A week ago, Kelli Cruciotti missed her Skype graduation from online high school because she was riding in a competition. That paid off Thursday night, when the 17-year-old became the youngest winner of the Sapphire Grand Prix at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. The Grand Prix dates to 1978.
"I've always dreamed about doing a class like this in front of as many people," Cruciotti said. "To have such a great result is a dream come true."
Cruciotti, of Elizabeth, Colo., riding her own Chamonix H, took home the $30,000 prize with a time of 38.678 seconds.
Michael Hughes, an 18-year-old from Goshen, N.Y., riding MacArthur, was a beat behind Cruciotti and finished second in 39.498. Devin Ryan of Long Valley, N.J., riding Cooper, finished in third after completing the final round in just over 40 seconds.
Maggie Jayne, a 30-year-old rider from Elfin, Ill., rode The Answer to victory in the Hunter Derby. Jayne earned $25,000 for The Answer's owners at Pony Lane Farm in Illinois.
"I think my goal was just to have a nice round," Cruciotti said of the Grand Prix. "I didn't really have any expectations. I made the jump-off and, again, I didn't have much to lose. It's amazing to win at a show, win a Grand Prix, and to win a show like this is just unbelievable."
Seven of 28 horses made the jump-off, finishing the first-round course in less than 78 seconds and cleanly clearing each jump. Many horses had trouble getting through a triple jump near the end of the first-round course, either knocking down rails or pulling up short of the second jump.
Course designer Michael Vaillancourt said he was surprised that horses pulled up in front of jumps in the triple combination, but he did not think the crowd's being right next to it played a role.
"A good horse will perform better under a crowd like this, there's no question," Vaillancourt said. "A really good horse, when it walks into the ring, it senses that atmosphere."
The course didn't include a triple jump for the jump-off. But it did come down to a sharp turn before a double at the end of the round. Cruciotti rode the turn best, directing Chamonix H into the double jump to close in on the win.
"I was wide at the double," Hughes said of that turn, "and a bit wide everywhere."
In the Hunter Derby, Elizabeth Boyd, riding Sterling, used a turn she said "seemed nearly impossible" to jump eight riders in the standings and temporarily claim first place.
But Boyd's total score of 360 fell short of second-place finisher Jennifer Alfano, riding Miss Lucy, and Jayne. Jayne used a 195-point final round to edge Alfano by four points.
"I was just kind of waiting to see what everyone else did," Jayne said, "just to be smooth and handy as I needed to be."