Edited Press Release
The Lugano Diamonds Split Rock Jumping Tour (SRJT) made history Saturday night at the Kentucky Horse Park with one of the largest purses offered in hunter competition in the first-ever $150,000 Hunter Grand Prix, presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Group. As riders looked to qualify throughout the two weeks of the Split Rock Hunter Jumper series, it was ultimately thirty-six horse-and-rider combinations that took to the premier class where Chris Payne paved the way as the best of the night aboard Reign, owned by Still Water Farm LLC.
SRJT Founder and President Derek Braun looked to bring a jumper vibe to the hunter world, complete with music playing and a brand new shortened format as the scores came in quickly and the rounds were fast-paced. The track built by well-known designer Skip Bailey spanned across the entirety of the Rolex Stadium and consisted of just ten fences where riders began with a triple bar and included a two-to-two-stride triple combination. Scoring was awarded from five different judging panels with the highest and lowest scores dropped so that all scores were rivaled on a three-score median. It was also unique in that the judges were only given a related distance for the triple combination and riders were rewarded for the ride that they felt was the best fit for their horse.
Riders earned qualification by winning Champion or Reserve Champion honors in a 3’6” or higher division which welcomed junior, amateur, and professional riders to equally vie for top prize money. With $25,000 of the purse initially awarded based solely on finishes in the first round, competition was fierce from the start. Kelley Farmer and Emma Vandenhouten’s Meaningful delivered an impressive round to lead with a score of 271 while also earning the sought-after position of the last to go in round two.
The second round of competition saw the top-12 riders return with the cutoff marked at 256 points. Athletes returned in reverse order, however, the new format saw all combinations embark in the second round on a completely clean slate.
First to soar to the top with an impressive score was Victoria Colvin and Mastermind as the fourth pair in the order of go. Colvin scored a total of 264 points after laying down a solid round that the judges rewarded, with her median score being 88. Her lead would hold for the following five trips, all of which chose to tackle Bailey’s course with a unique style to showcase their horses’ best abilities, rather than riding a set track.
Greg Crolick and Chappy, who returned to the Rolex Stadium after winning the 2021 $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the SRJT Hunter Jumper Classic II, would soon take the lead from Colvin by seven points. The pair would be one of the only combinations to take the inside turn from fence one to two. However, their lead wouldn’t be held for long, as Payne and the 9-year-old stallion, Reign, were next to enter the ring and rode their course in a more classic style than the previous contenders.
“The judges said they weren’t going to hold it against you if you’re not handy,” Payne commented. “They basically said ‘do what is going to make your horse look the best – whether that is handy or not’. Some people’s horses get a little sharper in the handy, but my horse is lovely across the ground and is a stunning mover. I really took my time on the course and cantered around at a nice gallop to let him just jump some amazing jumps. I thought that plan would showcase him in the best way possible.”
Second place on the hunter podium was claimed by Farmer and Meaningful, who delivered a striking second handy-style round to score just one point behind Payne with a 275. Nick Haness and Brianne Tsakopoulos’ Jenkins also utilized a forward pace and traditionally handy techniques to earn an equally close and impressive score of 274 to round out the podium.
Payne continued, “My two weeks at Split Rock have been amazing. I show here in Kentucky a lot. Derek [Braun] puts so much energy into this and really makes an effort to make it a special show and an exciting one. I really appreciate that. It’s like being in a new place and you feel appreciated and like you’re getting something back.”