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February 10, 2017

John French Alters The Plan For Derby Victory

John French set the standard with Skyhawk in the first round of the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby and couldn't be beat. Photo by Kimberly Loushin.

Thermal, Calif.—Feb. 10

As John French turned towards the final fence, he saw the distance waiting for him. Since he and Skyhawk held a comfortable lead after the first round of the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the HITS Coachella Desert Circuit IV he planned on skipping the final two high options and not take the risk. But when the distance presented itself, he knew he had to go for it.

Skyhawk rewarded him with a powerful jump well above the rails, and when the pair landed, the crowd erupted in applause. The judges agreed with that assessment, awarding them the top score in the handy round to take home the top check.

“He’s got more jump than anything,” said French. “He loves these classes where the jumps are big. He rides better when they’re big and in the second round he had a pretty good lead, so I was thinking I wasn’t going to do some of the highs and I didn’t want to take any chances.”


John French and Skyhawk. Photo by Kimberly Loushin

French started showing Skyhawk, owned by Laura Wasserman last August. They won the high performance in their first putting together at the Blue Grass Festival (Ky.) the week of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, where they were sixth in the classic round.

Wasserman also shows “Buff” in the low amateur-owners and was supposed to show today, but when the schedule looked like the class was going to at the same time as the derby she had a decision to make.

“All day I was like, ‘What should I do? Should I do him first, should I do him second? I don’t want to ruin it,’ ” she said. “We went in the first round and I looked at Archie [Cox] and I said, ‘Eh, eh. I’m not going to ruin it.’ If he has something bad in the second round and I rode him in my division, I’ll be the one that ruined it. He could have done it easy. He can go back and forth no problem. He’s such a good boy. He has the best mind.”

Seeing Buff succeed in the derby made the decision worth it, and Wasserman is looking forward to riding him in the division tomorrow.


John French took second with Center Court. Photo by Kimberly Loushin.

French also slotted into the second spot with Center Court, a Holsteiner owned by Hiller Farms LLC.

“He’s another horse that the spookier the better. He really likes these classes as well,” said French. “He doesn’t spook at anything. I was really proud. It kind of threw me off a little bit. I went up to the ring and I was supposed to go first but he’d thrown a shoe. I was getting ready to go in and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ ”

Jenny Karazissis rode two bold tracks on Undeniable to take third and French followed her with another one of his rides Soldier for fourth.


Jenny Karazissis finished third with Undeniable. Photo by Kimberly Loushin.

For the derby, course designer John Manning pulled out the dividing walls between rings 3 and 4 to create the outside course which included a small bank. the course wove back and forth across both rings and the handy included an option to jump off the bank, but only Buddy Brown and Charly Oboliensky opted to take that option.

“I think it was really fun out here,” said French. “I thought the course was great. We’ve done it a few times out in the big derby field and [Center Court’s] won out there, but I actually really liked it out here as well. I liked the jumps up on the hill and I thought John Manning did a great job with the courses.”

See additional photos from the derby here.

See full show results here.

Want more from HITS Coachella? Read about young rider Ali Ramsay who won with a special mare and pick up a copy of the Feb. 27 issue of the Chronicle.

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