John French Rides to One-Two Lead in 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship

Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 18, 2017 – Now in its ninth year, the eagerly-awaited 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship brought many of the nation’s most talented horses and riders to Kentucky to compete for the most prestigious hunter title of the year. The International Hunter Derby Program recently hit a milestone, having awarded more than $10 million in less than 10 years to competitors, and this year’s championship significantly added to that total, offering one of the highest payouts in the program’s history. With the total purse topping $268,000, each of the 84 competing pairs were motivated to lay down brilliant performances Friday in the classic round in order to earn their places in Saturday’s championship handy round. John French, the inaugural 2009 champion, ultimately stole the show ahead of the field, riding to both first and second place aboard Skyhawk and Center Court, respectively.

John French and Center Court
John French and Center Court

As the 15th in the order-of-go, French and Center Court, owned by Hiller Farms, LLC, set a high standard for the entrants that would follow them with scores of 89.00, 89.00 and 88.50, plus an additional four points from each of the three judges panels for taking the high options, for a cumulative tally of 278.50. Also taking the four high options, Victoria Colvin and Cuba, owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC, gave French and the 7-year-old bay gelding a run for their money a handful of trips later but fell just short with a score of 275.25. As the class progressed, it became clear that French and Center Court were the ones to beat. Though the top 12 cut-off continued to climb, ultimately reaching a lofty 265.50 as horse-and-rider combinations repeatedly scored respectably, none were able to top the leading pair until French returned to the Rolex Stadium with his second mount.

John French and Skyhawk
John French and Skyhawk

Armed with the knowledge from his previous trip around designers Alan Lohman and Danny Moore’s course, French returned to the judges’ scrutiny aboard Skyhawk, owned by Laura Wasserman, and outdid himself with marks of 89.50, 89.50 and 91.00 in addition to the 12 bonus points for a total score of 282.00 to capture the one-two lead. French and Skyhawk’s score of 91.00 was the second-highest score awarded throughout the day, and they, along with only two other pairs, Colvin and Cuba as well as Kristy Herrera and Candid, were able to break the 90-point benchmark. Twenty more pairs chased down French’s top two positions to no avail, leaving the 2009 champion in prime position headed into Saturday’s finale to claim top honors once again.

Competition was fierce with frequent scores awarded in the 80s, but Colvin and Cuba retained third position behind French and his mounts, followed closely by Geoffrey Hesslink aboard his own Cadoretto with total marks of 273.00 as one of the first to go in the class. Hesslink is among good company in his first International Hunter Derby Championship, as nearly half of the competing riders were also making their debuts in the elite class. Only one-quarter of a point behind Hesslink, veteran rider Liza Boyd, the three-time champion from 2014 through 2016, navigated Stella Styslinger’s O’Ryan to fifth position with their score of 272.75. Jennifer Alfano rode Sharon O’Neill’s Miss Lucy, the 2016 champion horse, to a score of 271.80 to claim sixth place. Last year, Alfano was forced to give up the ride on the chestnut mare to Herrera due to an injury, but the catch-rider performed spectacularly, earning the 2016 championship honors.

John French and Skyhawk
John French and Skyhawk

The 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship will return to the Rolex Stadium Saturday afternoon, with horses and riders pegged to compete in either the derby challenge or the coveted handy hunter round, which will determine the new champion. The top 20 highest-scoring pairs have qualified for the Section A portion of the prize money, representing the largest percentage of the pot, while the top 20 tier two duos, determined by money won throughout the year, from the classic round will vie for the Section B prize money. Ultimately, the horse and rider with the greatest composite score from the two rounds of competition will be crowned the newest champions.


John French – Leader of the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship

John French with Center Court in second place and Skyhawk in first place
John French with Center Court in second place and Skyhawk in first place

On Skyhawk:
“I started riding him at this show last year. It’s nice to have had him for a year and now I know him a little bit better. Last year, it was a little hard because I just got on and I had never ridden him before and he wasn’t quite used to my long distances in the handy, but now I have figured him out and I felt really comfortable with him today.”

On Center Court:
“Center Court, who is in second, I got him as a 4-year-old-based off an internet ad from England. I brought him over after I just liked him on the video and it took a year and a half before he would even do a lead change. I hadn’t brought him [to the International Hunter Derby Finals] in the past because I didn’t think he was quite ready or that I could count on getting the changes done out there in the big field. At 6 years old I did take him to indoors and he was champion at the Washington [International Horse Show]. This year I felt he was ready to come and that’s basically been our goal all along with him — to bring him here — because I always knew he was a derby horse.”

On the course:
“I thought it flowed really nicely. When you looked at the course, it looked pretty. The space between the jumps seemed all the same. It wasn’t like some came up really fast — it flowed. The high options were high enough, but last year was almost crazy high. There were so many good scores in the 80s and that’s kind of what you want.There were a lot of good rounds.”

On his hopes for the handy round:
“I hope there’s a lot of inside options and I love single jumps. I hope there’s not lines that you have to run down. I’m sure there will be a trot fence— it’d be nice if there wasn’t. Sometimes you never know what’s going to happen at the trot fence.”

On how his previous rides affected his trips today:
“Once I ride one and it goes well then I feel much better riding the second one. I showed them yesterday and they weren’t really good. Skyhawk tripped and almost fell down after the trot jump and Center Court was so asleep, but in a way it was good for me because today I knew we had to step it up here a little bit and it made me wake them up a little bit more.”

Victoria Colvin – 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, third place

Victoria Colvin and Cuba
Victoria Colvin and Cuba

On Cuba:
“I started riding Cuba at the beginning of WEF. The Ingrams own him. He’s a saint. John Ingram shows him in the amateurs. I think this is the first year he has started derbies and he’s done a couple of derbies before here, but he hasn’t had the best luck. One round he tripped and one round he swapped. He just hasn’t had the perfect round but I was really pleased with him today. He couldn’t have been any better so I was very happy with him.”

On her hopes for the handy round:
“I love single jumps. I’ll take a single oxer any day. I’m ready to go very handy [tomorrow]. I love the handy [rounds]. I’m going to have some fun.”

Geoffrey Hesslink –2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, fourth place

Geoffrey Hesslink and Cadoretto
Geoffrey Hesslink and Cadoretto

On Cadoretto:
“I bought him at the end of Florida and he’s 6 years old. He’s kind of a baby so I started showing him in the First Years and then tried out some derbies and he’s been pretty successful at those so I brought him here and he was outstanding today. It’s really special [that I own him]. I wasn’t expecting much at all. I kind of came here for experience and my goal was to have a nice, smooth round with no major errors. It’s really nice that he was that good today.”

On the course:
“I thought it was a lot of unrelated single jumps versus related lines, which was nice. I thought it flowed really nicely.”

On his hopes for the handy round:
“I’m just hoping to have a smooth round and not make any major mistakes. I hope the high options aren’t too crazy, but there are places where you can be handy. This my first time competing at Derby Finals and so far it’s been good. I’ve liked it so far. The venue is beautiful and they do a good job. It’s fun to come here and compete against the best at this. I went very early so I was definitely nervous, but once I jumped jump one I was good.”


Place / Rider / Horse / Owner / Score

USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship – Classic Round
1. John French / Skyhawk / Laura Wasserman / 282.000
2. John French / Center Court / Hiller Farms LLC / 278.500
3. Victoria Colvin / Cuba / John & Stephanie Ingram, LLC / 275.250
4. Geoffrey Hesslink / Cadoretto / Geoffrey Hesslink / 273.000
5. Elizabeth Boyd / O’ Ryan / Stella Styslinger / 272.750
6. Jennifer Alfano / Miss Lucy / Sharon O’neill / 271.800
7. Daniel Geitner / Raffle / Janet Peterson / 270.500 8. Amy Momrow / Aeroplane / Melissa Wight / 269.000 9. Erica Quinn / Celtic Fire / CF Partners / 267.400
10. Kristy Herrera / Candid / Jennifer Alfano / 267.000

For more information on the 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, please click here.

Sharn Wordley and Famoso D Ive Z Retain Hagyard Challenge Series Lead with Grand Prix Win

More than 40 pairs took to the Rolex Stadium under the lights Friday evening, each hoping to produce the quickest clear round to claim the top prize in the $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic Grand Prix, the fifth jewel in the series of seven. Sharn Wordley held the lead in the Hagyard Challenge Series standings with the most cumulative points entering the night’s competition, and fought to keep it that way, riding Famoso D Ive Z, owned by Sky Group, to a blazing time in the jump-off ahead of the eight other pairs that made it to the final portion of the grand prix.

Sharn Wordley and Famoso D Ive Z
Sharn Wordley and Famoso D Ive Z

The first ten entries of the night had a difficult time keeping the course intact, but Martien Van Der Hoeven and Zerro Leone, owned by Augusta Pines Farm, managed to finally keep all of the rails in their cups as the eleventh trip. Once Van Der Hoeven had qualified for the jump-off, it seemed to instigate a steady stream of competitors following suit and riding subsequent clear rounds to qualify, as well. After what looked to become a largely male-dominated jump-off field, junior rider Daisy Farish and her own Great White proved themselves as contenders, followed by Amanda Derbyshire and Gochman Sport Horse, LLC’s Sibell BH, to bring two women into the mix. Ultimately, nine speedy pairs representing three countries – USA, New Zealand and Ireland – successfully navigated designer Guilherme Jorge’s track to return for one last chance at the blue ribbon, with Wordley and David Beisel each aboard two of them.

As one of the first to return for the jump-off, Wordley and Caiman De Sequoias, owned by Sky Group, set the bar high with a quick clean round, tripping the timers at 41.864 seconds. Wordley’s early lead did not hold for long though, as David Beisel and Ammeretto, the quick-footed stallion owned by Equine Holdings, LLC, overtook them by less than half of a second with their time of 41.793 seconds. Beisel and Ammeretto are frequent sights in the winners circle, and their counterparts chased their time down without success until Wordley returned to the Rolex Stadium aboard Famoso D Ive Z, another horse who has become accustomed to winning recently. As the last to go, Wordley and “Famoso” had a plan to ride the jump-off track similar to Beisel and Ammeretto, and although the pair ended up adding a stride to the last fence, two especially tight rollback turns propelled them far ahead of the current leaders with their clean time of 40.320 seconds, nearly 1.50 seconds ahead of the runner-up duo.

Just behind Beisel and Ammeretto, Wordley’s jump-off time of 41.864 seconds aboard Caiman De Sequoias was strong enough to ward off the rest of the field, capturing third position, and they were trailed by Daniel Geitner and November Hill’s Vesta De Lavardin, who kept all the rails up and broke the beams at 42.175 seconds. The first to ride in the jump-off, Van Der Hoeven and Zerro Leone’s clean time of 42.177, only two-thousandths of a second behind Geitner, clinched the fifth position to round out the top contenders.

Sharn Wordley and Famoso D Ive Z
Sharn Wordley and Famoso D Ive Z

Wordley and Beisel will both return Thursday, August 24 for the next stop in the Hagyard Challenge Series, with the $65,000 finale taking place Friday, September 22. With his win today, Wordley solidified his current lead in the standings, but will have to fend off his competitors two more times to claim the $50,000 Leading Rider Award, presented during the Kentucky National Horse Show in September.

Jumper competition at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show will continue through Sunday, with the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix sponsored by Audi of Lexington bringing elite showjumping competitors to the Rolex Stadium once again for their shot at the top prize.


Sharn Wordley – $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic Champion

On Famoso D Ive Z:
“He’s extremely fast. He’s a little bit spooky, but when he gets used to a ring then he can win a lot. He won last summer when we did quite a bit at Tryon. He’s a great horse. I’ve been riding him coming up on two years now. Most shows he goes to, he wins a class. He’s always like that. He always wins something somewhere along the line.”

On the course:
“I was really tight to the double. I was really tight to the second to last as well. It was on those two roll backs [I gained time on David] because we did the same steps everywhere else. Actually we had a better run to the last. I chickened out and added one to the last so it was on those two roll backs. We had the same strides everywhere else. It’s hard to watch because I was on one so I got to watch the first one go which was quick. Martien set a good time so I knew what I had to catch. Ammeretto had already gone and I knew what I was trying to chase. He’s fast. It’s hard to judge it on how quick he is. I didn’t think that I was going to be that fast.”

On the Hagyard Challenge Series standings:
“There’s two more. One next week on Thursday and then the final. I’m pretty sure Amanda Derbyshire is in second, I don’t know after today with David, but both of those people are extremely quick and it’s not done until you bank the check with these guys behind you.”

On his experience at Kentucky Horse Shows:
“[My farm, Ashland Stables] is 10 minutes from the Horse Park. I’ve been showing here for 9 to 10 years – maybe longer, maybe 12 to 13 years. Off and on. Before the stadium was built, when it was still normal sand.”

David Beisel – $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic, second place

David Beisel and Ammeretto
David Beisel and Ammeretto

On his two mounts:
“I thought they both jumped great in the first round. I was pretty pleased with Ammeretto in the jump-off. He was clear and leading when I left. Call Me Hannes was almost a little too careful at the oxers in the first round so I was kind of thinking I could go ahead and go a little more to jump one and two in the jump-off. I thought he’d hold off, but he had a rail down. I knew I had 4 faults at the first jump, but I figured I could get some valuable points for the Hagyard standings if I tried to be a fast 4 [faulter] because that’s a pretty big deal to try and get some extra points to try to catch up to Sharn [Wordley].”

On the course:
“I think I was lucky. It seemed like some of the horses started jumping better as it got a little darker and the lights brightened up. I thought my horses jumped very impressive. I was excited when I saw the order of go – I knew it would get dark and the lights would be coming on. I thought the course had a few tricks, but it rode nice and it was a really nice course. It got a good crew in for the jump-off to make it fun for everybody.”


Place / Rider / Horse / Owner / R1 Faults / R2 Faults / Time

$25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic
1. Sharn Wordley / Famoso D Ive Z / Sky Group/ 0 / 0 / 40.320
2. David Beisel / Ammeretto / Equine Holdings LLC / 0 / 41.793
3. Sharn Wordley / Caiman De Sequoias / Sky Group / 0 / 0 / 41.864
4. Daniel Geitner / Vesta De Lavardin / November Hill / 0 / 0 / 42.175
5. Martien Van Der Hoeven / Zerro Leone / Augusta Pines Farm / 0 / 0 / 42.177
6. Daisy Farish / Great White / Daisy Farish / 0 / 0 / 44.812
7. David Beisel / Call Me Hannes / Harlow Investment Enterprises, LLC / 0 / 4 / 40.563
8. Amanda Derbyshire / Sibell BH / Gochman Sport Horse LLC / 0 / 4 / 41.776
9. Shane Sweetnam / Cobolt / Seabrook LLC / 0 / 17 / 62.473
10. Tara Corr / Boy Blue / Tara Corr / 1 / 80.461

For more information on the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show, please click here.


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