Tori Colvin knew she had a fine prospect when she picked up the ride on an 11-year-old gelding named Cuba during WEF earlier this year, but the next USHJA International Hunter Derby champion? That would have been considered a stretch back in the winter, but under the late summer lights at the Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday, Colvin and Cuba achieved exactly that.
“[I feel] amazing,” said Colvin. “It was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked [Cuba] to go any better. I’ve been doing this for many years, so it was very nice to be able to win it. It was amazing.”
The country’s best hunter horses and riders returned to the Rolex Stadium Saturday evening with their classic round scores in tow, and had one last chance to show off their horses and their skills around designers Allan Lohman and Danny Moore’s skillfully-planned course. John French, the 2009 champion, sat in the prime position with the one-two lead after day one, trailed by Colvin and rookie Geoffrey Hesslink. As the early leaders, these three were targets for their counterparts, with Colvin and Cuba ultimately pulling away from the pack with a standout round to secure the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship Honors.
Hesslink and his own 6-year-old Cadoretto took the stage sitting in fourth place after the first phase, and though the young Hesslink professed to be nervous in his debut USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship showing, he exuded confidence in the ring and was rewarded by the highest scores of the night to eclipse Steege and take over the lead. Hesslink and his chestnut gelding garnered scores of 90.00, 88.50 and 87.00 from the three panels of judges and, when combined with handy scores of 8 across the board plus 12 option points, broke the 300-point barrier with their nightly tally of 301.50. Combined with Friday’s score, Hesslink earned a lofty 574.50 points over the two phases, and was one of only three pairs to hit the 90 mark.
Unfortunately for Hesslink, his score would not hold, as Colvin, no stranger to the winner’s circle in the hunter ring, out did herself aboard Cuba, the 11-year-old gelding owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC. Colvin navigated the handy round like a seasoned pro and paid attention to not just taking the tightest turns possible, but treated her high position with respect and rode a steady round. It paid off. She and Cuba earned scores of 92.00, 88.75 and 88.25, plus the highest handy scores of the night at 10, 9 and 9.
“I’m extremely happy I came here with low expectations with some goals, but this was amazing and I’m over the moon that my horse was that good.”
As the day-one leader and last to go in the class, French and Laura Wasserman’s Skyhawk had a high standard to beat with Colvin’s score, and though the pair laid down an efficient round, an unfortunate knockdown at the stone wall, not an uncommon occurrence for the night, knocked them out of contention, solidifying Colvin and Cuba as the 2017 champions.
“He’s not very spooky and he’s an honest horse, so I didn’t really think he was going to bat an eye or anything, but I didn’t know how much experience he would have with a very large ring,” said Colvin of Cuba. “It’s more intense than regular classes. I felt like he was going to go really well in the handy. All day he’s been quiet and perfect and in a good frame of mind, so he went how I thought he was going to which worked out as planned.”
Colvin rode to a total payout of over $45,000 to go along with her championship winnings, followed by Hesslink in the reserve position. Prior to the weekend’s competition, Hesslink and Cadoretto had accrued only $1,200 together in derby winnings, but tonight the pair, who have only been a team since the spring season, will leave the Rolex Stadium not only with the nearly $30,000 check that goes to the overall reserve champion, but also prize money for the highest-placing Section B pair, an amount that exceeds $10,000. Amanda Steege and Maitre D’ retained third place position to stay on the podium, and Taylor St. Jacques, also in her debut showing, and Charisma finished in fourth place by less than a full point. Kelli Cruciotti and her own Monterrey nabbed the next spot with their total score of 553.50 to round out the top five finishers.
“I started really showing him in the beginning of WEF and I don’t think we really had [the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship] on our mind at that point, but I think the more that he did the more we could see that he had scope to be able to do this,” said Colvin. “Then we started jumping bigger and trying to test him out to see if he would be able to do it. Then we did the derby at the end of WEF and he was amazing. We couldn’t have asked him to be any better so then we decided that we might as well start gearing him up for this because it seems he has endless scope – way more than we thought. He’s just been spectacular.”
Prior to Saturday’s handy round of the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, Jersey Boy, famously ridden by Jennifer Alfano and owned by Susie Schoellkopf, was honored and recognized for his incredible athleticism, talent and success as one of the best international hunter derby horses in a special retirement ceremony held during the opening ceremonies. The pair won the 2012 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, and also claimed the reserve championship in the prestigious competition in 2009 and 2014. In addition, the hunter derby superstar still firmly stands atop the USHJA lifetime money-won leaderboard and has won the George H. Morris Perpetual Trophy four times as the highest money earner. Next, Jersey Boy will enjoy his well-deserved retirement at Stacy Sandbothe’s farm in Prospect, Tennessee.