John French and Paradigm Win the 2023 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals

John French and Paradigm. Photo by Sydney Jones, courtesy of Phelps Media.

Edited Press Release

Leading from wire to wire, John French and Meredith Lipke’s Paradigm put in a repeat performance of yesterday’s Classic Round win, laying down a practically flawless spectacular performance in tonight’s final Handy Round to take home the coveted Overall Championship honors for Section A of this year’s Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. The Overall Reserve Championship went to the Meridian Farm, LLC entry, Drumroll, with Geoffrey Hesslink in the irons – the pair also won the Tier II Overall Championship. Rounding out the top three were Daryl Portella’s Laskano and Jimmy Torano, riding out of Wellington, FL.

The 2023 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship Handy Round got underway in the Rolex Stadium Saturday evening with Section B (Tier II) going first, followed by Section A, which was comprised of the top thirty riders from yesterday’s Classic Round. Called back in reverse order of lowest to highest Classic Round score, yesterday’s top four took to the stage for the Handy Round just as the sun was setting. Under the bright stadium lights, fourth place Classic Round finishers Brian Feigus and
Magic Moment, a Redfield Farm/Emil Spadone entry, laid down a beautiful trip with a couple of little mistakes that put them just out of the ribbons. Worthy of note, Magic Moment has only been in the country for about ten days and Feigus only sat on him for the first time yesterday! Next up was Cheryl Olsten’s Lafitte de Muze and Amanda Steege, who had an unlucky rail, a rarity for the unbelievable jumping Lafitte. That left it down to yesterday’s top two – French & Hesslink.

Geoffrey Hesslink picked up a gallop and never looked back, laying down an exceptional trip on Drumroll for Meridian Farm, LLC earning scores of 92.75 and a pair of 98’s, plus high options, for a 300.75 Handy Round score – that, coupled with yesterday’s 298.25, came to a grand total of 599.00. That set the bar high for yesterday’s winners and last to go – John French and Meredith Lipke’s Paradigm would need to score at least a 298.25 to win. They did just that. French and Paradigm’s exceptional trip embodied everything a Derby win should be – grace, scope, style, pace, handiness and overall brilliance. Receiving scores of a 97.50, 95.75, and 93.25 gave them a 298.5 tonight, a 599.25 overall, and the Overall Championship title by .25 of a point. What a class, what a horse, what a ride

Tonight’s finish was the second 1-2 finish for Hesslink and Meridian Farm, LLC’s Drumroll this week as they also took home Overall Reserve Championship honors and Tier II Overall Championship honor in the 3’6″-3’9″ section of the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Incentive Finals on Thursday. Under the lights of Rolex Stadium tonight, Hesslink and the 2014 Holsteiner gelding by Diamant De
Semilly laid down a spectacularly beautiful Handy Round to take home both the Tier II (Section B) Overall Championship and the Section A Overall Reserve Championship.

Drumroll and Hesslink’s partnership is relatively new, “Drumroll came to us in mid June,” Hesslink shared, “He met us at the Traverse City Horse Shows during the WCHR week. The timing did not work out for me to show him in any regular or practice classes during the week, but Kelly Mullen, John Roper and Liza Towell – who have trained him over the past two years – all said, ‘If there is a horse to
trust, it’s him.’ Knowing how confident and talented he is, I entered him in the $100,000 Midwest Hunter Spectacular where he went beautifully to win. Having that be our first outing together gave us a lot of confidence in each other and was such a special way to start my time with him.”

Speaking into how rare it is to have a horse that is both a Division winner and a Derby winner, Hesslink said, “I have been lucky enough to ride some amazing horses in my career. Drumroll is definitely one of those horses, the feeling he gives you is indescribable. He is a true winner and tries to win every time he enters the ring. I think the most important quality in a horse is their desire, and he gives it his all 100% of the time. He is a less is more type of guy, he knows how to do his job perfectly so I just try to stay out of his way. It is hard to find a horse that can be successful in both the normal Hunter Divisions and the Derbies and special classes, but he always rises to the occasion. I am so grateful for the opportunity to ride a horse like him.”

For Hesslink tonight held a bit of déjà vu as he had an identical result with Cadoretto in 2017, “I showed Cadoretto in the 2017 USHJA International Derby Finals where we finished second in Section A and won Section B, just like this year. It was very special to come back here and repeat such a great result on a new horse. Derby Finals is the most important and special hunter event of the year and I look forward to it every time. It has a special feeling and a way of bringing out the best in horses and riders, which I think is so special. My horses always seem to rise here and show off their best efforts.

The courses and jumps are normally different and more impressive than we see the rest of the year so it’s exciting for both the riders and the horses to see a change. I hope to compete in Derby Finals for many years to come.”

Geoffrey Hesslink and Drumroll. Photo by Hillian Eberlein, courtesy of Phelps Media.

Walking into the ring tonight, “Drumroll knew it was go time,” Hesslink said, “He was immediately impressed and really used the atmosphere to his benefit. He jumped absolutely out of his skin, it took me a second to get comfortable and get into the groove. The first part of the course happened quite quickly so I just tried to stay present and give him the support he needed. He just gets in the groove and gives you so much confidence. The course was relatively straightforward, so I tried to make sure I stuck to my gallop and stayed neat. He walked up to the oxer in 8 strides after the split rail, which I believe was the only horse to do that all night. His scope and stride are on another level!”

When asked about the evolution of his career and how his experience this year with Drumroll differed from that of 2017 with Cadoretto, Hesslink said, “When I competed with Cadoretto I put a lot of pressure on myself. I was much younger and less experienced at the time. I really wanted to prove myself and show how special my horse was. He was only six years old at the time, and had only done a few derbies. This year, I knew Drumroll was more than qualified and capable, and I was much more relaxed knowing I had already won a big night class on him. Honestly all I wanted to do was stay out of his way and give him the ride he deserves. He loves a big gallop and a loop in the reins, so this class and this ring were made for him!”

For full results and additional information on the 2023 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Derby, please visit here.

Original press release courtesy of Phelps Media/Kentucky Horse Shows.