John French and Queen Celeste Take Top Honors in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Hunt & Go

John French and Queen Celeste. Photo by SportFot

By Kate Pettersen, Kimberlyn Beaudoin, and Sabrina Brashares for Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.

Hunters took center stage on Friday in the International Arena for the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Hunt & Go. The class had 62 riders, and in the end it was John French and Pony Lane Farm’s Queen Celeste who took home the blue ribbon with a classic round score of 190 and a handy score of 182.5, for a total combined score of 372.5.

The class was held in a Hunt & Go format, with the first eight jumps being the classic round and the last six jumps of the course counting as the handy phase. The course was designed by Andy Christiansen and included four high option fences and a trot jump.

French, of San Juan Bautista, CA, has been riding and helping owner Kelsey Cruciotti with Queen Celeste for the past two months. Cruciotti mainly shows the mare in the younger Amateur-Owner Hunters, but French decided to take over the reins for a derby.

“I haven’t done a derby in a while, and I asked if I could ride her,” explained French. “They said, ‘Yes, we usually don’t have very good luck with derbies but if you want to do it, it’s up to you!’ It worked out perfect. She got to go in the big ring, and I thought the course was interesting and different.”

After French went on his first mount, Ocean Road, he decided to do a last-minute bridle change with Queen Celeste, to ensure that they would be ready for the handy portion. The post-and-rail fence nine and ten proved to be a tough spot for many competitors, but French and Queen Celeste rode the track with ease.

“She has an amazing front end. To me, she felt really smooth and I know her jumping style,” said French of the 10-year-old Holsteiner mare by Cassini I. “A lot of horses had problems with the post-and-rail or the out of the combination, but I know I don’t have to worry about that. She might be looky a little bit, and I just have to give her the confidence. I know her jumping style is always going to be a 10.”

The pair received two scores of 95 in the classic round and then chose two high options in the handy phase to earn scores of 91.5 and 91.

John French and Queen Celeste in their awards presentation ceremony with Kelsey Cruciotti. Photo by Sportfot

“Pretty much everybody made the inside turn to the trot fence and there was the inside to the post-and-rail, how tight could you turn back, but there wasn’t anything crazy that you had to do in the handy,” commented French. “I liked it for that reason, that it was really a jumping contest.”

Second place honors went to Jennifer Hannan, of Wakefield, RI, and Kensel, LLC’s Mindful. Hannan and Mindful are not strangers to the winner’s circle of this class, having been victorious the past two years. The pair earned scores of 191 and 179.5, for a total score of 370.5. Hannah Isop, of Pawling, NY, rode Victoria Hart’s Believe to a third place finish. The duo received scores of 182.5 in the classic round and 187 in the handy round for a total score of 369.5.

Saturday will have more hunter and jumper competition with the $37,000 CaptiveOne 1.50m CSI4* on the Derby Field at Equestrian Village. The Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, will take place in the International Arena under the lights. The Amateur-Owner 3’3” 36 and Over champion will be crowned in the E.R. Mische Grand Hunter Ring.

Final Results: $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Hunt & Go

1 Queen Celeste / John French / Pony Lane Farm
190.00 / 182.50 | 372.50

2 Mindful / Jennifer Hannan / Kensel, LLC
191.00 / 179.50 | 370.50

3 Believe / Hannah Isop / Victoria Hart
182.50 / 187.00 | 369.50

4 Rolo / Augusta Iwasaki / Ariya Nathu
186.00 / 183.00 | 369.00

5 Carento / Elizabeth Towell Boyd / Sherri Crawford
188.00 / 176.00 | 364.00

6 Charismo / Penny Lombardo / Joyce L Kutcher
183.75 / 179.75 | 363.50

7 Attendu De Lannois Z / Augusta Iwasaki / Ashland Farms
180.00 / 183.00 | 363.00

8 Bacchus / Michael Britt-Leon / Kelly Sims
175.50 / 183.00 | 358.50

9 Avatar Z / Victoria Colvin / William Lyles
181.00 / 173.00 | 354.00

10 Olympic Fire / Jennifer Hannan / Jennifer Hannan
175.00 / 177.00 | 352.00

11 Glorieus / Courtney Lenkart / La Primera Hacienda, LP
184.50 / 166.50 | 351.00

12 Kilkenny / Keri Kampsen / Michelle Guardino-Dettelbach
180.00 / 169.00 | 349.00