Lexington, KY - August 18, 2012 - It was a night that will be well remembered, and a win well deserved. The Rolex Stadium was packed at the Kentucky Horse Park as the Handy Round brought the 2012 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals to a close during the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. One of the industry's most successful hunter professionals, Jennifer Alfano, led the victory gallop aboard her renowned mount Jersey Boy. Elizabeth Boyd and Brunello rode to the second place honors, while Scott Stewart and Garfield took the third place award.
After a 12-month qualifying period, the hunter elite were invited to compete for the coveted championship title. With a record number of 95 entrants, the Derby Finals got underway yesterday in the Rolex Stadium, with the top 30 horse and rider combinations returning to tackle the handy hunter course. The scores from the Classic Hunter Round carried over into tonight's competition, factoring into the overall score for each pair.
The esteemed Rob Bielefeld, Patrick Rodes, Linda Hough, Geoff Teall, Betty Oare and Scott Williamson had the pleasure of judging the rounds tonight, scrutinizing the style and handiness of each trip. Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL, designed the final course and riders were able to increase their overall score by attempting the high options, adding an additional point per fence to their base score, as well as earning 'handy points' from the judges' panels for their ingenuity and ability.
The scene was set with obstacles evocative of a traditional hunt field, beautifully set with rustic carriages and natural foliage. The Handy Round provided four key areas where riders had the opportunity to showcase their handiness and earn the crucial bonus points. From start to finish, the Handy Course demanded excellence from horse and rider alike. It began with the USHJA fence headed toward the gate over a bending line. Next, riders made a sharp right to an oxer and cantered forward with a left turn over the in-and-out. From there, riders guided their mounts over a wide set log and forward to the natural brush. Then they transitioned to the trot for the fallen log trot-jump. A left rollback guided riders over the white gate and on to the hay bales. With a right rollback they were faced with a vertical and then moved into a strong open gallop to the final oxer.
Eventual winner Jennifer Alfano remarked, "I thought the course was great. It was really my kind of a course because you could really just keep galloping; you could stay really smooth and just stay on a good pace. There were no places where you really had to slow down if you didn't want to, which is the best thing for me and Jersey Boy."
Scott Stewart was the twenty-second in the order to take on the course; however, his finesse with Garfield, owned by Alexandra Crown, made the pair truly shine. He posted scores of 88, 90 and 95 with all four high options and top handy points of 8, 10 and 8. It seemed as though no one would beat his high-scoring round, but with eight more to compete, the onlookers watched with anticipation.
Lillie Keenan entered the ring and left absolutely nothing to chance. She sliced the opening turn to the first fence, making a grandiose attempt to best the competition with her mount Monterrey's handy ability. She was dually awarded 10 bonus points from each judging panel for her veracity, but her final score of 304 was only good enough for the sixth place finish. Her effort did however set the pace for the remainder of the pack.
Fellow young rider Victoria Colvin rode Inclusive, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker, to the impressive scores of 91, 85 and 93. She also chose all four high options and her strong pace and tidy turns provided the pair with 8, 7 and 8 handy points. She eventually earned the fourth place position as her trainer; Scott Stewart continued to hold the lead on Garfield.
Stewart's score stood unyielding as each pair put out their best, but fell shy of the top tier. It wasn't until Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy, owned by SBS Farms, Inc., took their turn at the course that the possibility of defeat seemed plausible.
"Pretty much I kept my plan," Alfano explained. "Originally I was going to go inside the carriage to the third jump, and I just didn't think I could do nine strides in the first line and get inside. Like I said, Lewis' best thing is galloping. I thought for me and him the best thing would be to keep galloping, get it in nine and get around it, and make it up elsewhere. It worked out perfect."
The chestnut gelding strode into the Rolex Stadium and seemed to brighten beneath the lights. Although Alfano chose to avoid a risky turn to the first or third fences, she kept a pace that outshone all those prior. Jersey Boy is well known for his handiness, having competed with Alfano in the irons for the last three years, and earning prestigious titles including the 2012 Horse of the Year.
"Finally!" Alfano exclaimed as she exited the ring from her victory gallop. "I really am so happy to win because I have done it all four times and I feel like Jersey Boy really deserved to win this class. He was awesome, right from the minute I started schooling-tonight he just felt perfect. He was really loose and galloping, and sometimes he can be a little snarky in the schooling area, but tonight he was perfect; he was ready."
The scores were tabulated, and Alfano took the lead from Stewart with scores of 92, 91 and 88.5 with a 9, 9 and 8 for their handiness. They also were recognized for their high options, choosing to take on all four of the possibilities. Their overall score of 588.25 points from their combined two-day total pushed them to the top of the leader board.
Following consecutively was Elizabeth Boyd with Brunello, owned by Janet Peterson. She piloted him to a stellar second round, falling just a hair shy of the top score by only a half-point difference. She was awarded the scores of 89, 89 and 94 from the judges, also taking additional points for her high options and a 9, 8 and 8 for their handiness.
"Brunello deserved the second place honors tonight," Boyd described. "I love that horse like crazy, and I know him so well. I am thrilled to be in the top three with him, he was excellent out there tonight, and I really enjoyed the course."
The air felt tight with eagerness as Stewart entered the ring aboard his second mount of the class, Dedication, owned by Fashion Farm. They had proven their brilliance in yesterday's Classic Hunter Round; however, Stewart had admitted his hesitation going into today's Handy Round. With Dedication still being a green mount, and not having very much experience under the lights, Stewart went into the second-day with no expectations, merely the hope of experience for his young horse.
Stewart opened up the course beautifully with a strong opening jump, heading with a steady pace into the second fence. It was the tight turn he made to the third obstacle, an oxer, which seemed to throw off the pair's performance. Upon landing, they headed into the in-and-out with Stewart legging Dedication forward. It was only a slight miscalculation, but the in-and-out proved to be a worthy adversary for the leader, as Stewart came to a stop before the back end of the line.
"Dedication schooled great out there, but I caught him off guard with the miscalculation going to the in-and-out. He would have jumped the oxer, but I didn't want him landing in the middle," Stewart explained. "To be honest, I wasn't expecting it to be great. I was expecting to do a little better, but I didn't really have high expectations. He is still a green horse, and it was all experience."
Jennifer Alfano was the rider that trounced all others and took the coveted championship title. The diligent team proved consistent, remaining at the top and securing the win. Alfano smiled wide as she led the victory gallop with Jersey Boy, a triumph considered well deserved across the board.
"I just have a lot of respect for Jen. She is a great friend and a great horsewoman. I think she knows that horse inside and out," second place finisher Boyd said. "She really deserved this, and I couldn't happier for them."
Alfano trains alongside renowned horsewoman and trainer Susie Schoellkopf out of Buffalo, NY. They have been a team from the beginning, competing with top mounts across the nation and working hard to reach their dream of the Derby Finals Championship.
"Hats off to Steve Stephens. That was unbelievable-two days of unbelievable courses, what a genius," Schoellkopf explained. "This means everything. Jersey Boy has been an amazing horse and so much fun. Jen told me to come out to the ring, but I told her that it is all about you and that horse. Watching Jen and that horse was the thrill of a lifetime."
Earlier in the afternoon, riders previously ranked 31-60 were invited to return for the Consolation Round, a recent innovation to the Derby Finals Agenda. It was Erin Bland and Weatherly who rode to the top of the rankings. Although the pair had competed in the middle of the pack, their beautiful handy effort caught the judges' eyes as they rode to the high-scoring round of 280 points. Their combined two-day total earned them the blue ribbon, as well as the Leading Amateur-Owner Rider Award.
Junior rider Allison Toffolon and Class Action were awarded the second place finish with an overall score of 276 points for their efforts, ranking just ahead of Gary Young and Gold Coast, owned by Becky Nuth, who secured the third place position.
"I came back in the middle, and yesterday I didn't ride my best," Bland remarked. "I have only been competing in the derbies for a couple of years, but the chance to come back and compete in this Consolation Round is fantastic. I came from California, and that is a long trip to make, to have the opportunity to come back and give it our all and still win at such a prestigious event was wonderful."
USHJA High Performance Hunter Committee Chair, Ron Danta beamed at the conclusion of the night, "I think the greatest thing about the newly developed format this year is the Consolation Round. It brought in a lot of young riders and amateurs. It made them feel that no matter what, they came all this way and still had a chance to do a handy round and a chance at the prize money. It's not always about winning; sometimes it is about the experience and the mileage you give your horse."
Tonight marked the end of the 2011/2012 USHJA International Hunter Derby Series, but soon the 2012/2013 Series will get underway as a new group of elite horse and rider combinations will compete for the right to qualify and return next year for the opportunity to snatch the winning title at the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show will conclude tomorrow with the final highlight event, the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, which will be held in the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park at 2 p.m.
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows please visit www.KentuckyHorseShows.com.
$100,000 USHJA INTERNATIONAL HUNTER DERBY FINALS RESULTS
ORD # Horse Name Rider Name Score
1 26 JERSEY BOY JENNIFER ALFANO 588.250
2 56 BRUNELLO ELIZABETH BOYD 588.000
3 17 GARFIELD SCOTT STEWART 575.000
4 22 INCLUSIVE VICTORIA COLVIN 569.000
5 13 BASES LOADED KELLEY FARMER 557.100
6 84 MONTERREY LILLIE KEENAN 556.500
7 11 TAKEN KELLEY FARMER 553.500
8 30 FRIDAY NIGHT SANDY FARRELL 533.250
9 89 SIENNA PATRICIA GRIFFITH 531.000
10 62 RALPH LAUREN BRIAN FEIGUS 527.000
11 94 CARLSON TAMMY PROVOST 520.000
12 95 COPPERFIELD PETER PLETCHER 511.250
13 83 ARICO PATRICIA GRIFFITH 506.750
14 54 YES INDEED JACK H. TOWELL 506.250
$15,000 DERBY CONSOLATION ROUND RESULTS
ORD # Horse Name Rider Name Score
1 7 WEATHERLY ERIN BLAND 492.750
2 82 CLASS ACTION ALLISON TOFFOLON 486.000
3 58 GOLD COAST GARY YOUNG 480.250
4 6 DOLCE SUE TAKATA 471.000
5 41 CASTLEWELLAN ERIN MCCABE 461.000
6 45 BROOKE RACHAEL HERKOWITZ 461.000
7 49 BLACK LABEL MARTIEN VAN DER HOEVEN 450.500
8 79 ISLAND TIME TIMOTHY MADDRIX 445.850
9 92 DRUMLINE NICOLE LYVERE 443.000
10 27 PROMISE ME CHRISTIAN ROGGE 433.850
11 66 DINNER FOR TWO REBECCA REYES 426.000
12 88 CATALYST WINN ALDEN 423.000
Photo Credit: Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy captured the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals Championship at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Photo By: Kendall Bierer/PMG.