Ava Barnes stands for presentation. Photo © HITS Horse Shows / Phoenix Jeannides

Hunter derby action during the first week of the Lamplight Summertime Series at HITS Chicago in Wayne, Illinois, commenced on Friday, July 5, 2024. The weekend featured a trio of derbies, beginning with the highly competitive $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby. A field of 12 skilled horse-and-rider combinations vied for top honors in the hunt-and-go format class, aiming to impress judges with a seamless performance. Ultimately, it was Ava Barnes of Manson, Ohio, who delivered the winning effort aboard Valentino.

Tom Urban designed a unique derby track that blended elements of a classic hunter round with the versatility of a handy round. Divided into two parts, each segment was scored independently, contributing to a final cumulative score. The classic portion of the course challenged riders with two high options and a two-stride combinations. Fence eight, an imposing oxer, marked the conclusion of the classic phase before transitioning into the handy portion of the course, which featured additional high options, a trot fence, and various inside track opportunities.

Ava Barnes & Valentino. Photo © HITS Horse Shows/ Phoenix Jeannides

Right in the middle of the start list, Ava Barnes piloted Valentino to a score of 173, which shot them right to the top of the leaderboard. At the end of the class, that is where they remained, claiming the victory. 

“We had a plan going in, especially enjoying the high options,” detailed Barnes of her strategy for the hunt-and-go format. “It was a really fun course overall.”

Michael Tokurak & Celebrity. Photo © HITS Horse Shows/ Phoenix Jeannides

Barnes recently took over the ride on Valentino in October. While she might have big goals for their partnership, including equitation ambitions and continued derby success, they already appear to be well on their way to achieving them. For now, Barnes has made her HITS Chicago debut a winning one.

“He’s a really sweet horse and so easy to ride,” shared Barnes of the 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Viscount owned by Rivers Edge. “This is actually my first time at HITS Chicago, but it’s a really nice venue. I definitely want to come back. It’s so fun and so pretty here.”

Danielle Urban & Galeno Tyme. Photo © HITS Horse Shows/ Phoenix Jeannides

In second place, Michael Tokaruk guided John Rutledge’s nine-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding, Celebrity, to a score of 168. Danielle Urban secured third place with a score of 160 aboard Gabrielli, Cheryl Matranga’s 10-year-old Warmblood gelding by Galeno Tyme.

Anne McLean & La Tatabra Cessna. Photo © Alison Hartwell Photography

The weekend’s hunter derby excitement continued on Saturday, July 6, with junior and amateur competitors vying for victory in the $750 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby and the $750 Tiny Bit O’ 2’ Hunter Derby. Anne McLean from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, triumphed in the $750 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby with La Tatabra Cessna, her own 11-year-old Silla Argentino gelding by Milano de Flore. Nadia Alani of Lenexa, Kansas, claimed the win in the $750 Tiny Bit O’ 2’ Hunter Derby riding April, her own 19-year-old Holsteiner/Thoroughbred mare by Lieutenant Kije.

Nadia Alina & April. Photo © Alison Hartwell Photography

The first week of the Lamplight Summertime Series at HITS Chicago proved to be a thrilling showcase of hunter derby talent, setting the stage for future competitions. Competition resumes Wednesday, July 10, 2024 with another full slate of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition.