David Wright and Renaissance Triumph in the USHJA International Hunter Derby

March 7, 2008



GULFPORT, MS.—MAR 7, 2008—David Q. Wright of Murfreesboro, TN partnered with Renaissance have the distinct honor of winning the $10,000 USHJA 2008-2009 ASG Software Solutions International Hunter Derby presented by Dietrich Insurance, being held for the first time at the Gulf Coast Winter Classics.

This morning’s event saw several first- 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 all about 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 3 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.

"I walked around it early, got the horses in the ring this morning just to look at it, because this is very different from what we jump in the hunter rings today," David began of his experience with the unique course, "this was more like what we jumped 20 years ago at Devon, but it’s so cool and the course is so nice!" David added. 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. David and the coming 10 year-old Hanoverian gelding Renaissance followed 4 rides later to land a 172 and take over the top spot. "You got a lot of really good jumps out of the better horses. They were impressed enough to think it [the course] interesting, when it's the same old hunter jumps day in –day out they get a little bit bored." David spoke of the first round, "It was fun to have the option to leave out strides in a few places, it was fun to have the option to jump the bigger jumps [4 foot], and the lines rode nice and open." Something much appreciated by the 18 hand big bay-gelding trainer Daphne Thornton remarked. "He's amazingly light going, goes like a light Thoroughbred horse even though he's huge," quipped David of "Sully" as he's known around the barn. Daphne shared 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 David 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 to 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. "No, I had no concerns whatsoever about the gate," today’s winner said then explained, "My horses are broke on the flat, learning to leg yield and even the ones I don’t have fulltime, Daphne works with at home." Andy Kocher and Finding Neverland took a more traditional approach to the gate obstacle by dismounting, opening and leading his horse through to then remount and pick 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 3 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." David 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." Then confided what had actually transpired on the second track, "The 8 [strides] down the first line rode great..it’s really about 8 ½ but he made it easy. And I wanted to trot very few steps to the log [trot fence] to show handiness, and I chose to jump the higher options. Although my plan was to turn inside and jump the high option at the logs, which I did, but it caught him by surprise enough that my follow-up of another inside turn to a 4’ option out was best changed to give him a few canter strides around to enable him to get up for it." Quick and decisive thinking no doubt guided the pair on to cinch both the second round and overall $10,000 victory.

Sully’s full time trainer Daphne Thornton of South Point Farms, located in Village of Loch Lloyd, MO, chatted about Renaissance, "He’s a fairly new purchase for us. We only began showing him this past December." David added, "He's a wonderful horse they got from Christopher Ewing in Detroit. Daphne purchased him to do the junior hunters with Cortney Patterson and as a side line he does the regular hunters with me!" Chuckling Daphne continued, "It took less than two weeks for those two to fall in love..and it’s mutual! We’re just thrilled to have David riding him." Almost blushing David returned the compliment. Both David and Daphne expressed their sincere admiration to the show management, USHJA, and the "hardest working ring crew" for what they felt was a "beautifully done class. Everything was just perfect; footing was great. I’d even go so far to say Gulfport has the best footing and care for exhibitors over any other events going now." David said very pointedly while Daphne and others around nodded in agreement.

Presenting a host of goodies to this morning’s winners was Melanie Fransen from the United States Hunter Jumper Association, "This was a perfect event! Bob [Bell] and Allen [Rheinheimer] did an amazing job. I'm just thrilled that I could be here for it." Along with the custom ribbons from USHJA, the top placings also received fine leather leadlines and/or custom leather halters with engraved plates commemorating the event, all courtesy of Walsh Harness and Saddlery.

Walking back to the barn Daphne spoke candidly of today’s winner, "We think David is one of the country’s finest riders and are proud to have him rider our horses. They [David and Sully] have been champion in the regular working hunters the past 3 weeks now and are in the top nationally." she concluded with a bright smile, "While we unfortunately have to head back home, Sully will stay next week to compete with David and then we’ll catch up in a couple of weeks." Daphne strolled on, clutching the trophy and cooler with the confidence of a winner and the giddiness of a fan of the sport.

The Gulfport Winter Classic continues with more hunter/jumper and Grand Prix action through March 16th. Admission is free and the public is invited to enjoy the exciting competition throughout the week along with another $25,000 Grand Prix each Sunday as well as the race for the of the $10,000 Budweiser High Point Grand Prix Rider, presented to the top rider, calculated by earned points of the five-week series.

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