Littlestown, Pa.- A last-minute entry into the anticipated $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby division proved to be a triumphant decision for Katie Cooper and Sandlot, owned by Cherry Knoll Farm of West Grove, Pennsylvania. The duo earned top honors with a two-round score of 172.5 points to edge out the nearest contender by a point in the Quentin Fall Classic on Friday.
The first class of the day was underway at 8 a.m. in the Annex Ring at Swan Lake Horse Shows. Cooper and her 9-year-old mount entered the arena for the first round in the seventh-slot, jumping every high option available to receive a score of 86 points, giving them a 6-point edge heading into the handy round.
"We've been working together for about four years," Cooper explained. "Sandlot is very special to me. He's my favorite all-time horse. He's really coming into his own. I recently started to do a couple derbies and he seems to be taking to it quite well."
The Dutch Warmblood came off a three-week vacation to compete in the derby. After taking a couple jumps Thursday, Cooper entered Sandlot in the money class that afternoon.
"Sandlot felt great," Cooper shared. "He's classically a fantastic jumper. He has amazing form. As long as I get him in the vicinity of the jump, he's a winner."
She continued, "He likes an understanding ride and a little bit of softness, which I love. He takes you to the jumps. He takes you anywhere in the course, really. He's powerful and a fantastic jumper. My plan today was to let his talent do the work and ride him the best I could."
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native did not only earn the ribbon, but also an embroidered backpack from Noble Outfitters.
"I'm very excited about the backpack," Cooper smiled as she held it up proudly. "I love practical things. Any time I win something practical, its a big win for me. I'm thrilled."
The Caves Farm trainer had a one-point edge over her closest competitor, Alexandra Panetta.
"I've known Katie for years," Panetta said. "She has brought that horse [Sandlot] along and has done an amazing job with him. I thought she rode awesome and her horse jumps so well."
Panetta and Gray Street were the first pair of the day to take on the derby course, setting the bar high for competitors that followed with a first-round score of 82.5 points.
After a fantastic handy round that earned her a score of 89 points, she took over the lead with a two-round total of 171.5 points. Cooper was the final rider in the handy round and earned a score that just edged out Panetta to take over the lead.
"I was very proud of my child," Panetta laughed as she gave her 7-year-old Oldenburg a big pat on the neck "I thought he was great in the first round. The second round, I just rode him the best I could and he jumped everything well. I was really proud of him."
Panetta and her grey gelding have been building upon a partnership that began two years ago. After seeing Gray Street in a video taken in Germany and receiving a friend's approval, Panetta imported the horse. Since then, she's witnessed him grow from 15.3hh to 17.1hh, has worked him up through the ranks and has a goal of showing him in the First Year Green Working Hunters in 2017.
"It was a really fun course," Panetta expressed. "He's done a few derbies and he was totally game. He's really brave and the kind of horse that will try anything. If I put him in a jumper class, he would try it! It may take us 20 minutes, because he's slow, but he'd try."
She continued, "It's really fun showing here. It's nice for me, because I have an opportunity to do things I don't always do. I know that the course is nice, the footing is nice and the jumps are nice."
Sharing her sentiments, Cooper added, "I live very close, only about 45 minutes away. It's so convenient to show here. The footing and the grounds are great. The jumps are nice and you know your horse will have a nice outing."
The 2016 Quentin Fall Classic will continue through the weekend. On Saturday, September 2 Swan Lake Horse Shows will feature the $1,000 Junior Hunter Classic, $1,000 NAL/WIHS/M&S Adult Amateur Hunter Classic and $1,000 NAL/WIHS/M&S Children's Hunter Classic.
RESULTS - $2,500 USHJA NATIONAL HUNTER DERBY
1 SANDLOT / KATIE COOPER / 86; 86.5; 172.5
2 GRAY STREET / ALEXANDRA PANETTA / 82.5; 89; 171.5
3 ADVENTURE / MATTHIAS HOLLBERG / 80; 83; 163
4 VALIANT / MELISSA MARSHALL / 72; 80; 152
5 BOSSA NOVA / JULIE OLIVER / 59; 90; 149
6 TORY BURCH / RACHEL PEKALA / 66; 0; 66
7 MEMPHIS / CAROLINE FLOOD / 64; 0; 64