Lexington, KY - August 17, 2011- A light breeze rolled across the Kentucky Horse Park as the sun shone down welcoming the first day of the Blue Grass Festival Horse Show. Opening day in the Stonelea Ring marked the beginning of the First Year Green Working Hunter, Second Year Green Working Hunter, Green Conformation Hunter, Regular Conformation Hunter and High Performance Hunter Divisions. Sweeping the fences in High Performance Hunters was Jennifer Alfano with Jersey Boy, while Patricia Griffith piloted Sienna to top awards in the Second Year Green Working Hunters, and Casallo earned two blues in the Regular Conformation Hunters.
Jennifer Alfano piloted the nine-year-old gelding Jersey Boy, owned by SBS Farms of Buffalo, NY, to two first place ribbons in the High Performance Hunters today. The talented duo swept the over fences during their rounds, earning top call in preparation for the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby beginning this Friday. "Today, he was really great!" Alfano exclaimed. "I did the High Performance as a way of getting prepared for the Derby Finals, but since he did so well, I do not plan on showing him in tomorrow's classes."
Even though Alfano feels the pressure building as the Derby Finals draw near, she believes that as long as she stays confident, her relationship with Jersey Boy will allow them to go out there and do great. It comes as no surprise that the pair has built a very special relationship together throughout their years together. "We have a great bond with one another, I think due to the fact that I am the only one to ride him and show him. He can be a very difficult ride, especially since sometimes he can be very spooky, but we know each other and make a great team. The pressure makes me a little nervous for the Derby, I have to admit, but I am confident that we are going to go out there and do great," Alfano expressed.
Bringing home two second place awards today in the High Performance Hunter class, Havens Schatt aboard Valencia, owned by CH Farm, LLC of Delano, MN, are a pair to keep your eye on for tomorrow's rounds. Without Jersey Boy and Alfano competing in tomorrow's classes, Schatt and Valencia may prove themselves once again, garnering the top honors. Schatt began showing the mare in June, competing in the First Years as well as the High Performance Hunters. Although Valencia seems to have a little bit of her own blood, the duo works well together using their large stride to their advantage during the hunter courses.
Earlier in the day, the First Year Green Working Hunters competed for the top call in the Stonelea Ring. Alfano of Buffalo, NY, and her mount Michigan Avenue earned a score of 83 in the first round, but continued with a solid score of 89 in the second round to claim the blue ribbon. "I was very proud of Michigan Avenue today, his rounds were great," explained Alfano. "I have only had him since May, and we are just beginning to get to know one another, he is definitely a fun horse and we are getting along great."
Next to go in the ring was the Green Conformation Hunter division. Maria Rasmussen aboard Vosges Theobroma, owned by Katrina Markoff of Chicago, IL, showcased their ability during the over fences. The duo earned a score of 85 in the first round garnering the first place ribbon. During their second round, the pair earned the second place ribbon following closely behind Hunt Tosh's impressive score of 88 aboard Cold Harbor, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Wheeler of Keswick, VA.
"I have been riding Vosges Theobroma for a very long time actually," Rasmussen described. "I started riding him when he was four and was a baby green horse. He's a really good boy; he's a character, a ham, really. The truth is that he just wants to please."
Rasmussen described the way you have to ride her mount as, "fitting into his own little world." She explained that Vosges Theobroma only focuses on one thing a day, and that it is her job, as the rider, to figure out what that is. According to her scores, she succeeded. "He was really good today. He jumped well, was really soft and wanted to win today. I thought the course was good for him. He's not real spooky, he has a huge stride and I just have to watch his right side."
Following in the ring began the start of the Second Year Green Working Hunter Division where Patricia Griffith and Sienna swept the over fences classes. With high scores of 88 in both rounds, the duo took home the two blue ribbons. Griffith was very excited for the first place awards considering that she hadn't shown Sienna in quite a bit. Recently, Sienna has been competing with her owner Lexi Maounis of Jupiter, FL, showing in the Juniors. Griffith is looking forward to the Derby Finals and used the Second Year Hunter Division as a way of preparing. "I thought before the Derby Final I would brush up a little bit with her, and obviously she is in great form and we are really excited," Griffith noted. "Sienna is pretty much point and shoot, I would like to take more credit than that, but she really is as easy as she looks. After the second round today, I just thought to myself, this is the round I want to have on Friday."
It was Casallo and Elizabeth Boyd who garnered the top call in the Regular Conformation Hunters. Their impressive scores of 87 and 85 currently place them at the top of their division after earning two first place ribbons. Casallo, currently owned by Erin McGuire of Cornelius, NC, is a more recent purchase. McGuire bought the seven-year-old gelding from Bob Crandall in May. "He is amazing, we are so lucky to have that horse. All of the credit is due to Bob since he trained him from the time he was four-years-old, and taught him everything. His expertise allows for me to just get to sit there and have fun," Boyd explained. "Casallo needs a confident ride. You can chip, you can miss, he has all the scope in the world, but he just wants for you to show him the course and guide him around."
Casallo will be seen in the future showing at Indoors with both Boyd and McGuire. Boyd aspires to introduce him to the derbies. She is hoping that at this time next year, Casallo will be ready and competing in the derby finals. "This arrangement is perfect, and the Kentucky Horse Shows are wonderful. Everything is so clean, put together, and everyone is so nice, it makes me feel good and the horses, too. It makes for really fun showing," Boyd concluded.
Tomorrow brings the conclusion of the professional hunter divisions where the top rider and horse combinations will compete for the tricolor awards. This week also features the Amateur-Owner Hunter and Junior Hunter divisions beginning this Friday along with the long-anticipated $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Final on Saturday evening. The USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals will witness 75 of the top riders competing for the $100,000 purse.
For more information, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy sweep the over fences in the High Performance Hunters Division. Photo Credit: Kendall Bierer/PMG.