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John French

John French

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Northern California resident John French riding Rumba went down in history as the inaugural winner of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s International Hunter Derby Finals held Aug. 20-22 at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Johnson Arena.

“I couldn’t have been happier with his performance; he was unbelievable tonight,” French said of Rumba. “He is very adjustable and is happy to have courses that ask more of his scope, range and handiness.”

The grey gelding came into the final competition with two back-to-back derby wins earlier in the year at HITS Thermal.

The Top 25 horses and riders competed over a classic hunter course in the finals. They were judged by four panels of judges, each of which could award an additional 10 points for brilliance. The top 12 would then move onto the third and final handy round in courses designed by Patrick Rodes and Bobby Murphy.

Jack Hardin Towell and Castello, owned by Roger Smith, got the finals started with a solid performance. But once again, it was John French and Rumba, owned by Mountain Home Stables, who stole the show with a high score of 400. French’s ride received the full set of 10 points from one panel of judges and 9 points from the other three panels.

Series champion Jersey Boy of SBS Farms and Jennifer Alfano took a commanding lead with only two horses left to go. Alfano guided the chestnut gelding through the challenging course that called for a walk to canter transition and included four option jumps set at 4 feet. The pair received scores in the 90s from judges with a total of 776, making them the team to beat.

Then, French aboard Rumba put in a smooth, clean round, taking the higher fence options. The stadium erupted in applause when French’s scores came over the loud speakers. With scores in the 90s from all four sets of judges, French and Rumba had a resounding win with 782.

Prior to the start of the finals, George Morris, one of America’s premier hunter/jumper and equitation trainers, said: “The hunter derby courses are bringing us back to tradition. We are surrounded by lovely horses and no doubt we’ll see a championship performance tonight.”

For complete show results, visit the USHJA Web site: www.ushja.org

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