USHJA National Hunter Derbies Take Over Hudson Valley With Professional Rider Michael Desiderio and Junior Rider Emma Woodworth for the Win

Braided manes and polished hooves buzzed across the grounds of HITS Hudson Valley on Friday, May 31, during HITS-on-the-Hudson II in Saugerties, New York. as riders prepared for the week’s $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby. Ultimately, it was professional rider Michael Desiderio and Cocolores who ended at the top of the list in both the classic and handy rounds for the overall win. 

Out of a total of 29 horse-and-rider pairs, Desiderio completed the course on four mounts and returned to ride the handy course on three of the four. 

“The course was excellent,” said Desiderio, who trains out of his family’s Tranquility Farm in Chester, New Jersey. “It flowed nicely, and I thought it was challenging enough. There were a lot of new fences which were very bright with lots of color. HITS, over the last year and a half, has raised the bar tremendously, especially with the footing, stabling, and staff. It’s a pleasure to be here and the clients enjoy coming to this wonderful facility.” 

Michael Desiderio and Cocolores. Photo by ESI Photography

Winning the derby is not a new concept for Desiderio, whose successful day at the office meant he left the arena with both the blue and yellow ribbons.

“I had multiple scenarios today with the different horses,” he explained. “One horse was one that I just rode this week, and one was a little bit younger and a little bit greener in the derbies. Then I had my two that are the steadies that I’ve had for four years, and they have both been very consistent in the derbies.”

Cocolores, a 10-year-old Warmblood gelding by Casiro I, owned by Debbie Bianco, was Desiderio’s winning mount. They dazzled the judges for a score of 95 in the first round and a 92.5 in the second for a total top score of 187.5. That put them just one point in front of Morgan Ward and Cashmero, a 13-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Morlynn Farm, who landed second with scores of 94 and 92.5. Cromwell, a 15-year-old Warmblood gelding by Mighty Magic also owned by Bianco, was Desiderio’s ride for third place. The pair scored a 93 in round one and a  91.5 in the handy to complete the top three. 

The $5,000 USHJA Junior/Amateur National Hunter Derby followed the professionals with a competitive field of 31 in the class. Claiming victory of this group was junior rider Emma Woodworth, 18, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and her own Rio D’oro. 

Woodworth has been partnered with Rio D’oro, a 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Rio de Dinero, for two years now. What began as a confidence-building duo after an injury for Woodworth has turned into a formidable combination. Now in her last junior year, Woodworth is making the most of her time with the flashy chestnut. 

“He’s my junior hunter and I just love to do the derbies on him,” commented Woodworth, who trains with Annie Dotoli and the team at Tibri Horses in Chepachet, Rhode Island. “He’s the horse I always wanted, and I’m just so, so lucky. He really is all around such an amazing horse.”

Woodworth and Rio D’oro ended with the highest score of 92 in the first round. Their score of 89 in the handy kept them at the top of the leaderboard. 

Erin Morera and Caytan. Photo by ESI Photography

“I absolutely love it here,” expressed Woodworth of showing at HITS Hudson Valley. “I get to show in the new Hunter Stadium for the junior hunters, and now I get to show in The Ring for the big derbies. I love the landscape. It’s such a horse-friendly environment; there are so many places to take them. The jumps are always beautiful, and I’m just really happy to be here.”

Amateur rider Erin Morera, 19, of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Caytan, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Morera Equine LLC, claimed second in the class. The pair scored an 89 in round one and an 88 in round two for a final score of 177. Third place went to junior competitor Aidan Kennedy, 17, of Walpole, Massachusetts, and Querly Watts, an eight-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Querlybet Hero owned by Colm McGuckian. They garnered scores of 90 and 86, leaving them with a final score of 176, just one point behind second place.

Aiden Kennedy and Querly Watts. Photo by ESI Photography

Following the Junior/Amateur Derby was the $1,000 Bit O’ Straw 2’6″ Hunter Derby won by Julia Bonvino and her horse Jalisco, a 10-year-old KWPN gelding by El Primero. The pair led the class with a score of 89. 

The $1,000 Tiny Bit O’ 2′ Hunter Derby ended the action-packed derby day. Grace Rotolo and Mapleside Magic Wish, a 20-year-old Welsh Pony Cross gelding by Maple Side Mr. Magic owned by Savannah Welch, rode to the winning honors. The competition at HITS Hudson Valley continues on Saturday, June 1, where riders will race for the blue during the $75,000 CWD Grand Prix.