It was an auspicious beginning for junior rider Victoria Press and her 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding Mayfair.
The rider/horse combination were among the 26 entries in the Progressive Show Jumping Aiken Spring Classic Masters week United States Hunter Jumper Association’s $15,000 International Hunter Derby in the Dietrich Derby Field Saturday afternoon at Highfields Event Center.
“It was my first derby on him (Mayfair),” said Press. “I was really happy with the way he went. He was very smooth. He loves his job, I think he's very comfortable doing it. He has plenty of scope to do this.”
Mayfair, a gelding by Catoki, was one of the two rides in the class exhibited by Press, the other was the Zangersheide gelding Charleston Z. The rider from New York qualified both horses to return for the handy round after their classic round efforts.
The hunter derby rounds were judged by two panels who viewed the track from different vantage points. The rider/horse combinations were awarded points based on their riding style and their athleticism over fences, as they navigated the course designed by J.P. Godard that featured rustic and natural looking obstacles. The classes have brought back tradition and an appreciative audience had an opportunity to get a close-up look at the art of horsemanship.
The top 12 rider/horse combinations based on their cumulative point totals from the judges in the classic round, would return for the handy round. The first round featured 11 obstacles, several with options, and those riders who took the more difficult option received bonus points. The track featured a straw bale veritcal, wagon wheel wings, brownstone brick walls, a double wide fences option, a combination of natural colored wing fences, white pillar rail and option fence with green wings, a combination featuring a natural bank and a red barn oxer with a right side higher option.
However, it would be a familiar face recording the highest score during the classic round, Finally Farm's Liza Towell-Boyd and Kelly Maloney's and Hardin Towell's 9-year-old mare Fieona received a 188, and held an eight point advantage over Press and Mayfair and another of Towell-Boyd's rides, the Hanoverian gelding she had partnered with to win the last three Aiken Spring Classic International Hunter Derbies, a horse she owns in partnership with Janet Peterson, the venerable Brunello.
The handy round featured nine obstacles, and riders received additional points for their handiness. However, the horses that may have enjoyed the comfort of a sizable margin during the classic round, were in no way guaranteed of retaining their placing. One of the rider/horse combinations to return found themselves ninth after the classic round. But, it was Aiken-based DFG Stables' Daniel Geitner on Robin Hughes Zodoro, who turned in a brilliant performance recording the second best score of the handy round, a 186, for a collective total of 336, as they moved up to fourth. Julie Curtin would qualify three of her four rides for the handy round, but it would be on Isabelle Scrantom's Patrick, and the combination would ascend to the top of the class with a collective score of 353.
Press had gone earlier in the round with her Zangersheide gelding Charleston Z, providing the rider with some insight, but she listened intently to her trainer Stephen Heinecke's advice about the track, and the rider/horse combination, Press and Mayfair, gave an almost flawless performance, recording a score of 189, giving the junior rider and the Holsteiner gelding a collective score of 369.
“Charleston Z was really good in the handy,” said Press. “I took a little bit of a safer track on him. I went first and kind of learned from my scores. I decided to go for it because I really didn't have much to lose. I kept telling myself, I was going to be second. I was excited, but a little nervous.”
But, the junior rider found herself on pins and needles. Towell-Boyd made the decision not to ride Brunello in the handy round, but had yet to go with Fieona. The rider/horse combination turned in a formidable effort, but their score of 160 gave them a total of 348, and third place in the class.
Press and Mayfair would earn the tricolor ribbon honors.
“I was really happy with Mayfair's scores,” said Press. “He he felt good after the handy.”