THERMAL, CA (February 10, 2012) – Canadian Olympic Silver Medalist Jill Henselwood came to the HITS Desert Circuit laser focused on punching her ticket to the London 2012 Olympic Games and it showed. In Thursday’s $32,000 HITS Desert Classic, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, Henselwood teamed up with Brian Gingras’ IV Ever and beat all other starters to take the top prize, a check for $10,560.
Thursday’s 16-obstacle course was set by Florencio Hernandez of Mexico and was thought to be one of the more challenging courses riders have faced so far this season at the HITS Desert Circuit. Six starters found trouble at a vertical mid-way through the course, while several others had their fate decided by the trickery of Hernandez’ 10ab combination. But like she often does, Henselwood found a way.
“This was the most technical course that we have had yet,” explained Henselwood after the class. “It was really big and the triple combination heading towards the in-gate was tough. To be successful on this course you had to have a horse with great scope.”
Henselwood and IV Ever were fourth to show in the class and the first to go clean proving that, while technical, Hernandez’ course could be cracked. Five trips later, fellow Canadian Elizabeth Gingras of Edmonton, Alberta went clean aboard her own Avensis to force a jump-off. Sarah Ballou of Grass Valley, California followed two trips later with a clean round aboard her own Absie, leading spectators to be believe that an all-female jump-off could be on the horizon with just four trips left in the first round.
Oregon’s Rich Fellers was one of the four and he had no intention of leaving it up to the ladies to decide the top finishes in the class. Riding Harry & Mollie Chapman’s McGuinness, a crowd favorite at the HITS Desert Circuit, Fellers edged his way into the jump-off with the only other clean ride in the first round.
For the jump-off, Hernandez introduced two new fences and brought back six from the first round, including the 12ab elements of the original triple combination.
Henselwood and IV Ever were up first and cruised through the course in a speedy 42.60 seconds to set the Great American Time to Beat and a pace that none of the three riders remaining would beat.
“I am looking to get on the long-list for the Olympic team,” said Henselwood. “With two wins already I think we are on the right track.”
Gingras and Avensis did their best to catch Henselwood’s pace, but fell short to finish second with a clean round in 47.53 seconds. Fellers and Ballou had four and eight faults, respectively, and finished the class in third and fourth place.
Francie Steinwedell-Carvin and Prentiss Partners’ Taunus had a fault early in the first round of the class and ended the day in fifth place with the fastest four-fault time.
After the class was complete, Hernandez shared his reaction to the win. “This was an international level class with some very technical lines and height, similar to what you’d find in Europe,” he said. “I was looking to get four or five clean, which is what I got. I think it was a good class. Jill is a great rider and she knows what she’s doing out there and it shows! On Saturday for the World Cup I’m planning some challenging turns and take advantage of the atmosphere of the indoor arena.”
Saturday’s $53,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, will be the second of four FEI World Cup Qualifiers offered this season at HITS Thermal and is sure to draw an exciting field of riders and a large crowd to pack the indoor arena. On Sunday, Hernandez will once again test riders in the $30,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health.
As the peak of the 2012 Winter Circuits approach, HITS Thermal will boast unmatched special events. Charles Owen Helmet Awareness Week is underway and runs through Sunday, stressing the importance of responsible riding. Representatives from Charles Owen Helmets will be on-hand to educate riders on the importance of properly fitted, approved riding helmets. Make sure to fill out a Charles Owen Riders’ Pledge and enter to win a free Charles Owen Helmet – winner announced Sunday, February 12.
Longtime sponsor, Arenus, will be on hand during the Arenus Focus Week and will kick off the weekend with the Arenus Rising Star Karaoke Challenge, presented by Arenus, Friday, February 10 at the HITS Bar from 6-10 pm. Awards will be presented in varying categories including Best Brand Song for the song that incorporates an Arenus product; the Charisma Award for the best effort, most entertaining and most fun performance; and the Rising Star Award for the best overall performance. Judging will be done by the crowd on the night of the competition.
On Sunday, Arenus will award its Arenus Overall Athlete Award which is presented to the horse and rider team at HITS Thermal competitions that most represents the best qualities in the sport including:
• best condition and overall muscle fitness and balance
• best natural ability and movement to perform the sport
• best attitude demonstrating enjoyment of the sport
• best effort in competing
• best connection/communication with rider in understanding and performing the sport.
• best traits including personality representing an ambassador for the sport.
In order to win, the rider and horse together need to be nominated by those casting ballots in the Show Office.
The Groom’s Award, sponsored by Odor-No-More, will be presented to the groom with the most votes. Entry forms are located in the show office. The Groom’s Award, along with the SmartPak Mid-Circuit Award will be presented this Sunday during the Parade of Champions.