It is World Champion Hunter Rider week at WEC and tonight the R+L Arena played host to both the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby and the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby. Both classes featured courses designed by Bobby Murphy of Lexington, Kentucky and included natural fences that beautifully emulated the hunt field. Obstacles included natural log jumps, a charming chicken coop-flanked fence and towering whiskey barrel standards. Spectators enjoyed an appropriately-themed international ringside dinner while they watched the exciting Derby action.
$10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
The $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby saw sixteen entries vie for top honors over the 3’6″-3’9″ course with 4′-4’6″ option fences. Scores sailed into the nineties, but it was Brandon Gibson and Select Sport Horses’ Spectrum Z (Hos D’O x Anemone Granette) the took first place with two flawless, awe-inspiring rounds.
Gibson and Spectrum Z are no strangers to the winners circle at World Equestrian Center, topping the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby just three weeks ago and returning to the R+L Arena tonight in hopes of claiming another victory. Gibson and the eight year old Warmblood gelding brought their A-game, easily navigating all three high options in the first round earning scores of 88 and 92. The pair were last to return for the handy round, managing a second foot-perfect round. Spectrum Z drew audible “wow”s from the crowd for his brilliance, impressing spectators with his lofty, stylish jump. Gibson and the bay gelding took both high options in the handy round and hugged the inside track to fences two and four, earning scores of 85.5 and 88.5 with handy bonus points added in, bringing their overall total to 358; and winning the class by eleven points.
Though Gibson and Spectrum Z were unbeatable, the pair faced tough competition in the form of both Michael Britt-Leon and Summer Hill. Britt-Leon piloted Kelly Sims’ Private I (Corrado x Verdi), a handsome eight year old Oldenburg gelding. The pair took second place in last week’s $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby and stepped up to the International Derby tonight. Britt-Leon and the bay gelding took all three high options in the first round, earning scores of 75 and 76. The pair returned for the handy round, again opting for the high options and taking tidy inside turns to fences two, three, four and eight. With handy bonus points added in, the pair’s handy scores were 99 and 97, bringing their overall total score to 347.
Summer Hill and Andrea Simpson’s Vendome DH Z (Va-Vite x Veronique) were hot on Britt-Leon’s trail. The pair have taken the blue in several National Hunter Derbies at World Equestrian Center and the ex-Grand Prix gelding was on form tonight. Hill and Vendome DH Z also took all three high options in the first round, earning scores of 86 and 79. The pair returned for the handy round, mimicking Britt-Leon’s inside track, scoring 90 and 91 with handy bonus points added in, bringing their two round total to 346 for a third place finish.
Gibson of Select Sport Horses in Knoxville, Tennessee stuck around after the awards presentation to chat with us about his win, “Spectrum Z was really good this week again. I think he really likes it here at World Equestrian Center, he’s been super. He won a class on Wednesday with good scores, then was second and third in the second class. Thursday I made some small mistakes on him just getting to know him, but he still finished Reserve. Tonight, my plan was just to keep it smooth and try to keep him jumping as low as possible. We don’t warm up over very big jumps. As we’re warming up, the horses beside us are jumping 4’3″-4’6″ oxers and I typically jump about 3’3″ before I walk into this class because he just starts jumping so high.”
Gibson described his plan for the handy round, “We made a plan to just go around to fence three to keep it smooth. I watched Michael walk the last line in seven and I knew my horse had a big step. I knew if we galloped down there at it, he was going to jump really high and finish really well, so that’s what we did.”
When asked about Spectrum Z, Gibson commented, “He’s really special. This is my first personal horse in a long time. He’s very exciting. He won the International Derby at the Bill Russell Memorial show in August, won a National Derby here in December, then won this International Derby today. I’m super happy with him. He’s an incredible horse. I still can’t believe he’s mine. His name is ‘Hippo’ in the barn and he’s just my flying Hippo!”
Gibson also let us in an interesting coincidence in Spectrum Z’s three Derby wins, “A funny little superstition is my son Chance Williams grooms for me for these classes. He has groomed and prepared Hippo for me at all three Derbies that he’s won. Hippo’s typical Derby day is a hack in the morning and a short lunge right before the class. Chance swears by sixteen minutes of walking and trotting. He says that the horse does not need to canter, but he needs to walk and trot for sixteen minutes. He’s a very quiet horse, so it doesn’t take a lot to get there. As soon as I won the first round, Chance looked at me and said, ‘sixteen minutes.'”
$10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Results
- Spectrum Z, Brandon Gibson – 180 | 178 | 358
- Private I, Michael Britt-Leon – 151 | 196 | 347
- Vendome DH Z, Summer Hill – 165 | 181 | 346
- Grand Tour, Melissa Donnelley – 155.5 | 185 | 340.5
- Fusion, Kelsey Epperson – 167.5 | 171 | 338.5
- Corlando 49, Melissa Donnelly – 177 | 159 | 336
- Cake, David Beisel – 160 | 174 | 334
- No Introduction, Christopher Coberley – 160 | 164 | 324
- Chantilly Lace, Kristjan Good – 154 | 137 | 291
- Candyman, Kasey Evans – 157 | 97 | 255
$5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby
The $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby saw equally thrilling competition with thirty entries contesting the 3′ course with 3’5″ option fences. Michael Britt-Leon dominated for the second week in a row, taking first, second and fifth place aboard Kelly Sims’ Downtown (Dollar x Kornett), Kelly Sims’ True Enough (Catoki x Hauptstutbuch Chardas Fürstin) and Jami O’Shea-Johnson’s Hearts Forever, respectively.
Kelly Sims’ Downtown (Dollar x Kornett) competed in his first Derby last week with Britt-Leon, earning an eighth place finish among a highly-competitive field of seasoned Derby horses. Tonight, Britt-Leon and the six year old Mecklenburg gelding delivered two flawless rounds, taking all four high options for scores of 87 and 88.5. In the handy round, the pair navigated inside turns to fences one, two and six with ease. Their impressive performance and total score of 175.5 earned them the top spot in tonight’s class.
Britt-Leon also had fantastic rounds aboard Kelly Sims’ True Enough (Catoki x Hauptstutbuch Chardas Fürstin). The pair placed fourth in last week’s Derby, preparing them well for tonight’s class. Britt-Leon and the ten year old Warmblood gelding also chose all four high options and the inside track in the handy round, earning scores of 85 and 90 for a total score of 175, trailing first place by just one half of a point.
Fifth place in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby belonged to Michael Britt-Leon and Jami O’Shea-Johnson’s Hearts Forever. The pair took top placings in the Green Hunters last week at World Equestrian Center and were ready to try their hand at tonight’s Derby. Britt-Leon and the seven year old Dutch Warmblood gelding earned scores of 79 and 82 for a total score of 161, taking fifth place.
Britt-Leon of Windsor Stables in Alpharetta, Georgia took a moment to chat with us ringside about his rides, “Downtown was the winner. He’s owned by Kelly Sims’. We bought him a year and a half ago when he was just green-broke and I brought him along myself. This is his second Derby, last week was his first Derby where he was eighth. He’s a young horse. He just started the 3’6″ division. I do him in the Conformation and the Greens. His jump is absolutely incredible. He always jumps a ten. He’s a lot of fun to ride because I get to showcase him by really never picking up the reins. I keep a long rein with not a lot of contact and he stays the same and stays so level-headed. It was an exciting course for Downtown because the handy was challenging, but the spookier the jump or the harder the job is, the better he goes. He’s just a wonderful horse. It’s an exciting moment to be able to win on such a green horse. He’s one we have for sale.”
Britt-Leon also commented on his second place mount, “True Enough was second. He’s another one of Kelly Sims’ horses. He’s one I’ve done a bunch on. I’ve won quite a few National and International Derbies on him. He’s just a wonderful horse who really excels in the handy rounds because he really trusts his rider.”
$5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby Results
- Downtown, Michael Britt-Leon – 87 | 88.5 | 175.5
- True Enough, Michael Britt-Leon – 85 | 90 | 175
- Persuasion, Melissa Donnelly – 81.5 | 85 | 166.5
- News For You, Lissa Guyton – 84.5 | 79 | 163.5
- Hearts Forever, Michael Britt-Leon – 79 | 82 | 161
- Vision Quest, Sabrina Hall – 84 | 76 | 160
- Famos Amos, Jodi Fryar – 78.5 | 80 | 158.5
- MTM Bentley, David Beisel – 89 | 65 | 154
- Visconti, Ashley Hartman – 82 | 65 | 147
- Atoka, Sydney Callagy – 80 | 64 | 144
Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.