Devon, Pa. - Thursday was derby day at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, and in true derby queen fashion, Liza Boyd bested the field of 24 to take home the blue ribbon aboard Like I Said in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, which was sponsored by the Wheeler Family in memory of the late Russell Frey.
In the first round, Nick Haness set the score to beat on Countdown, taking all four high options to finish with a score of 191. After the first round, Louise Serio was sitting pretty in second place aboard El Primero with a score of 187, which included the four bonus points for taking the high options.
Going into the handy round, Sandy Ferrell waited in third place on Meredith Lipke's Fifty Shades with a score of 183, including an added four points for jumping the high options. Boyd sat in fourth aboard Billie Steffee's Maggie May with a score of 181, also including an added four points for riding the high options.
Boyd and Pony Lane Farms' Like I Said entered the handy hanging back in fifth place with a score of 178.5, which included four points for choosing the high options. As the handy round began, it was clear that the Alan Lohman-designed course would dash the derby dreams of multiple riders, including Serio and El Primero's, who were one of two entries to refuse the trot jump.
As Boyd returned on Like I Said, however, her tidy turns and forward ride caught the attention of the judges, earning her a whopping score of 213, including the added 9.5 points for handiness and four for choosing the high options. Much to father Jack Towell's excitement, Boyd exited the ring and waited for the class to finish with a total score of 391.5.
"For me, I always like to be the underdog," Boyd said. "I don't mind going back a little low. These derbies are my passion. I absolutely love these, and I love the handy rounds. I love the excitement of it. Like I Said is a great mare. A good mare has a lot of desire, and that mare just dug deep and tried really hard for me. I just try to stay out of her way and just go forward. She's a little bit like an old fashion hunter. I think she has a little bit more of a Thoroughbred-type of way of going."
The 8-year-old Like I Said, one of only two mares in the class, actually began her career as a jumper under the tutelage of Kent Farrington. Boyd added that she thinks the mare's strong base on the flat contributes greatly to her ability as a derby horse.
"Larry and Kelley did an amazing job producing her into a hunter in Florida this year," Boyd commented.
"For these derbies, you really have to do your homework and flat them. I think that's what makes it exciting, at least for me. When I go home, I know what to work on. I do a lot of dressage lessons and flat work with the derby horses. You're always trying to strive to improve yourself and your horse, and that's fun for us as riders."
Ferrell and Fifty Shades delivered a smooth ride as well, choosing to take three of the high options and impressing the judges to earn the duo and extra seven points for handiness for a final score of 379.
"He and I get along pretty well," Ferrell said. "No one is quite sure how I stay on him because he jumps so high, but I just think it's so much fun. I don't even think about it. He gets a little too excited after the big jumps sometimes and loses a little focus, so that's what I took into account when choosing to jump the low option at the first jump, because I had to turn tight. I took the safety route, which I lost some points on. I kept missing all week in the High Performance, and we put it together today, so that was really nice."
Haness was the last entry to return aboard Countdown, and the pair laid down a nearly perfect trip as the crowd waited with baited breath. However, a heartbreaking knockdown at the last fence dashed the young professional's hopes for the derby win.
Boyd and Like I Said's high score of 391.5 would hold out for the top spot, leaving Ferrell and Fifty Shades in second with 379 points. Third place ended up going to Sloane Coles, who piloted Autumn Rhythm to a final score of 353.
"Today, I am second to the derby queen," Ferrell laughed. "It's like winning to me. It's an honor to me. She is much more veteran at this than I am. She is one of my heroes. Getting beat by a good horse and a good rider is really ok. There is a lot of camaraderie out there. You have to have fun doing this."
As the equestrian community grieves the loss of Russell Frey, Boyd added that the class being held in his memory made it very special for all of the riders.
"I think that Sandy [Ferrell] would say, as well, that this class being in memory of Russell [Frey] was special for everyone," Boyd said. "I think he would've given us a run for our money today. We might be second and third right now. I think he would be happy."
Ferrell added that showing at Devon this year has been such a pleasure and said, "I don't come every year, but I thought that this year the horses as a whole jumped so beautifully and performed so well in all the classes.
"You had to win to win. I have never seen that many 90s in one horse show. You had two very veteran horsemen in there judging. It wasn't people just throwing big numbers. They believed in what they saw. The horses, one after another, just kept coming in and being nicer and nicer. Kudos to the footing, the weather, the jumps and everyone behind the scenes."
The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair is the longest running and largest outdoor multi-breed competition in the United States. With the grandeur of Philadelphia's prestigious Main Line setting the stage, the event features a world-class field that annually ranks among the most prominent internationally.
The event also includes the Country Fair that offers world-class shopping, rides and games for kids, multiple dining options and special entertainment events.
For more information, please visit www.DevonHorseShow.net.