John French Takes First, Second and Fourth in $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby

Thermal, CA (February 12, 2017): As the sun set over the mountain ridge at HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California, an eager crowd gathered to witness 36 riders and their elegant mounts compete for one of the most prestigious hunter victories, the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.

John French won the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the National Sunshine Series in November and returned to once again scoop up a Derby victory. French has been on fire this year at the HITS Coachella Desert Circuit as well, with several victories in Devoucoux Hunter Prix in the weeks leading up to the Week IV Derby. French turned out with several horses to compete in yesterday’s event, one of nine International Derby classes being offered by HITS this year.

French took home not only the winning title, but second and fourth place-prizes as well. The Californian equestrian garnered the win with Skyhawk, owned by Laura Wasserman. French’s second place mount was Center Court, owned by Hiller Farms. Center Court was the ride to win French’s blue ribbon in last November’s Derby. Fourth place came aboard Soldier, owned by Meadow Farms, LLC.

Third in the ribbons belonged to Jenny Karazissis, another seasoned athlete with a top five record in HITS-hosted USHJA Derbies. Karazissis earned third place with Undeniable, owned by Hope Town Farms.
John Manning of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, set a beautiful course in the Outside Course with 11 all natural-type hunter jumps classically decorated. A track up onto a bank with an option to jump on top of the bank or jump down the bank itself was included. The horses jumped that element beautifully, and it was an eye-catcher and spectator favorite. 

“It was very fun out here for this Derby. John Manning did a great job with the course,” said French post-victory. “I thought the course was beautiful and creative, and the jumps up on the hill were nice. I’d like to thank HITS for putting on several of these derbies with more opportunities for the hunters as well.”

Unique to the derby format, in addition to the base score, two judging panels awarded an Option Bonus Score consisting of one additional point for every higher height option fence jumped. As 12 returned for the second round, judges awarded a Base Score, Option Bonus Score and a Handy Bonus Score, assessing the handiness of the round.

The top twelve returned for the second round of the two-round derby.  French and Skyhawk entered as the final pair in the second round and opted for three height options. They earned a second-round total score of 206, combined with a first-round total score of 190 for a very high overall score of 396.

“Laura purchased Skyhawk right before Derby Finals last year, and that Derby Finals was my first time showing him,” said French. “He loves the big fences, the bigger the better. He jumps very well over the higher jumps and we find that he just really loves these types of classes.” 

French’s second place ride, Center Court, was in third place after the first round with a score of 180.  After a second-round score of 204, they took the lead until French swept the competition with Skyhawk. French chose all of the height options to land him and Center Court the second-place prize with a total overall score of 384.

Jenny Karazissis’ ride aboard Undeniable was in between French’s first and second-place rounds in the handy round. They earned a first round total of 178, combined with a second round total of 199 for an overall score of 377.

French’s fourth place mount, Soldier, owned by Meadow Farms, LLC, came back into the second round in seventh place. French opted for two bonus options and received a second round total of 188, combined with their first –round total of 173 for an overall score of 361.

Fifth place Mickie Sage and Esperance, owned by Lucky Jack Farm, LLC., would also receive an overall total of 361. The tie breaker was the panel 1 base score, where Sage received an 81 and French received an 85.

The next stop on the HITS USHJA Hunter Derby Tour for the West Coast is during Desert Circuit VIII. The East Coast USHJA Hunter Derby winner at HITS Ocala took place Saturday, February 11 and the next in Ocala will be during Week X of the circuit.
Place       Horse  Owner Rider Prize R.1 Score R.2 Score Total 
 1 Skyhawk Laura Wasserman John French $15,000   190 206 396
2 Center Court Hiller Farms, LLC John French $11,000 180 204 384
3 Undeniable Hope Town Farms Jenny Karazissis $6,500 178 199 377
4 Soldier Meadow Farms, LLC John French $4,000 173 188 361
5 Esperance Lucky Jack Farm, LLC Mickie Sage $3,000 166 195 361
6 Charly Oboliensky Jenni McAllister Buddy Brown $2,500 171 185 356
7 Lake of Stars Sabrina Hellman Hope Glynn $2,000 169 186 355
8 Canturo T October Hill Hunters & Jumpers Hope Glynn $1,500 175 173 348
9 Ninja Paul Haunert Nicole Haunert $1,500 165.25 181 346.25
10 Matador Taylor cusumano Jamie Sailor $1,000 168 87 255
11 Everglow Whish LLC John French $1,000 178.25 143 321.25
12 Category Camille Leblond Alexis Taylor-Silvernale $1,000 176 W/D 176
John French and Skyhawk on their way to a $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby win. 
John French and Skyhawk winning the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. 
About HITS, Inc.
HITS, Inc. produces high-quality, international-level hunter/jumper horse shows. Based in upstate New York in the Village of Saugerties, HITS has been producing shows since 1982 and is now a nationwide company with world-class circuits in California, Florida, Arizona, New York, and Virginia.

While hosting the richest weekend in show jumping at HITS-on-the-Hudson, HITS also formed the Triple Crown of Show Jumping. This includes the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by MortgageCall, in Thermal, California, the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in Ocala, Florida and Canadian Pacific $1 Million Grand Prix FEI CSI-5*, presented by Wells Fargo, in Saugerties, New York.

For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit Stay connected with HITS! Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Media should contact the HITS Media Team at 845.246.8833 or e-mail