THERMAL, CA- Show jumping’s biggest stars took center stage at HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California, for Sunday’s $350,000 Sunshine Grand Prix FEI CSI-5*. Talent was not in short supply as many notable names filled the main event’s Order of Go including three of the top ten riders from the Longines FEI Jumping World Rankings – Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward. But, in front of a packed grandstand, a live webcast on HITS TV, and sold out VIP, it was 23-year-old Lucy Davis, of Los Angeles, California, and Barron, owned by Old Oak Farm, who showed them all how it’s done.
Twenty-three attempted the round one course of 13 obstacles set by Alan Wade, of Tipperary, Ireland, and four went clear to proceed to the jump-off. First in the second round order was Paris Sellon, aboard Adare, co-owned with Willow Grace Farms. They sailed over the seven obstacles with no problem and clocked in at 39.860 to set the time to beat.
“It’s hard to gauge what you need to do going first,” said Sellon. “My plan was to go double clear, to move efficiently, and set the pace. My horse moved exactly how I wanted her to and I was really happy.”
Jonathan McCrea and Special Lux, owned by Candy Tribble and Windsor Show Stables, were next to test their skills. McCrea upped the ante when he crossed the timers at 39.730 with an intact course behind him and he took the spot at the top of the leaderboard, ahead of Sellon.
“I was slightly faster than Paris earlier in the week, so I was hoping that would work again,” said McCrea referring to his strategy going into the jump-off. “I knew the two behind me were going to be very quick. I got a little lucky at the last fence - but everybody needs good luck!”
Davis, who won the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix CSI-W2* in the same HITS Desert Horse Park stadium in February, emerged from the in-gate third in the order with determination in her eyes and was ready to take home another HITS win with her chestnut mount. Speeding through the course as the clock raced, it was as if Barron had wings, flying to clear the fences. They were successful in their efforts and finished clean in a time of 38.720 for first, just a second faster than McCrea who was now in second, and bumping Sellon to third.
“There weren’t too many in the jump off so it was very important to go clear. I get overexcited sometimes but Barron saved me on the black oxer,” said Davis. “He’s naturally really fast so that was really helpful for us today.”
Davis continued giving credit to her four-legged partner. “He’s been with me for three years and has progressed a lot. Our first show was at HITS a couple of winters ago. Every time I come back and he puts in an amazing round, I’m reminded how far he has come.”
The final trip of the day was Andres Rodriguez and SF Ariantha, owned by Robert Castro, and all was in their favor for the first five fences until trouble in the combination resulted in two rails and eight total faults. They finished with a time of 38.920 for fourth place.
Sunday represented the second of five FEI classes offered by HITS this year, with another 5* slated for Thermal in February, once again reinforcing the company’s commitment to high performance riders in the United States.
“For us as riders, that’s what we’ve been craving here in the U.S. – more FEI shows – and to have more 5*’s, that’s a bonus,” said McCrea. “If show management is going to make an effort to put on these shows, we need to support them.”
HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri added, “Throughout the 2015-2016 show schedule, HITS will offer five FEI events - three 5*, a Longines World Cup Qualifier, and a Nations Cup - this is our investment in show jumping. If we, as an industry, are going to have a thriving sport ten years from now, it’s the show promoters responsibility to make the events as good as they can, to entice the situation, and to give our young riders an incentive to continue to aspire for greatness, which will ultimately promote and grow the sport.”
HITS next FEI CSI-5* event will take place Desert Circuit III, February 2-7, of the HITS Thermal Desert Circuit in Thermal, California. The HITS Thermal Prize List available online, here. For more information, please visit HitsShows.com.