Morgan Ward Wins $5,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby with MTM Coconut

On the heels of the $40,000 Great American USHJA International Hunter Derby, two more hunter derbies took to center stage of Hunter One on Friday afternoon. Seventeen pairings participated in the $5,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby and an equal number of junior and amateur riders then followed in the $5,000 USHJA Junior/Amateur National Hunter Derby. 

Each derby was held in the classic format which invited all competitors into the arena for their classic round followed by a handy round from the top twelve highest-scoring combinations. The afternoon featured the open derby first where young professional Morgan Ward once again took the leading call, this time aboard MTM Coconut. 

Morgan Ward and MTM Coconut. Photo by ESI Photography

Ward brought forward both her longtime derby mount Comissario as well as Ariella Gesthalter’s 10-year-old Westphalian mare (Capilano), MTM Coconut, but it was the latter that managed to achieve the highest score. Still never one to be counted out, Comissario came forward with another beautiful trip to take third in the class. 

“This is a new ride for me so I just wanted to have a good round,” explained Ward. “I only got her two weeks ago but she is just super smooth and easy; she jumps fantastic and with great expression but I think what helped me most in the first round is that her rhythm never changes.” 

While Ward has been a staple in the winner’s circle with her 19-year-old Warmblood gelding (Calido) Comissario, she has high hopes for the mare to join them in the spotlight. 

“She’s similar to Comissario in a way,” she added. “They are both a little lazy but so brave to the fences that I always know I can take a chance. I trust him [Comissario] a little bit more in the handy rounds right now because I know him better, but I think she will be a top contender in future classes right alongside him.”

Splitting the difference was Abigail Davenport’s 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Casall Ask), MTM Exceptional, and Dorrie Douglas as the pair produced an all-female victory gallop and earned the reserve honors. 

Sophia Welniak stands for presentation. Photo by ESI Photography

Junior/Amateur competition also congratulated an all-female podium led by Sophia Welniak and Denero. The pair put forward the best performance over the two rounds of competition to earn the blue ribbon and the largest portion of the prize. 

“Denero is one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden, and we’ve grown a very special bond,” Welniak gushed of the Ssam Equine LLC’s 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (De Niro). “He is amazing and incredibly smooth. 

“The course today was lovely and everything came up so nicely,” she continued. “The handy round was super fun because there were some challenging elements but it really made it eventful. I made sure to watch the open class first, especially the handy round, to know what path to take.”

Finley Mattos and her eight-year-old KWPN gelding (Diarado), Liarado J.P., jumped into second place, while Chelsea Kasper piloted her 16-year-old Holsteiner mare (Cristo), Miss Mo, into third.

Derby competition continued into Saturday afternoon as the final two junior and amateur level events took place. Maylie Gowe and Canterbury Farm’s 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Tenerife VDL), Donder, dominated in the day’s Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby. Seventeen combinations rounded out the day in the Tiny Bit O’ 2’0” Hunter Derby, presented by Mrs. Pasture’s Cookies, where Clara Mass and her own Tuck Me In once again led the final lap of honor.