San Juan Capistrano, CA - Friday was filled with top hats and tails as the high performance hunters took the grass stage in the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, honoring Arthur Hawkins. Designed to simulate the natural beauty of the hunt field, the course set by Joe Lombardo grew increasingly in height and width. Twelve elements made up the sizable class, with several long bending lines that finished with a towering two-stride of wide white oxers.
Per USHJA regulations, no less than 50% of the class was set below 3'6", with high options set at 4'3" filled out with boxes, flowers, and hay bales. Two judging panels scored entries on classic hunter style, manners, and way of going. Esteemed judges Mickey Maestro and Timmy Kees made up Panel One, which also served as the tie-breaking panel, while Sue Ashe and Tucker Ericksen were the pair in Panel Two.
Junior, amateur, and professional riders alike tackled the Classic Round, with unfortunate rubs and several dropped rails affecting the scores of many entries. Seasoned professional riders such as John French, Nick Haness, and Jenny Karazissis, each with multiple rides in the class, ultimately made up the majority of the top twelve to return for the Handy Round.
With a first-round score of 177 on veteran Derby partner Soldier (Elizabeth Gabler, owner), John French earned the top score in the Classic Round, while Nick Haness tied for both second and third with a 171 score on Countdown (owned by Sachi Kawabata-Porto) and Banderas (Ecole Lathrop, owner) respectively. Young junior Tylor Nowell, who was the only top 12 non-professional rider, returned on her own Nonchalant with a score of 160.
The afternoon temperatures were cool, but the competition was heating up as the top 12 returned for the Handy Round in reverse order. Demonstrating both style and finesse, the course offered plenty of places for entries to show off a bolder style and competitors were awarded up to 10 extra bonus points for handiness. Nine fences were arranged on a track with twisting rollbacks, a daring hand gallop, and a one-stride on either side of the final vertical, creating a dramatic rollback for the finishing touch.
Nick Haness set the bar high, winding through the course effortlessly on Banderas to earn an overall score of 350.5 putting the pair in the lead. Jamie Taylor on Emma Waldfogel's Zaretina, returning in 5th place, were awarded for their handy gallop and neat turns to take over the lead with an overall score of 355.
The majority of the entries returned and fell short from the leading score, until Nick Haness and second-place horse Countdown set down a bold track, taking two high options and showing off exceptional handiness. They were rewarded for their efficient turns and brilliant pace with a 187 second round score, which combined with their first round score shot them to the top of the standings with 358 overall. Last to return, John French and Soldier had a surprising stop at the first jump that dropped them out of the top scores, so the stellar performance by Haness and Countdown earned the top call. Second place went to Taylor and Zaretina, while Haness was third on Banderas.
Haness, who also earned the Arthur Hawkins Award of Excellence during today's event, was filled with praise for both of his horses. Countdown, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, has been successfully campaigning in the Low Amateur-Owner 18-35 division with Kawabata-Porto and the First Year Greens with Haness this year. "The minute the horse got here last year as a Pre-Green horse, he was an instant winner," he said. "He's a fantastic horse. I fell in love with him the first time he walked down the barn aisle."
"He's been champion nearly every time he's ever shown. We thought he'd be a good Derby horse because he's very brave. He's young and this is actually his first Derby, but he proved he could do it."
Third-place horse Banderas, an 11-year-old Oldenburg, consistently wins in the High Performance division, finishing second in 2014's USHJA Zone 10 High Performance Horse Of The Year Finals. Haness also won the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby with the gelding at the same show. "Banderas is a really fun horse I've been showing for the past year and a half. He's a very talented jumper and loves to do the Derbies. I think he came out really strong today and was just jumping great," Haness said.
The impressively set course only served to make him more excited to ride in today's class. "I always love the Derbies because they're something new and showcase horses that have the ability to rise to the occasion, really show off, and prove themselves. I was pleased to see the course was bigger and spookier. The course today was very scopey and since both my horses can do bigger, wider, and spookier courses, I think that's why they were both successful."
Look for continued coverage on the Grand Prix field throughout the weekend, with tomorrow's $50,000 Spring Classic III Grand Prix, presented by EquiFit, inc. The showcase events conclude on Sunday with the $7,500 1.35m-1.40m CashCall Mortgage Furturity and a host of Classics in both the jumper and hunter divisions.
$10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
Place - Number - Horse - Rider - Owner - 1st Round/2nd Round/Total
1. 355 - Countdown - Nick Haness - Sachi Kawabata-Porto - 171.0/187.0/358.0
2. 127 - Zaretina - Jamie Taylor - Emma Waldfogel - 168.0/187.0/355.0
3. 754 - Banderas - Nick Haness - Ecole Lathrop - 171.0/179.5/350.5
4. 510 - Legacy - Jenny Karazissis - Emily Sukert - 171.0/173.5/344.5
5. 512 - Tip Top - Jenny Karazissis - Gail Haft - 164.0/180.0/344.0
6. 785 - Gambler's Choice - John French - Con Caletto Enterprise - 165.0/176.0/341.0
7. 537 - Spot On - Nick Haness - West Coast Equine Partners, LLC - 161.5/173.0/334.5
8. 538 - Dealmaker - Leslie Steele - West Coast Equine Partners, LLC - 164.5/168/332.5
9. 156 - Homestead - Carleton Brooks - Kaitlyn Van Konynenburg - 167.0/164.0/331.0
10. 186 - Nonchalant - Tylor Nowell - Tylor Nowell - 160.0/167.5/327.5
11. 378 - Ninja - Nicole Haunert - Paul Haunert - 161.0/165.0/326.0
12. 123 - Soldier - John French - Elizabeth Gabler - 177.0/93.0/270.0