Thermal, CA - February 4, 2011 - Charlie Jayne and The London Group's Athena showed exactly why they finished second in last year’s Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix when they took top honors in Thursday's $31,000 HITS Welcome Classic, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California.
Jayne (Elgin, Illinois) and Athena are newcomers to the HITS Desert Circuit. They were the best of the 41 horse-and-rider pairs that challenged International Course Designer Bernardo Cabral's (Lisbon, Portugal) first-round track and the nine pairs that advanced to the seven-obstacle jump-off. The atmosphere in the indoor arena was electric as an enthusiastic crowd lined the tent on all sides, including a raucous group that watched from the beautiful Charles Owen VIP Club.
"I came to Thermal for a couple of reasons," said Jayne. "I was so grateful to HITS and the sponsors for last year’s Pfizer Million that I wanted to come here and try to get a head start on qualifying for this year’s class. I really loved being in Saugerties. The hotels and restaurants were great and the facility was very horse friendly. There isn't much not to like about Saugerties."
"I also wanted to prepare for this year’s World Cup," added Jayne. "I believe this indoor arena provides riders with the best practice anywhere in the United States."
Shortly after Jayne and Athena went clear, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum made it around Cabral's first-round track clear aboard Richard Michaels' Kismat 50 to ensure there would be a jump-off. At the conclusion of the first round, Gabriella Salick (Thousand Oaks, California) and her own Centuria 2, Karl Cook (Woodside, California) and Signe Otsby's Uno de Laubry, Chris Pratt (Lake View Terrace, California) and Indigo Farms' Cruise, Duncan McFarlane (San Ramon, California) and Simone Coxe's Mr. Whoopy, Helen McNaught (San Ramon, California) and her own Caballo, Susan Hutchinson (Temecula, California) and El Dorado 29's Cantano each joined Jayne, who also qualified Alex Jayne's Slyvester for the jump-off.
"I really wanted to get eight to 10 clear," said Cabral. "I got nine and I was very happy with that. The horses really jumped well tonight, they really seem to love the indoor arena. I think the lighting in the ring is great. There were no shadows anywhere."
Once Cabral and his all-star ring crew adjusted the fences for the jump-off, spectators settled back in to watch a horse race over fences that featured some of the top equestrians in the world. Jayne and Athena kicked things off, going fast and clear in 32.89 seconds to set the Great American Time to Beat . When the class was complete, that time would prove to be unbeatable as Jayne collected $9,300 in first-place prize money.
Next to show in the jump-off round were Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, another Desert Circuit newcomer who rides under the German flag, and Kismat 50. Michaels-Beerbaum, who is a three-time World Cup Champion and 2010 WEG Team Gold Medalist, took her best shot at Jayne and Athena's time but came up just short stopping the clocks in 36.41 seconds to finish in third place.
After the class, Michaels-Beerbaum raved about HITS Thermal. "I just got here a few days ago and it has been super so far," she said. "I really like the footing. I am looking forward to bringing along some nice young horses this circuit and am excited about working with some fantastic students."
Michaels-Beerbaum also noted that she would like to qualify for the Pfizer Million. "If I am fortunate enough to qualify, we would certainly consider coming back to the United States for it. We heard lots of positive feedback in Europe."
One of Michaels-Beerbaum's students, Gabriella Salick challenged the jump-off round next aboard her own Centuria 2. They made it three clear rounds in a row crossing the timers in 40.52 seconds to land in fourth place.
Karl Cook and Uno de Laubry failed to continue the string of clear rounds when they had eight faults on the course to finish in sixth place. Jayne returned to the track aboard Sylvester and finished with 10 faults which place the team in the number eight spot.
Canada's Chris Pratt and Cruise took a stab at Jayne and Athena's time coming all the way home clean in 36.01 seconds. Their effort was more than .03 seconds slower that the winning combination so they had to settle for a second-place finish in Thursday night's feature class.
Two more Pfizer Million veterans followed and tried to catch Jayne. McFarlane and Mr. Whoopy had one rail down and finished in fifth place, while McNaught and Caballo voluntarily withdrew from the jump-off and ended up in ninth place.
Sitting in the enviable last-to-go spot was Susan Hutchinson aboard Cantano. The duo had eight faults and finished in seventh place, as the early pace set by Jayne and Athena proved to be untouchable.
Action for the High-Performance riders at HITS Thermal continues on Saturday night when the indoor arena hosts the $50,000 Strongid C 2X Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, for the first of this season’s four FEI World Cup Qualifiers. On Sunday, the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, caps of Desert Circuit II as Grand Prix riders continue to shoot it out for a spot in the second-annual Pfizer Million.
HITS, Inc. produces high-quality, international-level hunter/jumper horse shows. Based in upstate New York in the village of Saugerties, HITS has been producing shows since 1982 and is now a nationwide company with world-class circuits in California, Florida, Arizona, New York and Virginia. In 2010, HITS took the industry to new heights when it hosted the first-ever Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix. HITS will once again offer the most innovative weekend in show jumping history in 2011 when it hosts the second annual Pfizer Million and the inaugural Diamond Mills $500,000 3'3" Hunter Prix Final, September 10 -11, at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.
For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit www.HitsShows.com. Stay connected with HITS, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!
$31,000 HITS Welcome Classic, presented by Pfizer Animal Health
PLACING HORSE OWNER RIDER PRIZE MONEY RD 1 FAULTS JO FAULTS JO TIME
1 Athena The Athena Group Charlie Jayne $9,300 0 0 32.98
2 Cruise Indigo Group LLC Chris Pratt $6,820 0 0 36.01
3 Kismet 50 Richard Michaels Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum $4,030 0 0 36.41
4 Centuria 2 Gabriella Salick, LLC Gabriella Salick $2,480 0 0 40.52
5 Mr. Whoopy Simone Coxe Duncan McFarlane $1,860 0 4 36.49
6 Uno de Laubry Signe Otsby Karl Cook $1,550 0 8 33.21
7 Cantano El Dorado 29 Susan Hutchison $1,240 0 8 34.71
8 Slyvester Alex Jayne Charlie Jayne $930 0 10 43.92
9 Caballo Helen McNaught Show Jumping Helen McNaught $930 0 VW
10 Green Sleeps Vioco Horseworks etc Inc. Mark Watring $620 4
11 Transmission Richard Neal Richard Neal $620 4
12 Georgia 181 Lead Partners Lindsay Wendt $620 4
Photos: Charlie Jayne and The London Group's Athena on course in Thursday's $31,000 HITS Welcome Classic, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California. © Flying Horse Photography.
HITS' Senior Vice President Tony Hitchcock congratulates Charlie Jayne after winning the $31,000 HITS Welcome Classic, presented by Pfizer Animal Health. © Flying Horse Photography.