Take a note from this elegant pair, who won the $30,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at Pin Oak over the weekend.
Top: Peter Pletcher & Luxe (McMillen Photography)
From a USEF Network press release:
Katy, Texas. – Peter Pletcher knew what he had to do in the Handy Hunter Round of the $30,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, presented by Valobra Master Jewelers.
He stood third and fourth aboard CR Beethoven and Luxe, respectively, after the Classic Round and had some ground to make up.
With Jennifer Alfano and the superstar derby horse Jersey Boy comfortably leading the way and the talented Martien van der Hoeven in second with Cellino, Pletcher decided it would have to be something pretty daring.
“I knew I had to do what I had to do,” he said laughing. “I was going to put the pressure on them. They kept saying, ‘Are you going to go inside? Are you going to go inside?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m for sure trying, because I’m behind you all!’
“I knew if I did the inside turn [from fences 1 to 2] they would have to try it, and it worked out,” he continued. “It was unfortunate they had little mishaps, but it’s part of the game.”
In the end, though, perhaps even Pletcher was a bit surprised at the result: Kyle Owens’ Luxe jumped up from fourth place with an amazing performance to capture the Handy Round blue ribbon and the overall championship with 372 points in his very first derby. CR Beethoven finished just .5 points behind for owner Margaret Anderson, giving Pletcher a one-two finish.
“We got him delivered in Wellington,” said Pletcher of Luxe. “He was imported from Europe, and we got him for Kyle as an amateur hunter in the hopes he could also do the derbies with me. This is his first derby, his debut.
“Right off the bat, it’s pretty much what you see is what you get,” added Pletcher. “We did him in the amateurs, and it has taken a little while for us to get him hunterized, but faster than any horse I’ve ever had.”
This week at Pin Oak, the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood (by Calato) has shown his propensity for the hunters, earning the 3’6’ Amateur-Owner Hunter reserve championship with Owens before his derby win.
“This is the first real 3’6” horse I’ve had,” said Owens, of Powell, Ohio. “This is the first year I’ve had the real 3’6” experience, and he’s awesome. I enjoy being able to do it.”
Not only had Luxe never done a derby before tonight, but also he’d never stepped foot in the Great Southwest Equestrian Center Irish Day Farm Main Jumper Ring. In addition to the expansive arena full of spectators, the gray gelding had to jump around in front of a popular Ringside Reception Hosted by Jonathan Blake Fashions and the “Hatter Derby” hosted by Moet & Chandon Champagne.
“He’s a super, super brave and honest horse,” said Pletcher. “He’s beautiful and has a good jump to go with the personality.”
Pletcher’s Handy Round with Luxe didn’t quite go as he’d planned, although many spectators probably didn’t notice there was a problem as they tackled the two 4’6” fences to start.
“He went right to fence 1 and jumped it so beautifully that I got a little bit jumped loose, but I knew I was going to turn inside on him,” described Pletcher. “But when I turned, I dropped my left rein. I was trying to get my left rein back, but that was such a tight turn that I just stuck with what I saw, and then I dropped my right rein! So, in the air I grabbed my reins, and he landed and turned so sharp I just ended up with both reins again. He was so amazing.”
The rest of their Handy Round was flawless, earning scores of 86 and 8 handy bonus points from judging Panel 1 of Bobbie Reber and Hope Glynn and scores of 85 and 9 handy bonus points from Panel 2 of James Clapperton and Keith Hastings. They also took all four high option fences on JP Godard’s course, which ranged from 4’3” to 4’6”.
Luxe was a jumper in Europe before being imported, and Pletcher and Owens credited his soft mouth and beautiful balance as key ingredients to his ability to turn so well in the Handy Round.
Having his horse win his derby debut was a pleasant and gratifying surprise for Owens, who picked up a check for $9,000 along with a Valobra Master Jewelers cooler, USHJA International Hunter Derby cooler and many ribbons and prizes from generous sponsors.
“I was just expecting to hopefully get my money back when I found out the entry fee was so expensive, because I’m cheap!” said Owens laughing. “When he won, I couldn’t believe it. But I thought if any horse could win it, it could be that one. He’s so brave and he’s so scopey. He’s just so talented.”
Enjoy this video of their opening and handy hunter rounds — more on-demand video from Pin Oak is available on the USEF Network.
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