SAUGERTIES, NY (September 10, 2012) – While the tunes of concert headliner Michael McDonald played in the background, McLain Ward soaked in another Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix victory last night. After riding to a win in the inaugural event in 2010 aboard the famed mare Sapphire, Ward returned to glory, this time in the irons of Grant Road Partners, LLC’s Antares F, who is fresh off the Olympic Games in London.
“With being injured and trying to qualify for the Olympics, our schedule was a little unpredictable this year, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of this class and it was a great thing to aim this horse to at the end of his year,” said Ward. “The jumps were beautiful and the course was hard. You needed a real Olympic caliber horse to jump a lot of those obstacles.”
Ward of Brewster, New York was one of three riders to produce clear rounds over Olaf Petersen, Jr.’s intimidating track. Petersen tested riders with scope, turns, distances and everything in between. The 14-obstacle course offered several options for both approaches and striding, but specifically tested riders at a one-stride to a one-stride triple combination at fence 11. He also included a four-meter wide water element and a long two-stride double combination early in the course.
“I designed this course with a scopey horse in mind, as well as a rider that could solve a lot of technical questions,” said Petersen, Jr.
With only two trips behind him, Ward rode clear, but was soon challenged when Irish rider Jonathan McCrea guaranteed a jump-off aboard Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables’ Romantovich Take One. Twenty-six rounds later, Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ontario, who also just returned from another Olympic Games for her home country of Canada, sealed a three-horse jump-off with Brian Gingras’ George.
“Ollie [Olaf Petersen, Jr.] is one of the world’s best course designers and three or four clean was our plan and I think that is just about right for a class of this level,” said Tom Struzzieri, President and CEO of HITS. “It was just great sport out there today.”
In the jump-off, Ward was the only to jump double clear and set the bar high with a time of 39.87 seconds. McCrea picked up 8 faults in a time of 44.01 seconds for third and Henselwood had a rail late in the course for four faults in a time of 45.36 seconds for second-place.
“He’s a character,” said Henselwood of her 10-year-old George, who qualified for the Pfizer Million on the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California this winter. “He has all the scope in the world and I thought I had seen the best that he could jump in London until today – I don’t know if the best course designer in the world could build something this horse couldn’t jump.”
Rounding out the top five was another Irish rider, Darragh Kerins of Wellington, Florida with a two time faults in the first round on Lisona, owned by himself and Maarten Huygens, and Brazilian Olympian Rodrigo Pessoa of Wellington, Florida with a rail in the first round aboard Pessoa Show Stables, LLC’s Winsom.
As the HITS-on-the-Hudson Pfizer Million continues to gain traction after three years of attracting the world’s best equestrians to American soil, Pfizer Animal Health hints that they are in it for the long haul.
“We are really interested in revitalizing the whole industry,” said Stuart Miekle, Marketing Director of the Equine Division at Pfizer Animal Health. “Events like this attract more people to the sport and that is why we are so invested in it.”
Patricia Griffith climbs to the top in the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final
Even with a clean slate today, Patricia Griffith of White Plains, New York once again rode her way to the top and posted a combined two-round score of 549.75 for the win in the second annual Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final. She piloted Lexi Maounis’ 10-year-old mare Sienna to number one.
“I just wanted to go out there and have a round that I could be happy with,” said Griffith of her plan. “This horse is a superstar and she deserves every second of this. She is always perfect and always quiet.”
Patricia sat in second after the first two rounds of the class, but again rose to the challenge of a new ring and a fresh start. Competition moved from the Outside Course to the vast Strongid C 2X Grand Prix Stadium for yesterday’s rounds and posed a whole new set of obstacles for hunters.
After leading the way into the third round Lillie Keenan of New York, New York chased down her trainer, but ended in second aboard Chansonette Farm, LLC’s C Coast Z with a score of 547. Keenan and Coast, as she affectionately calls him, have been together for four years and have had some big wins together.
“He knows when he is at a special event and he loves the energy end feeds of the crowd,” said Keenan. “It was really special to be able to compete against Patricia and I am really excited that she is my trainer and that she won.”
Following Keenan in third was Amanda Steege of Bedminster, New Jersey who made an impressive jump from the 23rd slot going into yesterday’s final rounds. She used zeroed scores as an opportunity to impress the judges and climb up the list of qualified riders with Lisa Arena’s Balou and a score of 538.
“He’s a little horse with a big ego and that got him pretty far today,” said Steege of the Westfalen gelding.
Matthew Metell of East Falmouth, Massachusetts and Heritage Farm, Inc.’s Pioneer were the final pair to compete in the fourth round of the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final and finished with a total score of 403 for fourth place. Rounding out the top five was Ellen Toon of South Salem, New York and her own Invincible with a score of 268 in the third round.
The Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final is now two-for-two at delivering quality hunter opportunities to junior, amateur and professional riders alike while offering unprecedented prize money. Plans are already in the works, according to Struzzieri to continue improving on the class.
“We want to keep making it better and better,” he said. “I couldn’t have been happier to see the quality of horses and riders that this class attracts and I am excited to see what next year brings.”
The HITS $250,000 Hunter Prix Final delivers serious winnings to Chiara Parlagreco
Yesterday was a big day for the state of Virginia at HITS Championship Weekend. Chiara Parlagreco of Warrenton, Virginia dominated the inaugural HITS $250,000 Hunter Prix Final with Virginia-bred The Impressionist, owned by Ainsley Treptow.
“I was nervous and he was tired,” said Parlagreco. “But I just tried to ride the same way that I have been riding. I knew that he would excel in the big ring because he has a jumper background and it really woke him up.”
Parlagreco made a horse switch earlier this week that worked to her advantage after her original mount took some lame steps while schooling. She and The Impressionist lead throughout the Final and rode to a total score on Sunday of 526 for the win.
Amy Zettler of Aldie, Virginia rode her own Glad Rags to second place with a score of 516.5. Despite admitting that, for a brief moment, she forgot the course after the first jump, she rallied and piloted Glad Rags through a picturesque two rounds.
“My goal was just to make the cut and then show off,” said Zettler. “This horse is amazing and she really taught me how to win.”
Erika Scherer of Rancho Santa Fe, California was third on Starview Farms, Inc.’s Sarentino with a final score of 504.5.
“We just don’t get to jump like this in California,” she admitted. “Once the first jump was out of the way, I knew we were going to have a good round.”
Closing out the top five was Jordyn Rose Freeman of Winchester, Massachusetts on Ann Lufkin’s S&L Play It Again with a two-round total of 487 for fourth and Lily Blavin of Tinton Falls, New Jersey aboard her own Opportunity in fifth after a first round score of 250.
After staggering support from riders, owners and trainers alike during its first year, the future looks bright for the HITS $250,000 Hunter Prix Final.
“To see Virginia and California represented in the top spots accomplishes exactly what we wanted with this class – it is a true national final that riders at this level have never seen before,” said Struzzieri. “With this kind of support, we will be back next year.”
T. J. O’Mara and Sunny Drescher ride to top honors in the Marshal & Sterling Junior Medal Final
Equitation riders went under the lights at HITS-on-the-Hudson this weekend and the all-new indoor tent welcomed Marshall & Sterling competitors to ride for the prestigious Junior Medal Saturday night. It was a big weekend for the O’Mara family – Meg won the PHA Junior Medal Friday night before her younger brother captured Marshall & Sterling honors the night after. O’Mara of Rumson, New Jersey won the B section of the final in the irons of Walstib Stables, LLC’s World Cup Van Het, while Sunny Drescher of Hinesburg, Vermont captured the B section with Banner Farm’s Sting.
“I haven’t been indoors for a while, but this class went great,” said O’Mara. “This was a really forward course and this horse has a huge stride, so it worked out really well for us.”
O’Mara posted the highest first round score of 86 and out-tested five riders for the win, while Drescher earned an 81 in the first round for a blue ribbon.
The Junior Medal Final was a prelude to this week’s Marshall & Sterling League National Finals at HITS-on-the-Hudson. Jumper, hunter and equitation riders will bring a year’s worth of qualifying efforts to ride for national championships.
For the first time ever, HITS Championship Weekend offered opportunities for a wide cross-section of riders. From a $1 million grand prix to the Marshall & Sterling Junior Medal, HITS is taking aim at being the place to find a year-end finals like no other.
“Our goal is for HITS Saugerties in September to be a premier destination for riders of all levels and from all around the world,” said Struzzieri. “This weekend proves that we are on the right track.”
For complete results from HITS Championship Weekend, please click here.