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Ferrell Negotiates Late Entry Victory at 2006 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular for 10th Anniversary Celebration

Diana De Rosa

“Wow, this feels really good. I think I am still in shock,” said a proud Sandy Ferrell, Bernville, PA, after negotiating Sarah Chovnick’s “Late Entry” to win the 2006 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL on Saturday evening, February 18. A record crowd witnessed the 38-year-old professional negotiate the seven-year-old, bay Hanoverian gelding to their first Hunter Classic victory. Started in 1997, the Hunter Classic was celebrating its tenth anniversary.

In the first round, Ferrell was “a little conservative” to the first jump but when “he felt great” she knew they were “good to go and it felt really good after that.” Their first round score of 86.687 put them fourth behind Socrates, ridden by Addison Phillips (87.5); Pamela Polk on Fiyero (87.5) and defending champion Louise Serio aboard Costello (87.062).

After Ferrell negotiated a second round “that felt fabulous,“ Ferrell knew that Late Entry who “has all the talent in the world was on it tonight.” That talent showed through when the judges awarded them a second round score of 87 that only Take Away, ridden by Jack Hardin Towell, Jr. could surpass (87.5). Their two round total of 173.687 put them at the head of the class. Costello was second (172.812), Take Away and Towell stood third (171.5).

When it was all over and Ferrell and the others had a chance to reflect on the evening, they kept talking about what fun the night was. “It’s exciting. It’s pretty overwhelming,” commented Towell.

“It’s fun because the people are here to have a good time. The riders have arrived at the fun part,” explained Geoff Teall, American Hunter-Jumper Foundation (AHJF) president noting that once the riders had qualified it was time to “go for it all.”

“Out on this field there’s no slowing down, you have to risk it all and take a shot,” commented Ferrell.

“You have to do that – you have to go for broke,” added Serio.

Ferrell had been a part of Last Entry’s life for many years even though he was a recent purchase for Chovnick. “I knew from the beginning he had the potential to be a great horse,” she said.

“He has such a classic hunter style – the nose and ears,” explained Teall.

Towell was riding Take Away for the first time, thanks to owner Cortie Wetherill. “I knew he’d done it before,” explained the junior rider. In fact, Take Away was second in the 2005 Hunter Classic Spectacular. His second mount, Blink, a six-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding “is green,” explained Towell. In the first round he got a little deep on Take Away to the first fence and his score of 84 placed him seventh. “I knew I had nothing to lose because the worst I could do was eighth.”

For Costello it was a coming home party. “Costello loves the field. You don’t worry about him spooking. He has such good scope, you know you have a chance,” said Serio about the seven-year-old, Selle Francais gelding.


The starting field of 33 horses each jumped at their respective showing heights of 3’6”, 3’9” and 4’. The horses were judged by four teams of two judges. Each team of judges gave one score and then the four scores were averaged for a final round total. The eight horses with the highest points then returned for a second round, which was then added to the first for a final tally.

In addition to the class winners a number of special awards were given out during the evening as a result of accomplishments achieved by the riders throughout the week. The Marylon Alexander Memorial Award went to WCHR Adult Amateur High Score Rider (89) Christina Serio. High Score honors went to Holly Orlando (95) in the Professional division, Teri Kessler and Sheila Motley (90) in the Amateur-Owners, and Junior rider Addison Phillips (95). The Leading Hunter Riders were Phillips and Orlando. The Mia Palambella Grooms Award went to Will Guy. The Grand Junior Champion for the Lyrick Trophy went to Who’s On First ridden by Phillips.


It wasn’t just the competition it was also the atmosphere and the crowd that makes this event so special. “It’s the biggest crowd we get for hunters,” noted Ferrell.

“I’m always in awe of this week,” added Serio. “What it has done for hunters … we’ve brought it up to a whole new level.”

“I’m proud of it,” added Teall. “It has a life of its own and the Foundation continues to deliver. We (at the AHJF) are not going to sit back. We are going to push forward to see what we can do next. And it’s great to know that there are so many people willing to get behind it.”

“The non-supporters are few and far between. The AHJF now has a solid level of respect in the business,” added Serio.

Those who witnessed the success of that evening can attest to this. Ten years ago having a huge crowd come out to enjoy an evening of hunter competition was unheard of. Yet this evening there was not a piece of grass or a chair left empty. That crowd surrounded the arena on the grassy hillside and in the many tents. The focus of attention was the Jockey Club Pavilion which housed a sold out fundraiser. Over four hundred hunter enthusiasts enjoyed a connoisseur meal, champagne, and caviar while models from Graff Jewelers showcased an array of fine jewelry. Guests could also choose items from the Silent Auction in between watching 33 of the nation’s finest junior, amateur and professional riders test their skills against the JP Goddard, Aiken, SC, designed course, while announcer Kenneth Kraus (joined by Teall) introduced the riders as they tested their skills against the course.

Goddard explained that he “just wanted a nice open flowing hunter course and left some options.” His goal was that the veteran horses and riders could challenge themselves while the “greener horses weren’t forced into doing anything.” The second round he designed as “very open, very gallopy. I left room for riders to show off their horses.”

In designing the course JP welcomed the large open grassy Internationale Arena for designing a bold course. “The only thing that was challenging was not knowing the lighting.” Since this was his first time doing this, he couldn’t tell where the shadows would fall until that night.

The AHJF makes a point of “bringing in a unique course designer for this week, not one that was there designing the courses during the previous week,” explained Michele Perla, Executive Director.


The AHJF was formed in 1992 because of the need to support and reward hunter riders and horses. The AHJF is a member-supported non-profit organization formed to further the development of the sport of show hunter competition by providing a national office to organize, coordinate and support hunter rider and show jumping equestrian competition. Programs of the AHJF include the World Championship Hunter Rider Awards, the AHJF Emergency Relief Fund, AHJF Educational Programs, the AHJF 401k and Profit Sharing Plan, and the AHJF/Dover Saddlery Junior Hunter Challenge. The AHJF also hosts the Legacy Cup (which this year will take place May 10-21 at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show in Lexington, KY) and the Monarch International Show Circuit Magazine Professional WCHR Finals (which takes place October 6 in Upper Marlboro, MD and last year was won by Serio).

For their victory, Ferrell and Late Entry won $12,000 and after that was subtracted from the total purse of $45,200 the money was split between the remaining 11 riders and the top four professional riders. Ferrell also won a CM Hadfield’s H20B Saddle from Hadfield’s Saddlery, which is made out of water buffalo, the Dark Continent Perpetual Trophy courtesy of Jim Green, a custom jacket by Personalized Products and a cooler donated by Grazing Field’s Farm, Inc.

In addition first through sixth places received leather halters and seventh through twelfth got leather shanks. Ginny Edwards, Upperville, VA, the trainer of Ferrell, won a check for $1,000. Archie Cox/Brookway Stables sponsored the “Groom’s Award” check of $500, while second through fourth place trainers and grooms split $2,100. Cruz Lopez groom of Nairobi ridden by Morgan Thomas received the Mark R. Gregory Memorial Trophy for Excellence as the best conditioned and turned out horse in the first round. Sarah Chovnik/Prime Time Stables received the Graff Trophy of Excellence.

Ferrell also won the “Let’s Dance Trophy,” which was established by the AHJF in 2005 in honor of friend and horseman Eugene R. Mische for his support of the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular which is annually held at his horse show and on his showgrounds.

It is with the support of Mische and Stadium Jumping that this event has become so important to the hunter sport. “This is an amazing event,” explained Perla. “I look at the evening from the inside out. On that night, when all is said and done and we are ready to start I look around and am in awe. It takes so many pieces to put this together but in the end it all works like clockwork and a lot of that is thanks to Gene Mische and the staff of Stadium Jumping.”

It is because of the efforts of stadium jumping and the entire AHJF staff that Ferrell and the hunter community has the fortune of having such a prestigious event to compete in. Ferrell voiced what everyone in that class knew, that once you qualified “You are a winner already.”

The AHJF has kept its promise to the hunter community and “does what it’s supposed to do,” added Ferrell. “It showcases the hunters and this is our grand prix!” Those at the AHJF feel they now have the palette and the painting in place and the future goals are to “take what they have and make their programs and events even better,” concluded Teall.

For information about the Hunter Classic, the AHJF or its programs, contact the AHJF at 335 Lancaster Street, West Boylston, MA 01583-0369, call 508-835-8813, fax 508-835-6125 or email

Photo Caption: Sandy Ferrell and Late Entry win the 2006 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular on February 18, at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL.
Diana De Rosa Photo