February 20, 2016 - 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.
Two jumper classes were also featured on Saturday on the grass derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC. The $10,000 Artisan Farms U25 Welcome, sponsored by EnTrust Capital, was held in the morning with a win for Lucy Deslauriers and Hester. The $35,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic was featured in the afternoon with victory for Ignacio Maurin (ARG) and Unico. The 12-week WEF circuit runs through April 3 offering more than $9 million in prize money.
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).
Junior and Amateur-Owner Hunters Round Out Competition Headed into Hunter Spectacular
In the Bainbridge Companies Amateur-Owner 18-35 3'6" Hunters, Stephanie Danhakl and her own Golden Rule, a 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding, took the championship after they placed first and second over fences and were third under saddle.
The reserve champion was Chablis, ridden by Kelly Tropin for Libertas Farm LLC. They were second in the under saddle and won an over fences class.
For Danhakl, it was feeling of shock and excitement when she picked up the championship ribbon. "After yesterday, I was not expecting to be champion," she admitted. "I don't think I've fallen off in the show ring in 15 years. He was jumping beautifully. He never spooks at the jumps, but occasionally he'll look at the backside of another jump as we're turning. We were turning to the trot jump, which was the second to last jump. I was trying to be soft, and he caught his eye and I fell off in the turn. It was a fluke, weird thing. It was my fault for not steering properly. Coming into today, I knew I had to win. I knew that if I put in a good trip, he was going to jump well enough for the win. I'm so lucky to have him."
This is the pair's second year competing at WCHR week at WEF and their second championship. It also marks their second time competing in the night class, which they placed ninth in last year. "It's an honor to be in the company of Scott Stewart and Kelley Farmer and all the other great riders that are in that class," she said.
Danhakl is currently a research assistant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in the American Art Department and is waiting to hear about Ph.D. programs.
John Ingram qualified for his second consecutive appearance in the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular with 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding Airport 48 by jumping to champion in the Hunt, Ltd. Amateur-Owner Over 35 division.
Airport 48, owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC, won the handy and stake over fences rounds.
"This is always a tough division with a lot of really great horses and really good riders," said Ingram. "If you're still riding at this stage then you really like and are dedicated to [the sport]."
"It's incredibly gratifying to qualify again to compete (at night)," he continued. "It's an honor to be there, show against the professionals, and have a horse like Airport that will go in and be brave, go around, and give you a good effort."
Saturday night marks Ingram's fourth time competing in the Hunter Spectacular, and he is proud to do it with Airport 48.
"I bought him as a potential equitation horse for my daughter Martha and that didn't really work so he came to me," said Ingram. "Tom Wright and Hayley Barnhill helped to turn him into a lovely hunter. He's brave, got a good stride, and a beautiful jump. He's anything and everything you would want in a hunter."
Reserve champion honors in the Amateur-Owner Over 35 division were presented to Jessica Cherry and Blue Note after they took first over fences and fourth in the handy.
Fifteen-year-old Emma Kurtz of Hudson, OH, continued her dominance in the junior hunters this week with two horses that are a bit more familiar to her than her usual catch rides. Both Prologue and Wisdom spent the summer with her, where she got to ride them every day and get to know them. Kurtz trains with Amanda Lyerly.
Kurtz and Prologue, an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding by Padinus owned by Rendezvous Farm, were champions in the CWD Saddlery Large Junior 15 & Under Hunters. They won all three over fences classes and were sixth in the under
saddle. Prologue is trained by Cookie Beck with Chrystal Knight.
While Prologue and Kurtz spent last summer together, WCHR week is their first time competing together this winter. "He loved it in (the International ring). He's perfect in situations like that. He's really fun," she described.
The reserve championship in the Large Junior 15 & Under Hunters went to Cuba, owned by Missy Clark & North Run and ridden by McKayla Langmeier. They placed second, third, and fifth over fences and were fourth in the under saddle.
Kurtz also garnered the Equestrian Sotheby's Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under championship riding Rivers Edge's Wisdom, an eight-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Casall. They placed first, second, and fifth over fences and won the under saddle.
Daisy Farish rode Casares for James Lala and Virginia Confer to the reserve championship after they were first, second, and second over fences and sixth in the under saddle.
Kurtz termed Wisdom as "perfect." She added, "He's not spooky, and he's never going to do anything wrong. It's fun to go out there and have fun. He needs a little bit of room at the verticals, (but) he's really quite easy. He's really, really sweet."
Kurtz competed with both horses in the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, the first time for both horses in the class and her second time.
Giavanna Rinaldi dominated the EnTrust Capital Small Junior Hunter 16-17 Division this week, jumping Natalie Jayne's Outlook to Champion and Bugsy Malone to Reserve Champion for owner Alex Jayne. Rinaldi, 16, was first over fences, won the stake, and scored second in the handy to secure high-point honors with Outlook.
Rinaldi says Saturday's stake class was the highlight of her week. Saving her best trip for last, she pocketed a 90 in the stake aboard Outlook.
"He's a lot of fun," said Rinaldi of the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding. "He goes around really nicely, is super supple in the mouth and gives such a nice effort."
Collecting two second-place ribbons - one over fences and one in the stake - in the irons of Bugsy Malone, Rinaldi swept the division titles. But, according to her, they were anyone's for the taking.
"Coming into today I was a little bit nervous because the placings where spread out," said Rinaldi. "I wanted to have two solid trips, and it went really well. I was happy with them. This is the only time we get to show in [the International Arena] and they handled it great."
Rounding out the Bruno Delgrange Large Junior Hunter 16-17 Division, Lilli Hymowitz and Garfield, owned by Rose Hill Farm, topped all contenders over fences and collected third in the handy for the championship.
"My horse deserves most of the credit," said Hymowitz. "He is the most special animal ever."
Garfield, a 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding, has been the ride of Hymowitz since last year after her sister Cloe campaigned him in the hunter divisions during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
"I had to figure him out because he's so big, but it all came together," said 17-year-old Lilli Hymowitz. "My favorite thing about him is his confidence. He's older and knows exactly where he's going. I always say to my friends that he finds the jumps himself. My problem used to be that I would try and help him, so as long as you let him do his thing he's going to try his hardest."
Splitting her time between hunter and jumper competition, Hymowitz has spent time in the International Arena on her jumper horses, but always looks forward to competing her hunters in the bigger ring. "I think the division was super competitive this weekend and being able to show off in the big ring was super special," she said.
Teddy Vlock and his own Grey Street were named reserve champions after winning the handy and taking fifth in the stake, as well as under saddle.
Ignacio Maurin Wins Big with Unico.
Richard Jeffery (GBR) set the courses on the derby field at The Stadium on Saturday. For the $35,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic, Jeffery saw 34 starters with five clear rounds to advance to the jump-off.
Emanuel Andrade (VEN) was first to jump-off with his horse U and dropped one rail in 45.22 seconds to eventually finish fourth. Laura Kraut (USA) was next to go with Cherry Knoll Farm, Inc.'s Constable, clocking the first clear round in 46.08 seconds for second place honors. Chris Surbey (CAN) and Linda Southern Heathcott's Quetchup de la Roque returned next with four faults in 45.19 seconds to place third. Josephina Nor Lantzman also finished with four faults in 48.91 seconds to take fifth place honors aboard Unlimited. Last to go, Ignacio Maurin had nothing to lose with Stransky's Mission Farms' Unico. The Argentine rider cleared the course in the winning time of 45.51 seconds aboard the 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Odermus R x Wuzo).
Maurin first moved to the United States two years ago, working for a family in Seattle before coming to Wellington to work for Lillian Stransky eight months ago. Maurin got the ride on Unico in November and has been getting to know his mount throughout the start of WEF.
"I did this class because in WEF 4 the horse started jumping better and proving himself," Maurin stated. "He went clean in a 1.45m and he did the Suncast class that week and had two down, so I wanted to try it again this week. I was lucky today. The horse was feeling good. He is a little older, but he is doing his job well and he was fantastic today."
"When I got the horse at the beginning he was a little hot and nervous," Maurin noted. "He can be strong, but as time passed by I started learning how to ride him and how to keep him relaxed. I learned to work a lot before the class to calm him down, and get him relaxed so that he does his best in the ring."
Maurin also learned that Unico likes jumping on the grass better than sand, and used that to his advantage on Saturday. He also had the advantage of his position in the jump-off order.
"I was lucky, because I was last to go, and there were only five in the jump-off," he detailed. " At the beginning of the jump-off, when I saw that three of them had one down, I thought that I would go for a safe clear. But then I jumped fences one, two, and three in a good pace and knew that my horse was jumping well, so I thought I would give it a try. There was only one clear, and I did not have too much to lose if I had one down. I had my plan to go clear first, but then I felt good and decided to go for it."
Maurin's next goal is to compete well for Argentina in week eight's $150,000 Nations' Cup CSIO 4*.
"Next week the horse will just rest and flat a little bit," Maurin said. "He might do one small class before the Nations' Cup so he gets some confidence and feels good. We would like to help Argentina do something. We have a lot of pressure after the team did so well at the Pan American Games, so we will see what happens. After that we might aim for the Suncast® Final during week 12. The horse is 16 years old, so I am trying to save him a little bit for the good stuff."
Lucy Deslauriers and Hester Top Under 25 Welcome
Competition on the derby field at The Stadium at The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) kicked off on Saturday morning with the $10,000 Artisan Farms U25 Welcome, sponsored by EnTrust Capital, during week six of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The speed track set by Richard Jeffery (GBR) saw 71 starters with a win for 16-year-old Lucy Deslauriers and Hester. The pair completed the fastest of 17 clear rounds in 60.73 seconds.
Madison Goetzmann and her own Wrigley took second place honors in a time of 62.37 seconds. Allison Toffolon and Toffolon Partners' Gatsby finished third in 62.68 seconds. Emily Moffitt and Poden Farms' For Sale 6 clocked in fourth in 62.86 seconds. Emma Heise and Old Willow Farms' Viper Vrombautshoeve Z placed fifth in 63.91 seconds, and Eve Jobs and her own Sandor de la Pomme rounded out the top six with a clear round in 63.98 seconds.
Owned by Lucy Deslauriers' mother, Lisa Deslauriers, Hester is an 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Wandor van de Mispelaere x Palestro. The pair has been partnered since 2014 and has earned many top accolades together.
Speaking of her winning round on the beautiful grass derby field, Deslauriers stated, "It was tons of fun. I love when they bring us over to the field. It is definitely a different experience. We do not get to do it every week. I was fortunate enough that I did the same class with Hester last year, so I felt really confident coming in. I thought the course was a good test. Definitely the turn to the third jump tripped a lot of people up, but overall I thought it was a great course. It was a lot of fun with a lot of good galloping."
Deslauriers drew an early spot, seventh to go in the order for the morning, and knew she had to set a big challenge with so many riders to come.
"Initially when I heard that I went so early I thought I was a little bit unlucky, just because there were so many great riders. There were 70-something (entries in the class), so I knew there were a lot of very fast riders coming behind me, like Maddy (Goetzman). I felt very confident in my horse. I knew that if I set the pace and tried to put the pressure on, his big gallop would help me out there, so I tried to use that to my advantage."
Deslauriers has a great relationship with Hester, but there are always things to work on in every partnership, and Saturday's class on the field gave her a chance to get some different experience with her mount.
"Definitely rideability is something I always keep in mind. He can get a little bit rowdy sometimes," Deslauriers noted. "Even on course today, there were a few spots that I could have gotten him back sooner or been a little bit smoother, but overall he is very nice to ride and I am incredibly lucky to have him."
Speaking of the Artisan Farms Under 25 Series, the rider added, "I think it is a great series. It really bridges the gap between the junior jumpers and the grand prix division. It is a great in between and I think that all of the venues give you different experience - doing some night classes, and jumping in The Stadium arena, and the field, and the big ring. It is good for the horses, and it is good for us as riders to do something different. Twelve weeks is a long time, so it is nice to change it up every now and then. The field has some natural jumps and it is a little bit spookier, so it is a good change."
Presented by The Dutta Corp. in association with Guido Klatte, the Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Series will feature three more events showcasing top young talent in show jumping sport this winter. For the final event of the Series, the top 30 riders in the point standings will be invited to contest the $50,000 CSI-U25 Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix Final held on the derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC on Saturday, March 26.
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.