 322 points. Combined with Friday’s classic round score of 287 points, Boyd and Brunello held onto their first-day lead with a final cumulative score of 609 points.
“The horse is unbelievable,” Boyd said breathlessly, fumbling over the words as the shock of her third victory settled on her. “I was so nervous in the schooling area; I couldn’t get it together. I should just get off and let him do it himself. It probably would have been a score of 100. He’s just amazing. I’m in a little bit of shock, and I’m so lucky to have that horse in my life.”
Nerves definitely played a large role prior to Boyd and Brunello entering the ring as the last horse and rider combination of the class.
“I was definitely nervous today, all day. It was a different pressure from last year. Last year was just go in and have fun. This year, I really wanted to win for that horse. I really wanted him to have three wins in a row. That horse feels better than ever,” Boyd said. “I was nervous, but the moment I cantered to the first jump, I got more relaxed. The crowd actually got me relaxed. They whooped when he jumped high, and you don’t see that in the hunter world very often. The more they did that, the more relaxed I got. I just tried to keep my mind slow. He is such an amazing animal, and it felt great to pull this off for him tonight.”
If retirement was ever a question for Brunello, more affectionately referred to as ‘Ike,’ Saturday night was not the night to ponder it.
“Jack [Towell] talked about [retiring] tonight,” Boyd explained. “I said, let’s just enjoy tonight. I just couldn’t go there. I mean, a horse that jumps like that? He still wants to do it; he loves doing it. I don’t think he would be happy not. As soon as he tells me that he doesn’t want to do it, we’ll stop, but he sure didn’t give me any inclination tonight.”
Second place finisher, Kelley Farmer laughed and responded, “As much as I would like to be the first person to tell you that he should be retired, he didn’t look like he was done tonight.”
Farmer and Boyd entered into the handy phase with only a one-point differential separating them in the rankings. Though Boyd led the way, Farmer was hot on her heels with Mindful. They closed out the competition with scores of 86.75, 90 and 88.30 with 8, 9, and 8 points added for their handiness on the course. Farmer also opted for all four high options, to land the second place with a final total of 588.05 points.
“I think he speaks for himself,” Farmer said of Mindful. “He’s an amazing animal, and I’m blessed to have him. He’s done nothing but be a great horse for me. I have a great support team, everyone at the barn, I couldn’t do it without them.”
Farmer continued, “I got in his way tonight. He was trying to win, and I didn’t let him. Liza’s horse went beautifully. I didn’t ride him as well as I could have. He’s a hell of an animal. I’m so lucky; he’s done nothing but be a fantastic horse for me, and he never lets me down. He tries 150 percent every time.”
Mindful is a rare horse, one that trusts Farmer implicitly, so much so that he is ridden without a martingale and in a rubber D-ring snaffle. Steve Stephens and Allen Rheinheimer’s course catered to his rideability, and the top finishers praised the design.
“You really had to have rideability,” Boyd said. “You had to have rideability, like an equitation horse, plus scope, as well as form.”
Farmer echoed, “You had to have two good leads out there for the course, as well as ability and readability, and that is hard to find.”
Third place finisher, Brady Mitchell, not only finished with the yellow ribbon in the Section A 2015 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, but he also captured the Section B victory with Cassanto, owned by Emily Perez, taking home the largest check of the night.
“I’m honored to be in the company of these riders, and I knew that to try to get ahead of them I had to do something special tonight,” Mitchell expounded. “I feel like I had the best possible round that I could have had out there, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be third in this class. It’s a dream of mine to be in this class, let alone in the top three.”
It was Darcy Hayes of Ontario, Canada, who slid into the second place position in the Section B handy phase. Her scores of 89, 88 and 86.50 along with her 8, 8 and 7 handy points netted her the sixth place finish overall, as well as the cumulative score of 571.50 points to fall just behind Mitchell with a 16.45-point difference.
Jennifer Alfano and Maggie May were awarded the fourth place with 573.5 points, while Farmer captured another ribbon as the fifth place finisher with Dalliance.
Boyd could not praise chairman Ron Danta, as well as the other members of the board for their exceptional work and ideas in creating the derby program, enough.
“Ike wouldn’t have had a career right now,” Boyd explained. “As hunter riders, the opportunities you have given us is huge. I don’t think that you get thanked enough. We know you don’t get paid the big bucks for doing this. It is a full-time job. Now we have opportunities for a 17-year-old horse, as well as opportunities for a 5-year-old horse to go out there, make money and make their owners proud. Thank you to the USHJA and everything you have done.”
For those competitors whose scores did not qualify them for the Section A or B Handy rounds, the $10,000 Derby Challenge, sponsored by Moyer Farm, was available as another opportunity to end the day with a chunk of change. Taking advantage of this second chance, Peter Pletcher rode CR Beethoven, owned by Kirby McCool out of Houston, Texas, to the win with a 300-point score, 13 whole points ahead of the reserve champion.
Thirty-five entries tackled Rheinheimer’s abbreviated handy track, which consisted of a substantial number of turn options, giving horses and riders a chance to ride a strategy that accentuated their strengths and showed off handiness. As is typical, four fences presented height options and the potential to earn additional points. Pletcher and CR Beethoven set the bar high as the 10th in the order to go with three high scores: 84, 87, and 88 plus handy bonuses of 9, 10, and 10.
“There were some really tough choices to make,” Pletcher said. “A lot of us were like ‘No way, that’s too tight,’ especially from the big wall and the inside turn afterwards, but I was lucky to be on the horse that I was on. If you’re a gutsy enough rider and you have a horse that tries, it pays off.”
Pletcher calls CR Beethoven his “go-to super saint” horse, and has been riding him for three years. Unfortunately, a slight lead change hiccup Friday kept the pair out of contention for the Section A round, but Pletcher felt confident headed into the Challenge that the two had a strong chance at the tricolors.
“I felt pretty good about today with him because he is so straightforward. There were two nearly impossible turns, but I knew I could count on him to try. I definitely questioned whether or not I was going to take those options, but once I was in the ring I felt that he would give me a good effort. He tries harder the bigger they get,” Pletcher commented.
A proponent of the Derby Challenge, Pletcher supports the “second chance round” as a means of redemption. As small missteps can often hold competitors out of contention for the Section A and B Finals, he believes this class alleviates the worries and teaches a lesson to many riders, owners, and trainers whose scores may have suffered from slight mistakes.
“I think this type of class gives some of these riders and owners reassurance that there is more to it, and even if they make a little bit of a mistake, there is another chance to shine and prove themselves. It was still a great group of horses,” Pletcher noted.
Reserve honors went to Louise Serio aboard Eagle, owned by Clementina Brown out of Loxahatchee, Florida, with their mark of 287.000. Holly Shepherd, in the irons for Margaret Camp of Birmingham, Alabama, navigated Cascaron to a 285.500-point ride to clinch the third position.