Gulf Coast Winter Classics Week IV Highlights
RELEASE: March 13, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Robbi Meisel
David Q. Wright of Murfreesboro, TN, and partner Renaissance have the distinct honor of winning the $10,000 United States Hunter Jumper Association 2008-2009 ASG Software Solutions International Hunter Derby presented by Dietrich Insurance, being held for the first time at the Gulf Coast Winter Classics.
The morning event saw several firsts; among one of the most appreciated was all other rings being closed so that fellow exhibitors could come and enjoy this unique class. Shadbelly jackets, shined boots, braided manes and tails were the fashion as a talented mix of 30 professional and amateurs jogged before the panel of four judges—Penny Walher, Wayne Eubank, John Roper and Meg Skaffgaard, as well as veterinarian Juan Gamboa. Once soundness was established, the top of the order prepared to take on the first round-course of 10 obstacles [12 efforts] comprised mostly of natural materials such as logs, brush and gate planks, all from the creative mind of designer Allen Rheinheimer. Within the track, riders encountered three options of height choice, 3’6 or 4’ as well as bending and broken lines throughout. Only the top 12 scores would be invited back for Round Two.
Early in the first round, Grand Bay, AL, favorite Holly Shepherd lead the pack riding Ashbury for owner Mary Walker with a high score of 171. Wright and the coming 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Renaissance followed four rides later to land a 172 and take over the top spot. Daphne Thorton, the horse's trainer, shared that the huge horse with an equally huge heart was dubbed “Sully” after the beloved Monsters, Inc., movie character Sully who towered over everyone but had such a soft spot for those in his life.
Also hot on Sully’s hooves in the first round was Andy Kocher with Elizabeth Allen’s Finding Neverland turning in a score of 170, well above the 142 cut off to assure their return. But as the initial round concluded, it was still Wright and Renaissance on top. Ribbons were awarded to the top twelve who would in turn move one round closer to the $10,000 prize. The five highest contenders returning, included Shepherd and Ashbury bringing their 171 score, Kocher and Finding Neverland with their 170, young owner-rider Megan Fellows riding Corofino Gold with a 167 score, and owner-rider Lily Hahn aboard Sion returning with a score of 164.50.
Moving to Round Two, where designer Rheinheimer upped the ante in the handy 10 obstacle [11 efforts] layout that included a sizable brush jump after which riders rolled back to trot over a small log and a few inside turns. However, the p’est de resistance came at the #9 obstacle, a gate that riders were to open, walk through it and pick up a hand gallop to the final oxer. Christina Gaither and Tenacious were the first pair back and executed a flawless gate maneuver earning them a score of 154 to be added to their first round 142 for a total of 296 and the lead. Several first-round high-scoring riders fell victim to the gate. Andy Kocher and Finding Neverland took a more traditional approach to the gate obstacle by dismounting, opening and leading his horse through, then remounting and picking up the canter immediately. The judges scores reflected the bold move’s impression on them with a pair of 91’s for a second round total of 182 and overall total of 352, giving them the lead position with three remaining riders.
“My theory was just canter as late as I could, then pull up to a walk, leg yield over to it-open up and be ready to canter out,” Wright shared. “And don’t do anything stupid!” he added with a big laugh. A theory that served him well with a textbook perfect execution through the course and the dreaded gate, earning an amazing score of 191. He later admitted his first thought on the handy course had been “just how many risks could I take.” Quick and decisive thinking no doubt guided the pair on to cinch both the second round and overall $10,000 vic