Saugerties, NY - For the first time in the history of the HITS Winter Circuits in Ocala, Florida; Tucson, Arizona; and Thermal, California three extraordinary Hunter events took place at nearly the same time on Saturday night and awarded $40,000 in prize money from coast to coast.
The Devoucoux Hunter Prix, a two-round Hunter classic, was by far one of the most exciting classes on the schedule this winter and the ticket for riders looking to earn their way to the debut of the historic Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final that will take place September 10-11 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York. The Devoucoux Hunter Prix drew a record number of entries at the HITS Winter Circuits in Ocala, Tucson and Thermal, as Professionals, Amateurs and Juniors were overtaken with Diamond Mills Fever!
Saturday night marked the final trio of Devoucoux Hunter Prix Qualifiers for the winter show season, as the first group of eligible riders emerge, with scores more who are still hungry for their next chance to qualify.
$10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix – Ocala, Florida
Amateur rider Ellen Toon was invincible on Saturday night when she captured the win in the $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix aboard her own Invincible. They had the high score in both rounds, topping a starting field of 67 riders who navigated the course designed by Doug Russell of Ocala, Florida.
“I don’t have a lot of experience in these types of classes, so I’m very happy with how well I’ve done,” said Toon of South Salem, New York, who placed second in the $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix the week before. “These classes have been really fun to do. The courses are great and the [Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix] Final sounds very exciting. It’s something that I’m very interested in and I’ll be in Saugerties this year, so hopefully I’ll qualify.”
Saturday night’s class was held under the lights in the majestic Main Hunter ring with an enormous and energetic crowd that packed the Overlook VIP Club, plus every available inch surrounding the area.
“I applaud Tom [Struzzieri] and the HITS Management Staff,” said Trainer Diane Carney of Telluride Farm in Hampshire, Illinois. “The enthusiasm in the sport for Hunters has grown tremendously with the creation of the [Diamond Mills $500,000] Hunter Prix Final. I think the 3’3” height is perfect for this type of event. The majority of the Hunter industry jumps 3’5” or lower, so at this height it’s the best opportunity offered anywhere in the country if you’re trying to bring along young horses.”
Carney went on to share, “HITS has always added to the industry and I’m glad they’ve designed this event with their own specs in mind. They’ve done a fantastic job with this class tonight; the footing in this ring is about the best in the country, the courses have been decorated beautifully, they’re more challenging than your basic Hunter course and clearly, the exhibitors love it. The entries have been outstanding and I know many top professionals who are taking it very seriously to qualify this year. A Prix for Hunters is exactly what the industry needs.”
Second place was awarded to last week’s $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix winner and current top spot holder in the preliminary Diamond Mills Rider Rankings, Mary Lisa Leffler of Brooksville, Maryland and Zivago, owned by Wilder Mountain Farm, LLC. Third place was awarded to Jane Gaston, who also had a victory in the Devoucoux Hunter Prix earlier this season in Ocala, aboard her own Lumiere. Rounding out the top five was Junior Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, Maryland who finished fourth on Ruth Douglas’ Promo and fifth on The Manhattan Mortgage Co., Inc.’s Covert Z.
Leffler has four of the five qualifying classes needed to become eligible and currently has a comfortable lead in the preliminary Rider Rankings with 351 points. Junior Hasbrouck Donovan and professional Megan Edrick each have their five Devoucoux qualifiers. Donovan is in third place with 201 points, while Edrick has a hold on fourth place with 178 points. Other Ocala exhibitors in the top 10 of the preliminary Rider Rankings include Jane Gaston of The Plains, Virginia, as well as Ellen Toon, and Cathy Inch of Chelmsford, Ontario, Canada
$5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix – Tucson, Arizona
About an hour after the Ocala Devoucoux Hunter Prix got underway, 1,700 miles to the west, exhibitors and spectators at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson were settling in for their season’s $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix finale. Brian Post of Phoenix, Arizona set a beautiful course with an elegant flow and some fantastically decorated jumps.
Janine Weatherby of Bellevue, Nebraska rode her own April to the victory after scoring a total of 158.
“Brian Post sets great courses that are always beautiful and different, and he did a great job today,” said Weatherby after the class. “We’ve been here for two weeks and, like always, had a wonderful time. Even though the shows were a little smaller than usual, the competition was still tough. We were in second place going into the handy round and the gal who was leading at the time had a little trouble, so we were able to pull ahead.” Their score of 82 in the second round would seal the win.
April is the daughter to Weatherby’s Grand Prix stallion Lieutenant Kije and just started showing last year at HITS Arizona in the baby green hunters. “She’s a great horse. Last year was her first time competing and this season we are doing the First Year Green and the Devoucoux Prix with her. She really loves this horse show and we are so excited that she’s finally old enough to compete. It was a great win. In fact, my entire group had a great circuit this year and we can’t wait to come back!”
Alexa Skonieczny of Tucson, Arizona finished second aboard her own Nickelodeon, followed by Hillary Schoelzel of Englewood, Colorado and Catherine Schoelzel’s Simone in third. Fourth place went to Tess Carter also of Tucson and her own Carat, while Amanda Clute of Littleton, Colorado rode Nicole Clute’s Ruff N’ Roadie to the fifth-place finish.
Weatherby who operates Phoenix Equestrian Center in Nebraska with her husband, also has her eye on the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final. “We’ve talked about our schedule for the summer and we’re looking at the possibility of making it to some more HITS shows in order to qualify. I’ve been to Saugerties as a visitor, but never as an exhibitor, and it’s a nice place so I would love to show there.”
Weatherby and April are one of four horse-and-rider teams from Tucson that made their way onto the preliminary Diamond Mills Rider Rankings. Joining them in the rankings are Gretchen Lof of Cave Creek, Arizona; Mark Mead of Longmont, Colorado; and Susie Straus of Tucson, Arizona.
$25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix – Thermal, California
A few hundred miles west at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California the Grand Finale for Hunter riders took the stage and saw John French ride Oscany Inc.’s Clooney to the top prize in the $25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix.
French and Clooney were the top horse-and-rider team to show over course designer Rian Beals’, of Saugerties, New York, first-round course and the top 15 pairs that returned for the second round as a spirited crowd cheered from the White & Company Private Client Group Hospitality Tent.
French’s triumph marked the second consecutive week that he has won the feature class for Hunters. Last Sunday, he piloted Jessica Singer’s Cruise to the top placing in the $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix. This time around, he rode Cruise to a second-place effort as the Woodside, California native captured the top two spots in the class. Taking third place was Jenny Karazissis of Calabasas, California aboard Tonia Cook Looker’s Forbes.
After the class, the buzz around the ring was all about HITS Saugerties and the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final. “It’s great to finish the circuit on a strong note,” said French. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to compete for the biggest prize in hunter history.”
“Hopefully, three of us from Sonoma Valley Stables will be heading to Saugerties,” said Hope Glynn, who is near the top of the preliminary Diamond Mills Rider Rankings. “I will be going with my students Avery Hellman and Erin Bland. Both Avery and Erin chose to put their emphasis on the [Diamond Mills] Hunter Prix Final this season rather than Indoors.”
“Our family from the East Coast and our family from the West Coast are all planning on attending to cheer us on,” added Glynn. “We already have a block of rooms booked, and we are so excited!
Taking fourth place in the class was young professional Nick Haness of Coto de Caza, California aboard Carolyn Mittler’s Havana, and rounding out the top five was Avery Hellman of Kentfield, California aboard her own Roccoco.
The top-five placing riders from the HITS Desert Circuit who are automatically eligible for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final are Haness, Glynn, French, Bland, and Hellman
With the Winter Circuit Qualifying period for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final in the books, now all eyes turn to the East Coast for the HITS Culpeper and HITS Saugerties spring and summer show series. HITS Culpeper and HITS Saugerties will both offer a $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Qualifier each show week from April 20 through September 4, providing 12 more opportunities for riders to claim their place at the world’s richest Hunter Final! For more information about the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final please visit HitsShows.com.
Devoucoux, makers of fine French saddles, is proud to be the title sponsor of each and every qualifying Hunter Prix leading up to this year's phenomenal Diamond Mills $500,000 3'3" Hunter Prix Final. The Devoucoux Hunter Prix will be a featured event at all HITS horse shows this season as riders from around the country set out to qualify for the historic Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final, which will take place September 10-11 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.
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!
Photos Ocala: Ellen Toon and Invincible on course in the Saturday night $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at HITS Post Time Farm in Ocala, Florida. © ESI Photography.
Lisa Engel of HITS presents the awards, a beautiful silver engraved tray and a cooler courtesy of Judy's Tack Shop, to Ellen Toon and Invincible after they took first place in the $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix. © ESI Photography.
Photos Arizona: Janine Weatherby and April on course in the $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit. © HorseInSport.com
Julia Dotoli of HITS presents the awards to Janine Weatherby and April for their win in Saturday's $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit. © HorseInSport.com
Photos Thermal: John French and Clooney on course in the $25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California. © Flying Horse Photography.
Tony Hitchcock of HITS presents the awards to John French and Clooney after their first-place finish in the $25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at the HITS Desert Circuit. © Flying Horse Photography.