Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 5, 2021 – Hunter competition was highlighted Friday at Week Four of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), with the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby 2* taking center-ring in the International Arena of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Always a popular class, more than 60 entries put their names forward for the winning title, but it was John French and Pony Lane Farm’s Queen Celeste who jumped to the lead on an impressive score of 372.5. Finishing in second place was Jennifer Hannan and Mindful, while Believe took third with Hannah Isop in the irons.
Set in the Hunt & Go format, 62 horse-and-rider combinations made their way under the International ring arch to perform over 14 fences for two panels of judges. The first eight fences of the course served as a classic round before immediately leading into a handy round over fences 9 through 14. Andy Christiansen (MEX) designed the winding track, which was judged individually through each half of the course for a combined total out of 400. Four high-option fences were also offered for those willing to take on an added challenge to receive additional points.
Proving that the day isn’t over until the last horse has gone, as the 56th in the order of go French and the 10-year-old Holsteiner mare broke Hannan’s early lead which had held for 33 consecutive rounds. Queen Celeste cleared the fences with ease, including two high-option fences. The duo received a score of 190 from the judges for the mare’s classic round effort before moving into the handy portion where French piloted a seamless trip. Taking inside turns and showing off Queen Celeste’s adjustability and scope, the pair earned a 182.5 in the handy round to end on a total of 372.5 and take the lead.
Six others would put forth their best efforts in hopes of knocking French and Queen Celeste from the top spot, but try as they might, none could overtake. Slotting into second following French’s takeover, was Hannan aboard Kensell LLC’s 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Mindful. Scores of 191 and 179.5 put the partnership just behind French’s lead with a total score of 370.5. Rounding out the top three on the leaderboard were Isop and Believe, Victoria Hart’s 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding, who scored a 182 and 187 for an overall 369.5.
French’s partnership with Queen Celeste is relatively new, having only begun showing together in November of 2020 and often sharing the reins with owner Kelsey Cruciotti. As his first derby entry of the season, French asked Cruciotti if he could enter the mare on a whim, later laughing at their unexpected success.
Hunter competition will return to the E.R. Mische Grand Hunter Ring and Rost Arena Saturday with the Older Amateur Owner 3’6” Hunters and Older Adult Amateur Hunters kicking-off at 8:00 a.m. Saturday evening will feature a crowd-favorite and one of WEF’s highlight events, the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
John French – $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby 2* winner
On Queen Celeste:
“I have only been training the horse for two months. The owner, Kelsey Cruciotti, I help her with the mare. She does the Younger Amateur-Owner Hunters on her and I occasionally do a 3’6” Performance class, but I saw this derby and because [Kelsey] teaches school, she wasn’t able to come for this, so I thought I might do it. I said ‘I haven’t done a derby in a while,’ so I asked if I could do her in it and they said yes, but they don’t usually have a lot of luck in derbies – It worked out perfect! It is so nice to go in this big ring and I thought the course was kind of interesting and different, and it kind of gets you setup for Week Six.”
On where French thinks they won the class:
“She has an amazing front end. To me, she felt really smooth, and I know a lot of the horses were having trouble with some jumps, but I know I don’t have to worry about that with her. She might be a little bit looky and I might have to give her the confidence, but I know her jumping style is always going to be a ten.”
On the course:
“I changed bridles for this class because in the handy, the rollback was something unexpected for the horses. They all thought you were going to jump and go down to the end of the ring, so if you have a lead change or something they aren’t expecting it. So that I could pull her together and get that lead change, I put her in just a little broken pelham, which I hadn’t ridden her in before. After riding my first one, I just had this feeling that it would help to slow her up and get that lead change since she won’t think she is supposed to get a lead change there. I probably could have turned tighter in my rollback and I didn’t do the high options in the first round, but then I thought I needed to step it up a little bit in the second since she was settled. There wasn’t anything crazy in the handy, but I kind of liked it because it really became a jumping contest.”
$25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby 2*
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Total Score
1. Queen Celeste / John French / Pony Lane Farm / 372.5
2. Mindful / Jennifer Hannan / Kensel LLC / 370.5
3. Believe / Hannah Isop / Victoria Hart / 369.5
4. Rolo / Augusta Iwasaki / Ariya Nathu / 369
5. Carento / Elizabeth Towell Boyd / Sherri Crawford / 364
6. Charismo / Penny Lombardo / Joyce L Kutcher / 363.5
7. Attendu de Lannois Z / Augusta Iwasaki / Ashland Farms / 363
8. Bacchus / Michael Britt-Leon / Kelly Sims / 358.5
9. Avatar Z / Victoria Colvin / William Lyles / 354
11. Glorieus / Courtney Lenkart / La Primera Hacienda, L P / 351
12. Kilkenny / Keri Kampsen / Michelle Guardino-Dettelbach / 348.25