Wellington, Fla. – Dec. 1, 2017 – Jennifer Bliss wasted no time earning valuable International Derby points aboard Poker Face as she navigated Harris Hill Farm’s gelding to the top spot in the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby during the ESP Holiday & Horses CSI4* week. With horses and riders traveling to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in preparation for the winter show season, Bliss and Poker Face displayed their readiness for the ring with standout scores that clinched the championship honors, leading from nearly start to finish.
Riding the newly-introduced Hunt and Go Format, the field of exhibitors rode the typical classic round and then immediately began a handy hunter round without stopping or exiting the arena. Unveiled by the USHJA in August 2017, the new competition structure is intended to offer riders the Derby experience in an abridged format. Robbie McGregor’s derby track did not pose any significant problems for the entrants, and offered four high option fences as well as a walk test for horses and riders to display handiness and responsiveness.
As the fourth to enter the ring, Bliss and the chestnut Poker Face faced a score of 175 from the early leaders, Brent Balisky and Easy Street, owned by Thunderbird Show Stables, who had earned scores from the judges panel of 83 and 84 in conjunction with 8 high-option fence bonus points. Bliss and her longtime partner managed to edge out Balisky and Easy Street by a single point, garnering scores of 84 and 86, plus 6 bonus points, for an accrued total of 176. Subsequent contenders chased down Bliss and Poker Face, with Kris Killam and Amy Momrow and their mounts each coming within four points of the leading pair, but unable to capture the spot atop the leaderboard.
Bliss and the veteran Poker Face are familiar faces in the winner’s circle in Wellington, having competed together for seven years in South Florida and across the country. After a six-month hiatus from the show ring, Poker Face returned to the showgrounds without an ounce of rust on him, winning the $10,000 USHJA National Derby last week at the SFHJA Charity Horse Show in his return to competition, and easily following up his winter debut with top honors in Friday’s $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.
Balisky and Easy Street remained in the reserve position, followed by Killam aboard Mr. Big, owned by Barbara Fishman, with their score of 173. Momrow and Melissa Wight’s Aeroplane rounded out the top three placings with marks of 172.
Though the largest prizemoney class of the week for hunters was claimed Friday, jumper riders still have a shot at two large purses before the conclusion of the Holiday & Horses series. Saturday evening at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center will feature the highlight event of the weekend, the $216,000 Holiday & Horses CSI 4* Grand Prix Presented by Palm Beach County Sports Commission, and the $25,000 Holiday & Horses National Grand Prix Presented by Omega Alpha will round out the week’s festivities Sunday afternoon.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Jennifer Bliss – $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby champion
On her reaction to winning with Poker Face:
“I’m really excited. He’s a long-time partner of mine; I’ve had him for seven years so I just love him to death. He had a quiet summer so he’s just starting back. Last week actually was his first show in about six months and we did the National Derby with him just to get back into the horse show groove and he won that, so he’s had no trouble getting back into it. He seems really happy to get right back into the swing of things and I’m certainly happy to be getting back into the ring on him. I love this horse so much.”
On the Hunt & Go Format and the track:
“I was interested to see how it was all going to go but I thought it was fun. I think it’s going to take a little bit of getting used to but I liked it. I think the [Combined Ring 7 and 8] ring is a great, big, fun venue to show in and it’s a treat because the rest of the circuit we don’t have this ring; so I always enjoy showing in here pre-circuit. It’s a nice, pretty ring that you can gallop around in.”
On her future plans:
“At this point in his career the derbies are his main thing, so we’ll try to peak for the couple of the weeks that offer the International Derbies during WEF circuit as well as Deeridge, and he’ll do just a little bit of High Performance in between. Hopefully we can go to Devon in the High Performance as well. I have a lot of younger horses coming up and they’re always fun to bring along but it’s nice to have a veteran horse to depend on as well.”
Brent Balisky – $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby reserve champion
On the Hunt & Go Format and the track:
“I thought it was great for the first time. I think the course designer can get quite inventive with it and there can be even more challenges than this, but for the first time it was great. I think it really gets on with the day. In Canada, we have a one-round handy and we really like that. To be able show a hunter over eight or ten fences first is really ideal and to then put a little handy on, that I think is really awesome. The first part started off a little low and then it got a lot higher and the horses really had to calculate that.”
On Easy Street:
“He’s an 11-year-old Hanoverian that my wife and I own and we really like him. He was a dressage horse initially and he’s just on his way into the hunter ring. He’s a Second Year horse this year and I’m really excited to have him because I really enjoy these derbies and you need good horses to do them!”
Place / Rider / Horse / Owner / Score
1. Jennifer Bliss / Poker Face / Harris Hill Farm, LLC / 176
2. Brent Balisky / Easy Street / Thunderbird Show Stables / 175
3. Kris Killam / Mr. Big / Barbara Fishman / 173
4. Amy Momrow / Aeroplane / Melissa Wight / 172
5. Brent Balisky / Class Act / Wendy Valdes / 167.5
6. Jimmy Torano / Crush / Cawthra Burns / 162
7. Nicole Lyvere / Vaillero / Nicole Lyvere / 153
8. Megan Ghere / Lewis Hamilton / Autumn Sounds, LLC / 151
9. Kristy Herrera / Kensi / Emily Cherney / 148
10. Lia Screnci / Zoffany / Lia Screnci / 145
For more information on Holiday & Horses and other upcoming events at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, please click here.