Saugerties, NY - Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist McLain Ward, of Brewster, New York, and Goldika 559 made quite a splash during their first week at HITS Saugerties, beating out 41 other horse-and-rider combinations to capture the blue in the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, on Friday afternoon at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.
Friday's feature class was designed by International Course Designer Marina Azevedo of Campinas, Brazil, which saw an overwhelming 17 pairs advance to the jump-off for the opportunity to take home the win.
"This is my first time building on the East Coast, I usually go to California," said Azevedo, who has built courses at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California. "The show grounds are lovely and the footing is very good. We had quite a bit of rain on Thursday, and I thought the ground was excellent today. The Grand Prix arena reminds me a little of the arena in Thermal, it's nice and big. There are a lot of really good horses and riders here, so it's been very interesting to build for them. There were a lot of young horses and riders in today's class, so I had to make sure to build for that. It was a good class that will help to prepare the horses for Sunday."
"I thought it was a good class with quite a large starting field, which made it very competitive," said Ward. "The footing was excellent and the improvements to the show grounds are quite nice, which is obviously reflected in the growing numbers and entries at the show. I think the Course Designer did a good job building to the mix of horses and riders in the today's class."
Azevedo's first-round course featured 13 efforts, including a triple at fence seven as well as a combination at fence 12, which saw the first three riders of the class unable to secure a clear effort. Christine McCrea, of East Windsor, Connecticut, on Baloubet Junior Z, owned by Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables, was the first team to produce a clear round.
At the end of the first round, Jeffrey Welles, of Brewster, New York, on Armani, owned by Abigail Wexner & Triton Ventures Farm Inc.; Todd Minikus, of Loxahatchee, Florida, on Romy, owned by Diamond Group; Federico Sztyrle, of Sagaponack, New York and Asgard 17, owned by Crossfire LLC & The Estate of Christian Wolffer; Hillary Dobbs and Udento VDL; Anne Kursinski and Samara; Laura Chapot and Tsarin; Addison Phillips, on her own Teirra; Christine McCrea once again on Twisther, owned by Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables; Laura Bowery-Falco and Epir, owned by The Epir Group; Andrew Bourns and Gowran Park; Ward once again on Miel D'Amaury, owned by Gabby Stone; Margie Engle, of West Palm Beach, Florida, on Hidden Creek's Pamina L, owned by Hidden Creek Farm; Anne Kursinski, of Frenchtown, New Jersey, and Shibumi, owned by Carol Hoffman & Market Street; and Katie Dinan on Amoroso, owned by Grant Road Partners, would round out the elite group in the jump-off.
First to show in the Strongid® C 2X Stadium for the jump-off was last Sunday's second-place winner Welles aboard Armani, who set the pace with the first double-clear effort of the day in a fast 39.809 seconds. Welles would ultimately finish again in second place.
Welles' lead would remain untouched for the next three trips until Ward and Goldika 559, owned by McLain Ward & Blue Chip Bloodstock, took the field, gracefully taking over the lead in 38.24 seconds, a time that incredibly would go untouched.
Following Ward, three of the remaining 12 trips went clean, as Szytyrle, Kursinski and Dinan tried to chase the Great American Time To Beat; however, none were able to overtake Ward's pace and he ultimately received the blue and $7,500 in prize money.
"The jump-off was fast, luckily I have Goldika  who has a lot of experience and is very fast," said McLain. "We need three more classes to become eligible for the Pfizer Million and hopefully we'll have won enough prize money to make the cut for that class."
Rounding out the top five were McCrea on Baloubet Junior Z in third, Kursinski on Shibumi in fourth, and Phillips and Teirra in fifth. Ward also finished 12th aboard Miel D'Amaury.
The win marked Ward and Goldika 559's second of the season at HITS as the pair traveled to Thermal, California during the winter and placed at the top of the $30,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, during DC III. Ward now has $21,600 in prize money on his leading horse, Goldika 559, and five of the eight Grand Prix classes needed to become eligible for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix. Welles also has five of the eight Grand Prix classes needed to become eligible for the Pfizer Million and $22,500 in prize money on his leading horse, Armini. The road to the Pfizer Million prepares for it's next stop at HITS-on-the-Hudson III in Sunday's $125,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health. Also, Purina Mill's will be hosting the popular Purina Mills Kids Day from noon to 2pm.
$10,000 Brook Ledge Open Welcome
Earlier in the week Welles and Merlin, owned by Noel Love Gross, won the $10,000 Brook Ledge Open Welcome, after having bested a field of 25. Second place went to Engle and Hidden Creek's Lonesome Boy, owned by Hidden Creek Farm, while third went to Hillary Dobbs and Udento VDL, owned by The Dobbs Group.
In order to qualify for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, a rider must compete in eight or more HITS Grand Prix classes. The top 40 riders, based on money won by horse/rider combination, will be eligible to ride for the Pfizer Million. For more detailed information on the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, please visit our website at HitsShows.com.
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 will take the industry to new heights when it hosts the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties on September 12.
For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit www.HitsShows.com.
$25,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health
PLACING HORSE OWNER RIDER PRIZE MONEY RD 1 FAULTS JO FAULTS JO TIME
1 Goldika 559 McLain Ward & Blue Chip Bloodstock McLain Ward $7,500 0 0 38.240
2 Armani Abigail Wexner & Triton Ventures Farm Inc. Jeffery Welles $5,500 0 0 39.809
3 Baloubet Junior Z Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables, Inc. Christine McCrea $3,250 0 0 41.114
4 Shibumi Carol Hoffman & Market Street Anne Kursinski $2,000 0 0 41.550
5 Teirra Addison Phillips Addison Phillips $1,500 0 0 42.603
6 Amoroso Grant Road Partners Katie Dinan $1,250 0 0 43.100
7 Hidden Creek's Pamina L Hidden Creek Farm Margie Engle $1,000 0 4 40.390
8 Twisther Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables, Inc. Christine McCrea $750 0 4 40.410
9 Asgard 17 Crossfire LLC & The Estate of Christian Wolffer Federico Sztyrle $750 0 4 40.665
10 Indigo Gladewinds Farm Inc. Margie Engle $500 0 4 40.690
11 Romy Diamond Group Todd Minikus $500 0 4 42.370
12 Miel D'Amaury Gabby Stone McLain Ward $500 0 4 42.830
Photos: McLain Ward and Goldika 559 in the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, at HITS Saugerties. ©ESI Photography.
Jeffery Welles and Merlin win the $10,000 Brook Ledge Open Welcome. ©ESI Photography.