May 8, 2015 - Del Mar, CA - Calm and cool described the unusual weather as well as the unusually talented horse who earned the win in the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. After a rainy morning that drenched Del Mar, the cool afternoon air created an interesting challenge for the high performance hunters. However, six-year-old Center Court, piloted by John French, impressed the judges from the first jump.
The eleven elements in the Classic Round included a three-obstacle line requiring five strides from fences two to three and three to four. The flowing course continued with several long bending lines and three 4'3" options.
The two panels of judges included the honorable Susie Schoellkopf and Mickey Maestro on Panel One and Bill Ellis sat with Rob Gage as Panel Two.
Four professionals earned two spots each in the Handy Round. With top twelve scores ranging from 156 to 184, Nick Haness returned in the twelfth position on Karina Sanchez's Zanzibar and in the fourth position on the Spring Classic III Derby Winner, Countdown (Sachi Porto, owner). Michael Leon rode West Coast Equine Partners' C Coast Z and Celano (Robert Peters II, owner) in the tenth and sixth spots. Tara Metzner was sitting eighth on Davlyn Farms' Come Monday and third on Chad Keenum's High Five. And finally Derby veteran John French piloted the top two horses, previous Derby winner Soldier (Elizabeth Gabler, owner) and the young Center Court (Hiller Farms, owner), who came into the second round with a pair of 90s, four points ahead of Solider and ten points ahead of High Five. Emma Waldfogel aboard Kings Peak was the one amateur who battled it out with the pros in the second round.
The Handy Round required choosing an option of 3'6" or 4'3' vertical as jump one, galloping up a small hill to negotiate fence three followed immediately by a trot jump, directly to another option with either a bold one-stride at 3'9" in and 4' out or an even bolder 4'3" two-stride. Scores in the eighties with well-earned Bonus points made for an exciting end to the competitive class.
Known for his handiness, Haness and seven-year-old Countdown moved up two places with 18 total bonus points combined with scores of 82 and 87, for a well-earned second place. But the equine star of the day was Center Court, expertly piloted by John French. The pair earned 88 and 88 with 11 total bonus points for a commanding ten point lead and the win.
French recognized the horse's ability at a young age, and went slowly as he matured. "We bought him as a four-year-old in England. I saw a video of him that I really liked. We didn't do much with him last year, just a few shows. He turned six this month."
"He is the bravest horse," the winning rider explained. "We started him in the First Years in Thermal, but there aren't too many horses that can jump the big jumps like he can, so I thought why not do him in the High Performance. He was champion one week in Thermal, one week during the Blenheim Spring Series and also here at Ranch & Coast."
French then commented on today's performance. "I'm just really happy with him. His first round was amazing. It was one of those rounds you remember for a while. He jumped so slow and so high over everything."
And the praise continued. "He's probably one of the scopiest hunters that I've ever had. The fence could be 5' and you could canter down to it slowly, and not feel like you have to leg him or tell him where to leave the ground, he just does it like no big deal. I think that is what is so appealing to the judges - he has that relaxed look and then jumps so high over the jumps, so effortlessly."
As the inaugural USHJA International Derby Finals winner, French may have his next contender. "I'm tempted to take him back to the Derby Finals because I know he will just jump around whatever they put out there."
Wrapping up a cool, high-performance Friday, show jumping returns to the Grand Prix field with tomorrow's $7,500 CashCall Mortgage Futurity followed by the $60,000 Grand Prix of California, presented by Equ Lifestyle Boutique.
$10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
Place - Number - Horse - Rider - Owner - 1st Round/2nd Round/Total
1. 260 - Center Court - John French - Hiller Farms - 184/193/377
2. 285 - Countdown - Nick Haness - Sachi Porto - 172/195/367
3. 345 - Come Monday - Tara Metzner - Davlyn Farms - 169/192/361
4. 112 - Soldier - John French - Elizabeth Gabler - 180/181/361
5. 917 - C Coast Z - Michael Leon - West Coast Equine Partners, LLC - 162.5/187/349.5
6. 918 - Celano - Michael Leon - Robert Peters II - 171/172/343
7. 752 - Zanzibar - Nick Haness - Karina Sanchez - 156/177/333
8. 924 - Eranka B - Emily Esau Williams - Dayle Fischer - 156/168/324
9. 447 - King's Peak - Emma Waldfogel - Emma Waldfogel - 165/146/311
10. 886 - Tip Top - Jenny Karazissis - Gail Haft - 170.5/113/283.5
11. 347 - High Five - Tara Metzner - Chad Keenum - 174/83/257
12. 835 - Ninja - Nicole Haunert - Paul Haunert - 171.5/64/235.5