Wellington, FL - In the 20-year history of the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, one well-known name never made it on to the roster of winners until now. Scott Stewart, of Wellington, FL, showed in almost every year of the competition in his long running and decorated career as a top hunter rider, but the winning prize had eluded him. On Saturday night at the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), Stewart finally got his victory with a nine-year-old Holsteiner gelding named Catch Me, owned by David Gochman.
The United States Hunter Jumper Association's (USHJA) World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) competition welcomed hunter riders to center stage Saturday evening under the lights of the International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). The country's best professional, amateur, and junior hunters vied for honors in the $100,000 feature event. Stewart and Catch Me took top honors, while Kelley Farmer and Like I Said finished second, and Chris Payne and Truman placed third.
Twenty-nine qualified entries jumped the first round course in Saturday night's Hunter Spectacular with the top 12 returning over a handy test in round two. Scores were tallied from three panels, including judges James Clapperton and Tammy Provost on panel one, Scott Williamson and Rachel Kennedy on panel two, and Karen Healey and Mary Lisa Leffler on panel three. First round scores were combined with handy scores for a two-round total and overall placing.
Scott Stewart and Catch Me first approached the course from the 24th position in the order of go and jumped to second place in round one with a score of 91.33. The pair then returned in round two to earn the highest handy score of 93.83. Their two round total of 185.16 earned Stewart a memorable win.
For his victory, Stewart was presented the Dark Continent Perpetual Trophy, donated by Jim Green, as well as the Let's Dance Perpetual Trophy, donated by Gene Mische. Catch Me was recently named the USHJA WCHR Hunter of the Year for 2015 and also received the WCHR Peter Wetherill Cup on Saturday night.
Looking back, Stewart recalled, "I have shown in this class a lot and I have been second a lot, and lower, so I am thrilled. He is an amazing horse. After what he went through last year, it is just amazing that he is back and doing it. If you had asked me last week who I would ride in this (class) this week, it would not have been this horse. He is a great horse, but he is really careful and I thought he would be too spooky. Terence (Prunty), who takes care of him, got him ready. He really deserves most of the credit. I just got on."
Speaking of the aforementioned situation, Stewart stated, "He was great in Florida last year. He went to Kentucky Spring and won every jumping class. Then the week before Devon, he apparently came down with botulism, and Terence caught it right away. He went to Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center immediately, which is pretty much what saved his life. He was in there for two months. He was in bad shape, but he made a comeback. He kept going from there."
Catch Me, who normally competes in the Second Year Green Working Hunters and was champion of that division earlier in the week, came out like a pro for his classic round and returned with a brilliant handy round, finishing with a bold gallop down to the final oxer that sealed the deal.
"He is really a fun horse to ride, and he is probably the most careful horse I have ever ridden," Stewart said of his winning mount. "He was actually better under the lights than during the day. I thought he felt awesome. Round one, he was great. He was maybe this much long to jump one because he was so relaxed and quiet. He could not have been any better in the handy. I was a little nervous going to the last jump because it was almost too much, but he came up with it."
Kelley Farmer, of Keswick, VA, guided her mount Like I Said to a second place finish with an overall score of 181.46. The eight-year-old Mecklenburg mare (whose sire is fifth place finisher Carrico) scored an 89.30 in round one and earned the second highest handy score of 92.16 to move up in the standings. The mare was owned by Glefke & Farrington LLC up until this week, but was purchased by Maura Thatcher's Pony Lane Farm. To qualify for the night's class, Like I Said won the Equine Tack & Nutritionals First Year Green Working Hunter championship this week.
Speaking of her mount, Farmer stated, "We have not had her very long. This is the third week we have shown her. She has just been great every time she walks in the ring. She gives 110%. She is really brave. We just sold her to the Thatchers, so I got to briefly ride her, and she will be moving on. She is an unbelievable mare."
Top grand prix show jumper Kent Farrington purchased Like I Said and imported her from Europe. She did some jumpers, but at the end of the second week of WEF competition, Farrington called Farmer and said that he had a hunter. "He was right," Farmer agreed. "She is quiet. She can jump enough and she is careful, but I think he thought she was a hair too quiet. Kent likes them a little bold. I think that was his intent (for her to be a jumper), but when she got here he decided she would probably make a better hunter. She is careful, and scopey, and light. She is just a blast to ride."
Chris Payne, of Cincinnati, OH, was aboard Debbie Bass and Maypine Farm's Truman for his third place finish and also accepted the Charlie Weaver Perpetual Award for the highest scoring horse in the first round with a mark of 92.16. The pair then earned an 88.50 for their handy round to total the third place score of 180.66. Truman, a nine-year-old Westphalian gelding, was champion of the Shapley's Grooming Products Regular Conformation Hunters to earn his qualification for Saturday night. Payne imported Truman as an inexperienced five-year-old from Europe and was pleased with his mount's performance in his first night class.
The horse had a light schedule last year as Payne went through chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The rider has been back in the saddle for about four months now after completing his treatment. "I was quite happy with him. He did not do much last year because of me," Payne stated. "He just came into this showing a couple times this year. I was not sure if he would get nervous under the lights. He really rose to the occasion and rode beautifully. I thought he jumped wonderfully and was a delight."
"I went in for the Best Turned Out Award and the Charlie Weaver Award (in between the first and second rounds), and something caught his eye on the side and he got a little bit buzzed by that," Payne noted. "I think he was just a little more suspect of the crowd after that, but I am thrilled with how he went and could not be happier."
To come back so strong after a difficult year was exciting for Payne and he thanked Truman's owner and praised his mount. "It absolutely is amazing. After everything I went through, I went into this thinking I am the luckiest person and I am just going to go out and have fun," Payne smiled. "Debbie Bass has been an amazing owner and allowed me to take my time with him, to piece my way through it and come back. I just wanted to say thank you to be able to be here with this wonderful horse and have the support."
Brady Mitchell earned both the fourth and fifth place prizes with two talented mounts. Mitchell rode Cassanto to the fourth place finish for owner Emily Perez with scores of 89.66 and 88.16 for a 177.82 total. His mount Carrico, owned by Callie Seaman, placed fifth with scores of 88 and 89.66, totaling 177.66. Farmer jumped her second mount, It's Me, owned by Farmer, Phinney and Hill, to sixth place with a score of 177.49 (88.16, 89.33). Stewart and Dr. Betsee Parker's Lucador finished seventh with a score of 175 (87, 88).
The $25,000 Artisan Farms U25 Grand Prix, sponsored by EnTrust Capital, as well as the $50,000 WEF 6 National Grand Prix, will both be held on the derby field at The Stadium on Sunday. Hunter competition concludes in the International Ring for the week featuring the $5,000 Peggy Cone Memorial Adult Hunter Classic, the $5,000 WCHR Amateur-Owner 3'3" Hunter Classic, and the $5,000 WCHR Junior 3'3" Hunter Classic. For more information and full results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.
Final Results: $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular
1. 3001 CATCH ME SCOTT STEWART
2. 6544 LIKE I SAID KELLEY FARMER
3. 4731 TRUMAN CHRISTOPHER PAYNE
4. 2182 CASSANTO BRADY MITCHELL
5. 2168 CARRICO BRADY MITCHELL
6. 1513 IT'S ME KELLEY FARMER
7. 2960 LUCADOR SCOTT STEWART
8. 2367 AVON VICTORIA COLVIN
9. 4391 SET TO MUSIC HAVENS SCHATT
10. 3698 O' RYAN ELIZABETH BOYD
11. 2967 GOLDEN RULE STEPHANIE DANHAKL
12. 3595 OUTLOOK GIAVANNA RINALDI