Scott Stewart & Sara Taylor Top Scorecards in 2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship

The finale of the 2019 Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship took place at the Kentucky Horse Park on Thursday afternoon, with champions crowned in both the 3’/3’3” and 3’6”/3’9” sections. After leading the first two days of riding, Scott Stewart held onto his top placings to capture the win in the 3’/3” section with Dr. Betsee Parker’s Sandstone, while Sara Taylor and Ingrid Avera’s Noah emerged victorious over the larger fences to clinch the 2019 title for the 3’6”/3’9” group.

Scott Stewart and Sandstone. Photo by Phelps Sports

Starting on equal footing with a blank slate, horse-and-rider pairs were offered one final opportunity to showcase their abilities over Bobby Murphy’s 11-effort course, which featured one option fence near the end of the track. Riding fourth in the order of go in the 3’3” section, Nick Haness and Reese’s, owned by Gail Ellis, set the initial standard for the championship round with scores of 84, 85 and 87 for a total 256 points to take the early lead. After 21 competitors, fence heights were bumped down to the 3’ height, with Haness still holding the leading position.

It wasn’t long until Stewart entered the ring aboard Sandstone to jump to the lead following a standout round that was awarded scores of 85.5, 86 and 88 to earn a total 259.5 points. Stewart and the 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding effortlessly made their way around the course, utilizing Sandstone’s jumping style to nab the highest scores of the section. With Stewart’s victory, he brings his total win tally at the flagship green hunter event to four, after winning the championship in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Scott Stewart and Sandstone. Photo by Phelps Sports

“It is great. He was really good all week and they were all so close,” Stewart commented. “Sandstone is a little more experienced [than Mayflower] and he is pretty steady about everything. I saw the horses starting to spook at [fence two] so I made sure to walk by that one. He rode really nicely and I thought he was good. [This year] he is a little physically stronger. Last year we didn’t have very long to prepare so he wasn’t as physically fit. He is definitely a little better condition this year.”

Following Stewart’s round a few trips later, Chris Payne and Northernside LLC’s Solitude entered the ring ready to challenge his score. Although Payne and the 7-year-old gelding put in a near flawless round, they fell just short of Stewart’s tally with a total of 258.75 points. Payne and Solitude ended the day with reserve champion honors. Stewart also claimed third place aboard Dr. Betsee Parker’s Mayflower with a total score of 257.25. Ultimately capturing fourth place was Haness and Gail Ellis’ Reese’s with 256 points, followed by Jeff Gogul and Roberts Stables LLC’s Count Me In in fifth position with a total score of 253.50.

Later in the day, the 3’6”/3’9” section took to the ring for their second and final round of competition. With their singular qualifying round taking place earlier in the day, the top 30 horse-and-rider combinations returned to the ring to vie for the top honors, this time in a handy round format. Murphy’s track presented challengers with two three-sectioned option fences that could be jumped in either direction and a trot jump, as well as asked for a hand gallop to the final effort. Throughout the class, only four duos competed over the 3’9” obstacles, with the rest contesting the course at the 3’6” height.

Second in the order out of the returning 30, Amanda Steege and Cheryl Olsten’s Lafitte De Muze served as the early pathfinders with scores of 84, 87, 88 for a composite score of 259 to take the early lead. Steege and Lafitte De Muze’s score would hold for the first half of the class, but was ultimately surpassed by Taylor and the 9-year-old Warmblood, Noah, who turned in an exemplary performance to the tune of scores of 88, 90 and 91 for cumulative marks of 269, the highest score in one class over the entire championship from either division. Though the latter half of the teams tried to usurp the leaders’ from their status, none were able to match their efforts, solidifying Taylor and Noah as the 2019 victors in the 3’6”/3’9” section.

Sara Taylor and Noah. Photo by Phelps Sports

“I couldn’t speak for a long time because I was so excited,” said an excited Taylor. “It feels amazing. It just flowed all the way around. He was with me every step of the way and it was almost like he was having just as much fun as I was. I really liked the course, but I was really lucky to be on Noah.”

With a total score of 260.75, Patricia Griffith and Callie Seaman’s Diamante earned the reserve honors, while Steege and Lafitte De Muze finished in third position in the standings. Fourth place was claimed by Courtney Lenkart aboard Lori Mathews’ Alisto boasting a score of 258, and Liza Boyd rode Who’s It, owned by Bridget Hallman, to fifth place with 255.80 points.