The first round of derby competition was held in the E.R. Mische Grand Hunter Ring on Saturday, where 51 riders took on the first round course designed by Ken Krome. Two panels of judges scored each round, and riders were awarded extra points for jumping the high options.
The top 25 entries then moved on to the derby field for Sunday's handy round, jumping Bobby Murphy's course with natural obstacles, including the table bank and an option to jump through the Devil's Dyke. Two panels of judges once again scored the contestants, awarding bonus points for high options as well as handiness on course. Judges Danny Robertshaw and Robert Crandall scored the rounds on panel one and Susan Humes and Chance Arakelian on panel two.
At the end of the first round, Kelley Farmer and Mindful found their names at the top of the leader board, but the pair had an unfortunate refusal on the table bank in round two and placed out of the top twelve.
Darcy Hayes rode Danielle Baran's Say When into the second position on day one with a total of 178. The pair maintained their standing with a handy round score of 182 for a 360-point total. They earned an 80 plus ten bonus points from panel one and an 81 plus 11 bonus points from panel two in the final round.
Vaillero and Victoria Colvin finished the first round with a score of 175 to take the third spot heading into Sunday's competition. The pair then earned the top score in round two with a 195.5 to bring their total to the winning score of 370.5. The judges at panel one scored a 90 with nine bonus points in the handy round. Panel two scored an 87.5 with nine additional points.
Coco Fath and her own and Hillside Farm's Chemie Ancar moved from ninth place in round one to third place overall with a first round score of 168 and a second round total of 191. In the handy round, the pair scored an 87 plus nine and an 86 plus nine to bring their tally up to 359 points overall.
Class winner, Vaillero, is a seven-year-old Zangersheide gelding (by Vaillant) that Colvin has shown in the equitation throughout the winter. This was Vaillero's first hunter derby, and the young horse and his young rider showed impressive talent and composure on the field.
Vaillero's owner, Andre Dignelli of Heritage Farm, is also Colvin's trainer and spoke of Vaillero's background and experience. He imported the gelding from Germany late last summer with the idea that he was going to be a top equitation horse that could do some hunters as well as the derby.
"It worked out that Tori used him pretty much all of WEF in the Medal (Pessoa/USEF Hunt Seat Medal). He has won a bunch of Medal classes down here," Dignelli detailed. "He keeps developing and going better and better. We decided this week that we would do the derby and we put aluminum shoes on him. We did not really prepare for this class in terms of jumping banks or on the grass, but he just keeps pleasing us. He really wants to walk in the ring. He does not seem to mind if there are people, or what ring we are in. He goes in a very agreeable way. He has real scope, a big stride and he is very expressive over the jumps, but not afraid. He seems to be real careful."
"I am thrilled," Dignelli stated. "He has been a really fun mount. Now he is qualified for the derby finals and we will take him to that. Hopefully this is the beginning of many accolades as an equitation horse or derby horse, or whatever he wants to be."
"I don't know him very well," Colvin said of her mount. "I just started riding him at WEF for Andre. He has been winning some of the medals; he has been really good and we just thought, 'He jumps amazing, let's put him in the hunter derby and see what happens.' He went amazing. We knew he jumped really well, and we put lighter shoes on. He had never done a derby. He just turned seven. He is a baby, so that is completely new for him."
Colvin showed in one class in the main hunter ring on Thursday to prepare and try to get Vaillero to go with his head down like a hunter.
"The more he did, the better he got," she acknowledged. "In the grand hunter ring he was not as amazing as he was here. I think he liked more of a big, long gallop, but he went really well. I thought he was quite smooth around everywhere. I did not want to go too handy. He is not spooky, but we just wanted to have a nice round. I just thought I would be nice and smooth but forward, not too slow, so we just kind of loped down there."
"I was just thinking we would see what happens with the high options," Colvin continued. "He jumped the first one and he was jumping a little high, and then I jumped the second high option and he jumped really high, so I thought we should lower it down. Then we just jumped the other ones at the regular height."
Colvin has had a fantastic circuit, with wins across the board in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation. She won a 1.50m jumper classic and multiple junior jumper awards, she topped the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, and she won numerous equitation classes.
"It has gone quite well," Colvin said of her winter. "I am very happy with this year. It is sad that this is my last junior year here. It's like everything I do it is the last time, but I think it has gone quite well. The jumpers and the hunters and all of the equitation have gone amazing, so it is a great year so far."
Second place finisher, Darcy Hayes, is based in Canada as a trainer at Sorensen Stables in Toronto. Chris Sorensen imported Say When three years ago when the horse was a three-year-old, and Hayes has helped bring him along. Her student, Danielle Baran, purchased Say When and has also had great success with the horse in the Adult Amateur Hunters, including a championship win in WEF 12. The easy-going gelding had no problem moving from the adult division to one of the biggest hunter classes of the circuit.
"He is amazing. His first 3'6" jump at this horse show was Wednesday and then he did the adults on Thursday and Friday," Hayes noted. "He has never done a derby here before, but in Canada he won one of the derby finals last year at the Royal Winter Fair. That was his first derby class and it was indoors. In our derbies in Canada, the first round is a handy. It is just like the second round here, and it is only one round. The first jump was six strides away from the in gate, so that was his start in the derbies."
"Today actually was the most nervous I have ever felt him on course. He is usually pretty laid back," Hayes detailed. "The first three or four jumps, he was a little nervous and then once he got in his groove, then he was just great."
"I was not sure how he would do. Coming out here, it can go any way," Hayes admitted. "I have had such good luck with him. Yesterday he was quite brave when some of the other horses were spooking going to the first jump. He raised his head at it and that was it, so you just do not know what to expect when you get out here. He has done some derbies in Canada on the grass as well, but not to this extent. These were the biggest jumps and the biggest field he has ever been in."
Fourteen-year-old Coco Fath finished third with her horse, Chemie Ancar, who was competing in his first derby ever. Fath also trains with Andre Dignelli at Heritage Farm and has learned a lot showing alongside barn mate Victoria Colvin.
"It has been a lot of great experience showing against Tori because she is such a great rider," Fath acknowledged. "I think I have learned a lot from watching her and riding at Heritage and watching Lillie (Keenan) and all of the great people that have ridden there. I did not think that I could do as well as I did today. I love the hunters. It is my favorite between the equitation and jumpers, and I was not even expecting to get in the ribbons after my first round with Shoemaker, so it was really great that Ancar pulled through for me."
Fath qualified two horses for the second round, but her first mount Shoemaker stopped on course. The rider did not let the uneasy start get to her and put in a great round with 'Ancar.'
"He is actually my equitation horse, but he has been so great," Fath smiled. "We were ninth at Medal Finals and that is when I knew he was the one. He is the best equitation horse and we decided it would be a good experience for me to do the derby, not think anything of it, just for good experience. We ended up in the second round, which was really nice and we ended up here in third, which was really great. This was my first time out here on the derby field. It is intense, but I had a lot of fun."