Lexington, KY - August 20, 2011 - It was an incredible night for the Final Round of the 2011 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Spectators gathered in the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park to see who would take home tonight's victory. Junior Rider Lillie Keenan rode to success with C Coast Z proving to be unbeatable throughout tonight's competition. Scott Stewart and Declaration took home the second place honors while Tammy Provost and Carlson earned the third place award.
After a 12-month qualifying period, the top 75 horses were invited to compete for championship honors. Yesterday the qualifying round was held in the Rolex Stadium, and the top 25 horse and rider combinations returned to show during tonight's Second Round competition. Riders were tested over a Classic Hunter Course with the top 12 scoring combinations advancing to the Handy Hunter Course. Scores from yesterday's qualifying round did not carry over and riders began with had a fresh start to impress the judges. However, the scores earned in the Classic Hunter Round did carry over in the Handy Hunter Round and was a factor in determining tonight's results.
Scott Hofstetter, Otis Brown, Russell Frey, Julie Winkel, Carleton Brooks, Jimmy Torano, Jim Clapperton, and Mike Rosser had the pleasure of judging each of tonight's rounds. The courses were designed by Bobby Murphy and Patrick Rhodes and were created to replicate traditional hunt country. The course was beautifully set, mimicking a picturesque hunt field and barnyard with a winding stream and fence separating the barnyard from the open fields. The courses included hedges, stonewalls, oxers, coops, hay bales, gates, logs, and an in-and-out. During the Handy Round there were several elements to test both horse and rider and plenty of opportunities to show off handiness and earn bonus points as well as four higher options that would add an additional point per fence to their base score due to their added heights and elevated difficulty.
"I thought the courses were beautiful. I thought that there were a lot of options, especially in the handy where you could show off," remarked tonight's winner fourteen-year-old Lillie Keenan. "I think most of us took advantage of that. They were beautiful. For me I think that most of the longer lines walked pretty open. Going in, I thought I would have to ride off my eye and trust that what I saw would be the right distance. As it turned out, riding the lines became a lot easier. I think it is a place where you know you have to trust your horse, trust your eye, and ride what you feel."
The Handy Course was challenging from the start with the first fence heading straight away from the in gate and winding around to the first stonewall. Next, riders cantered down to the end of the ring where three fences were set to rollback from one to the next offering the opportunity to showcase a horse's handiness. From there, a hand gallop had to be executed as they exited to the open field set before the crowd. Following the gallop was a coop set on an angle over the river, which required a precise ride after the open gallop. Then, riders were required to come to a walk and proceed through a narrow gate by the barnyard, after which, riders picked up the canter to jump the oxer just a few strides away, around the corner. They broke again this time to a trot over a small natural vertical and canter off to the right across the hedge in-and-out. Finally they turned right, entering the lane way and galloped to the last fence, a gate oxer. The pressure was on for all the horse and rider combinations as there were multiple options to showcase horse and rider abilities.
"I thought it was really cool how it looked like a farm. I felt like you could be driving down the road and see a farm," said Panel Two Judge Julie Winkel. "It looked like an old hunt field with horses jumping through the hedges and past the barn, that was very cool."
Scott Hofstetter, Panel One Judge added, "I liked the course. There were not a lot of cheap rails. All of the jumps were inviting. You didn't have to judge all the rails being knocked down. It was different. The horses were able to jump around the jumps and there weren't a lot of disappointing rails it seemed, which was nice to judge."
Tammy Provost and Carlson, owned by Alliy Moyer, took over the lead early on. They were the third pair to enter the ring and combined their first round total score of 339.5 with scores of 88, 85, 88, and 83. Provost and the seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Carlson, also earned 9, 6, 7, and 8 bonus points after a bold hand gallop and smooth transitions from the canter to the walk and trot. They chose three of the four high options, but their efforts were only good enough for the third place honors at the end of the night.
"Carlson did fantastic. He is very young and he did great," said Provost. "I maybe could have taken more risk in the first round but I was a little more conservative with the hedges because he was a little green with them yesterday, but he was fantastic. He is very green for this, but incredibly brave. Carlson is great in the handy courses. We took a little more risk, jumped the bigger hedges, and he was terrific."
"The courses were just beautiful. So much time and effort was put into it, it really showed. I was really nervous, because I am famous for going in the wrong direction," Provost explained about staying on track after a handful of riders were eliminated for going off course. "I had to go into my own little corner for about twenty minutes to think about it by myself. I have never gone off course during a Derby, but I have done it a couple of times in the same day in the hunters."
A few rounds later Scott Stewart entered the ring aboard Declaration, owned by, Steeple Chase Farm Inc. and stole the lead. Stewart showcased their talent beautifully, pulling up to walk just three strides before the gate and just a few strides before the trot keeping a nice smooth appearance and flow. The duo sliced across the trot jump beautifully cantering on to the hedge in-and-out. Stewart jumped all four of the higher options and rode a nice bold hand gallop across the arena earning scores of 90, 88, 84, and 90 with 9, 10, 9, and 10 bonus points awarded combined with the 339.5 total from their first round. They held onto the lead until the second to last ride, and were presented with tonight's reserve honors.
"I thought Declaration was fantastic," smiled Stewart. "I thought for sure I was chipping after galloping to the last fence, but he was great, he really gave me everything. He's naturally lazy. I have the opposite of my ride on Carlos Boy and have to wake Declaration up in the schooling area. He does the 3'3" Amateur-Owner Division and I actually haven't really jumped him that large in a while. This is the best he has ever done."
"I thought the courses were excellent," added Stewart. "I thought it was exactly what this class should be like. It was huntery and you could show off what you want. It was really traditional. The options and the track were definitely something that you had to think about. You definitely had to know exactly where you were going. I only walked the outside line and didn't really count. I get in trouble if I count."
Tammy Provost returned to the ring with her second mount Valiant, owned by Alliy Moyer, to try and regain the lead. Provost needed high scores to combine with her first round total of 347.50. The pair chose three of the higher fences and had a confident gallop, but had to go wide around one of their turns to swap leads, and while she was awarded scores of 83, 84.50, 83, and 81 with 6, 8, 6, and 5 bonus points it would not be good enough for the win. They were awarded the sixth place honors for their efforts.
Patricia Griffith entered after Provost and guided Lexi Maounis' Sienna to the fourth place finish after earning scores of 84, 83, 75, and 85 with 6, 8, 6, and 7 bonus points combined with their first round total score of 355. The pair jumped all of the higher options and executed every element of the course smoothly demonstrating a strong confident hand
Lillie Keenan would be the rider to dominate the competition with C Coast Z. The strong team stayed consistent throughout the competition remaining at the top until securing the win. Keenan and Chansonette Farm LLC's C Coast Z jumped all of the higher options, wowing the crowed and impressing the judges during their handy round, jumping with smooth tight turns and a strong open hand gallop across the arena collecting very nicely before the next fence. They finished with another bold gallop to the last fence. The judges awarded them scores of 89, 91, 90, and 88 with 8, 10, 8, and 10 bonus points on top of their 355.5 total score from the first round. Keenan and C Coast Z led the final victory gallop for their incredible performances.
"My first round I thought I should take more risk than I would have yesterday prior to the elimination," commented Keenan. "I wanted to make sure that I was high enough to be in the top three, but not take too much risk to maybe have a rail. But I knew that if I really wanted it I was going to have to give it my all and make sure that my horse was really there for me. Scott was way ahead of me going into the handy round and I knew I was going to have to go for it. When it came time for the hand gallop I knew that I was really going to have to run. I had to take even more risks. I knew after my first round that I could really trust my horse. It's great to know that he is ready to go in there and win, but I had to give it my all, too."
"I am extremely grateful because all the horses I have are wonderful," noted Keenan. "I had originally bought Coast as an equitation horse, but we decided to turn him into a hunter. At home we do very difficult courses. He definitely took care of me, but I think most of my other horses would have done the same. I can't give him more credit; he really is a wonderful horse. He went in there and wanted to win, he wanted me to win. I love him."
Keenan trains with Patricia Griffith and Andre Dignelli of Heritage Farm out of Katonah, NY and is extremely grateful for all of the help she receives from them, and all of her trainers. This isn't the first time the two have competed against one another and Keenan would not have been disappointed to be second to her. "She has taught me so much of what I know," said Keenan. "I knew she had a good round, but I didn't even really think about it that much. She wished me luck. I mean we're all walking together and she's helping me, which I think is wonderful because in these classes she is a competitor. I think it's wonderful that we can still be so close and helpful. I'm really grateful for her being here and competing in the class with me."
Dignelli added, "She has been awesome to teach since she was seven years old. The horse is nice, and he's a stridey, scopey horse with a great jump. The advice I gave was for her to gallop and want to win, and I thought she did that well. I am proud of her. It has been an exciting four weeks for us."
Scott Stewart held onto yesterday's lead heading into the handy round with the highest scores aboard Carlos Boy owned by Krista and Alexa Weisman. Stewart was the last rider to enter the ring to try and take back the lead. The duo entered the ring with a total of 382 points, but unfortunately the long-time jumper, thought he was headed back in for a jump-off and was a little too excited. They earned scores of 76, 78, 73, and 74 with 6, 7, 6, and 6 bonus points awarded, resulting in the fifth place finish.
"Carlos' first round was one of his best rounds. I can't imagine it could have been any better," expressed Stewart. "Unfortunately Carlos lost it for the handy round. He thought he was going into something more exciting. He thought it was a jump-off. Usually when he is like that before the class, it doesn't carry into the ring, but obviously tonight it did."
Tonight marked the end of the 2010/2011 USHJA International Hunter Derby Series, but soon the 2011/2012 Series will get underway, and a new group of horses will vie for the top honors at each event and the opportunity to compete at next year's Finals.
The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show will conclude tomorrow. The final event will be the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, which will be held in the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park. The top horses and rider combinations will compete for the winning title beginning at 2 p.m.
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows please visit www.KentuckyHorseShows.com.
Photo Credit: Lillie Keenan and C Coast Z earned the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals Championship at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Photo By: Heather Bellock/PMG.