Victoria Colvin laid down the gauntlet as the first to go in the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, held Saturday evening, February 15, under the lights of the International Arena at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. And after 27 other competitors tackled the Steve Stephens-designed course, none could catch the 16-year-old defending champion aboard Betsee Parker's Ovation in the one-round competition.
It turned out that Colvin's closest competitor was herself-she guided Parker's Way Cool to a close second place.
"I picked horses that are unpredictable, and I didn't really know how they were going to go when they walked in, but I was very happy with how both of them went," said Colvin. "Way Cool, I wasn't sure when I trotted in what he was going to do, but he went right around."
The 18th annual WCHR Spectacular drew 28 of the country's top professional, amateur and junior riders who went head-to-head over their respective heights of 3'6", 3'9" or 4'.
Riders earning championships or reserve championships in the 3'6" and higher rated hunter sections qualified for the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, with additional riders qualifying based on points if the champion and reserve riders chose not to compete or were pre-qualified. In addition, riders also qualified based on their 2013 performance in the WCHR national awards program.
Victoria Colvin, of Loxahatchee, FL, took command of the class right out of the box aboard Ovation, a 14-year-old warmblood gelding. Their score of 89.66 was never bested from the six-member judging panel sitting in pairs around the arena, including: Marylisa Leffler/Patrick Rodes; James Clapperton/Karen Healey; and Scott Fitton/Scott Williamson.
She was happy with an 89, but she admitted she never thought it would stick. "I thought the first [round], [the judges] wouldn't give too high of a score. I thought 89 is a good score, but it's also very beatable," Colvin said.
Colvin returned mid-way through the order with her second mount Way Cool, the gelding she rode to victory in the 2012 Hunter Spectacular that can have a penchant for untimely misbehavior. The beautiful 12-year-old Hanoverian didn't put a foot wrong on this night, and their score of 89.16 slipped into second place.
With two byes for the class thanks to previous wins, Colvin could have had her pick of horses to take in the ring for the class, but she decided on Ovation and Way Cool based on their good behavior earlier in the day during the Junior Hunter sections. Parker admitted that she didn't want either of the horses to go in the class, but was ultimately happy that Colvin remained the voice of reason.
"I kind of love the way our team works because we have a lot of back and forth between us, (trainer) Scott (Stewart) and I, and Tori and her mother. Nobody seems to have the primary voice. And tonight I really didn't want Tori to ride either of those horses, and I'm so glad the team didn't listen to me!" Parker added with a laugh.
With a treasure trove of top mounts herself, Kelley Farmer surprised some with one of her mounts for the class: a coming 6-year-old First Year Green mount named Certainty.
The name belied his performance, however, and the elegant dark brown Oldenburg gelding claimed third place with a beautiful round that earned a score of 87.50.
"From the first day we got him, he's been just as brave as can be," said Farmer. "I was pretty confident with him. With one that young and that green anything can go wrong, but I knew that he wasn't going to come in here and have a meltdown. He was great this week both days. He's got that mentality; he thinks he's too good. The only thing we did wrong was let Tori show up!"
Other special awards presented included the week's high-score honors: professional-(tie) Molly Ashe-Cawley with a 92 aboard Kennzo and Kelley Farmer with a 92 aboard Scripted; junior-Lillie Keenan aboard Soulja Boy with a score of 94; and amateur-owner 3'6"-Becky Gochman aboard Mythical with a score of 88. Developing Professional Jennifer Berol Bliss earned the Champion Equine Insurance Trophy for her high score of 88.5 in the Second Year Green Hunter section with Poker Face, owned by Harris Hill Farm LLC.
Walk This Way, owned by Susan Moriconi and ridden by Christopher Payne, was awarded the Mark Gregory Perpetual Trophy as the Best Conditioned horse in the 3'6" section. This year's Best Turned Out Award was sponsored by Shapley's, and Sally Stith-Burdette presented Manuel Martinez, Walk This Way's groom, with a gift basket of products, a $100 prize and a commemorative ball cap.
Empire, owned by David Gochman and ridden by Peter Pletcher, earned the Charlie Weaver Memorial Award as the highest-scoring Conformation Hunter after earning 87.50 points and the fourth-placed ribbon.
The 2013 Peter Wetherill Cup was awarded to Elizabeth Reilly and Chris Iwasaki, the owners of Small Affair throughout the 2013 competition year. With an impressive lifetime record of more than 102 section championships, 18 hunter classic wins and four USHJA International Hunter Derby titles, Small Affair was well-deserving of the title of WCHR Hunter of the Year.
Wetherill, who passed away in 2010, is fondly remembered as an exemplary owner and a generous philanthropist. A gift from Wetherill's Charitable Trust to the USHJA Foundation has assisted in providing continued support for a variety of Foundation and WCHR programs and initiatives.
The USHJA and WCHR offer special thanks to Meralex Farm for their support of this year's class.
Full Results $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular
Horse/Rider/Owner J1 J2 J3 Final
1. OVATION/VICTORIA COLVIN/BETSEE PARKER – 91.00 89.00 89.00 89.66
2. WAY COOL/VICTORIA COLVIN/BETSEE PARKER – 92.00 92.00 83.55 89.18
3. CERTAINTY/KELLEY FARMER/GLEFKE & KENSEL LLC – 88.00 86.50 88.00 87.50
4. EMPIRE/PETER PLETCHER/DAVID GOCHMAN – 86.50 87.50 88.50 87.50
5. WALK THIS WAY/CHRISTOPHER PAYNE/SUSAN MORICONI – 87.00 88.00 86.50 87.16
6. KENNZO/MOLLY ASHE-CAWLEY/KRISTEN ABBATIELLO-NEFF – 86.75 86.25 88.25 87.08
7. LUCKY TIMES/MEREDITH DARST/OLD WILLOW FARMS LLC – 85.00 87.00 87.00 86.33
8. GRAYON/LILLIE KEENAN/JAY GOLDING – 85.50 86.00 84.00 85.16
9. TIFFANI/LILLI HYMOWITZ/ROSE HILL FARM – 84.00 85.00 85.00 84.66
10. SOULJA BOY/LILLIE KEENAN/STONE HORSE FARM LLC – 82.00 82.00 83.00 82.33
11. COME MONDAY/TARA METZNER/DAVLYN FARMS INC – 86.00 78.00 82.00 82.00
12. FONTEYN/HAYLEY BARNHILL/JOHN & STEPHANIE INGRAM LLC – 80.00 80.00 84.50 81.50