Saugerties, NY – Forty-three horses and riders took a shot at the big prize money in the richest show jumping grand prix ever held, but when the dust cleared, the big winner was the phenomenal Sapphire, ridden by leading American show jumper McLain Ward. Sapphire and Ward took home $350,000 of the prize money. The top 20 to finish all got a piece of the financial pie.
The 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare and Olympic veteran showed why she’s a superstar. She was one of only two to go clear in the first round of competition. The other was another great mare, Athena, ridden by Charlie Jayne, resulting in a jump-off round of only two. Sapphire and Ward went clear in the jump-off, Athena and Jayne knocked a rail. They finished second overall, worth $200,000.
The $1 million Pfizer Grand Prix, held September 12 at the HITS-on-the-Hudson show grounds, set a record for prize money in a single competition. Riders who made the cut to compete had been working to qualify at HITS competitions during the past year. The roster of riders included many great veterans of the show jumping world, among them Margie Engle, Anne Kursinski and Todd Minikus. Joining them were some top young riders still gaining show jumping experience, including the youngest of the bunch, 17-year-old Katie Dinan of New York riding Amoroso and 18-year-old Jessica Springsteen riding Vornado van den Hoendrik.
It was a challenging course by designer Steve Stephens that literally landed several riders in the dirt, all at the triple combination. Stephens said he “rode every one of those horses today. It was exhausting.” After seeing Jayne knock down a rail in the jump-off, Ward said his strategy was to go fast. “I figured I’d give myself two chances to win.” Sapphire is an experienced international competitor and she knows her job, but Ward admitted to a slight bit of pressure. “There was a lot of money on the line.”
Jayne wasn’t the least bit bothered by his second place finish noting that even second-place prize money “Is a lot of money. I’ve never competed for that much prize money in my life.”
When asked if the Pfizer Million will be held again next year, HITS president Tom Struzzieri said he is hopeful and that he and they main sponsor, Pfizer Animal Health will “regroup and see.” Kristin Ruff, senior equine marketing manager for Pfizer, was also hopeful, but noted the best part of all is that all the horses finished on a healthy note.
Photos: McLain Ward and Sapphire; Charlei Jayne and Althena and McLain's victory gallop! Photo Credit: Shannon Walker