John French of Wellington, Florida, piloted Babylon to the victory in the $25,000 World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Challenge, sponsored by The Gochman Family, at the 2021 Capital Challenge Horse Show on Wednesday, October 6, held at Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Riders qualified for the $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge by finishing in the top four in professional hunter classes at the show or ranking in the top 10 nationally. The class consisted of a first round for all 28 competitors and a second round for the top 12 horse-and-rider combinations.
French piloted Babylon, owned by Marnell Sport Horses, to an impressive first round score of 95 to put the duo at the top of the leaderboard by five points. The pair held their lead in the second round with a score of 89.33 and a total score of 184.33.
French has been partnered with Babylon since the gelding arrived in the United States after being purchased by Olympic silver medalist Kent Farrington. The pair had a very successful start and earned the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival Circuit Champion in the Pre-Green Hunter 3 & 4 Year Olds. Due to COVID-19, French only showed Babylon in the Green Hunter 3’ division twice before moving up to the Green Hunter 3’6” division.
“For him to come here at six years old and show against those horses and win tonight is pretty special,” said French of the Oldenburg gelding by Crumbie. “I never dreamed that he would win this. I just thought this would be a good class to go in for experience and see how he did, and he ended up winning the whole thing. Having started him from the beginning makes it more special.”
In the first round, said French, “It felt like one of those rounds, like when I rode Rumba the first round in [USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals], that everything seemed to go really well. He felt like he jumped well, and all three sets of judges thought the same thing.”
French and Babylon were no strangers to the winner’s circle on Wednesday at Capital Challenge. The pair earned a tricolor in the Green Hunter 3’6” Section A, as well as the EMO Best Professional Trip of the Show with a score of 92, and the Leading Hunter Rider. French has also been successful in the WCHR Professional Challenge in previous years, having won it in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
“I’ve always had good luck at this horse show; it’s always been a good show for me,” commented French. “I think this is the best show there is for the hunters with all the special classes and awards they give that showcase the owners, the horses, and the riders. Sometimes the owners and riders don’t get all the recognition. It’s nice coming here where we get a lot of recognition for all the hard work that we have done.”
Second place in $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge went to Scott Stewart and Gochman Sport Horses LLC’s Catch Me. The pair received a score of 87.75 in the first round and the highest second-round score of 93.66, for a total of 181.41. Victoria Colvin and JT Farm’s Gabriel earned a third place ribbon with scores of 89.66 and 88.08 for a total score of 177.74.
The overall Grand Hunter Championship title, sponsored by RBS Farms, Inc., Rob Bielefeld, and Chrystal Knight, went to John French and Babylon, owned by Marnell Sport Horses. French received the Janet Polk Read and Margaret Hough Sabbatini Memorial Trophy, donated by The Goguen Family. The Leading Hunter Rider Award, sponsored by the Gibson Family and Shadyside Farm was also awarded to French. Holliday Ryals was awarded the Professional American Style of Riding Award, while Jared Depermentier won the Developing Professional American Style of Riding Award, both sponsored by Bill Rube.
Grand Champion Green Hunter 3’6”, sponsored by Memorial Park Hunters, was received by John French and Babylon. French and Babylon were also awarded the Grand Green Hunter Champion, sponsored by Carleton and Traci Brooks of Balmoral. Scott Stewart and Dr. Betsee Parker’s For Always earned the Grand Champion Conformation Hunter, sponsored by BJ Meeks, Pablo Perez, and Kenny Wheeler. French piloted Babylon to a score of 92 in the Green Hunter 3’6” division to earn the Best EMO Professional Trip of the Show. The Tribute Award, sponsored by Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley of Rivers Edge was also received by French.
French is one of six riders qualified for Friday night’s WCHR Pro Finals, presented by The Rein Family, along with Scott Stewart, Victoria Colvin, Amanda Steege, Jimmy Torano, and Geoffrey Hesslink.
Final Results: $25,000 WCHR Pro Challenge, presented by The Gochman Family
Round 1/Round 2/Final
1 BABYLON JOHN FRENCH
95.00 89.33 184.33
2 CATCH ME SCOTT STEWART
87.75 93.66 181.41
3 GABRIEL VICTORIA COLVIN
89.66 88.08 177.74
4 LASKANO JIMMY TORANO
88.16 89.00 177.16
5 PRIVATE I MICHAEL BRITT- LEON
87.08 88.50 175.58
6 MTM LE CADEAU HOLLIDAY RYALS
86.33 86.66 172.99
7 CARISTO SAMANTHA SCHAEFER
85.83 86.16 171.99
8 FERRARI ELIZABETH BOYD
84.41 86.33 170.74
9 NECOFINO CAROLINE WILLARD BRILES
85.91 84.83 170.74
10 BOND GEOFFREY HESSLINK
85.95 83.33 169.28
11 TRADITION PATRICIA GRIFFITH
83.66 85.33 168.99
12 M MONROE JULIA ROSE ROSSOW
85.75 82.16 167.91