THERMAL — Mandy Porter rose to the occasion against a top-notch field of 54 riders March 20 in the most popular AIG $1 Million Grand Prix class to date.
Porter, based in Encinitas, rode Milano, owned by Abigail Weese, to a thrilling finish as the second-to-last rider in a six-horse jump-off. The starting order included several prior victors of the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Desert Horse Park including 2016, 2015 and 2014 winners: McLain Ward, Charlie Jayne and Ashlee Bond.
“It’s an honor to win this class, coming into this I always hoped that this result would happen,” said Porter. “I always try to go into an event like this hoping to do the best that I can – —I think it’s great that the West Coast won this one!”
New for the 2017 class was a 1.50-meter course height and the Top 20 qualified riders had the opportunity to enter two horses into the class for a second shot at the money. Of the top three, two West Coast riders walked away with the top portions of the prize purse: Porter and second-place rider, Tamie Phillips, who rode Cristar, owned by Merle Gardner.
“My horse was just absolutely on fire today,” said Phillips. “I put down the best round that I could, and almost hung in there, but Mandy just got it in the end. It was a really fun class, I loved it.”
Third-place went to Cian O’Connor who has shown tremendous success at HITS Ocala this year in the FEI Nations Cup™ and the $100,000 City of Ocala Grand Prix. The Irish Olympian traveled west to try his luck in the desert for the first time, and his double-clear performance aboard Good Luck, owned by Adena Springs, did not disappoint.
“I’m delighted to be here — it’s my first time to be here, and I have to compliment the show organizers for setting the height at a 1.50m this year to really give people a chance to jump in a class like the Million,” said O’Connor.
A large spectator crowd filled the grandstand, complete with a sold-out VIP club and thousands viewing a livestream on HITS TV. The electric crowd looked on as the top six began their return to the Grand Prix Ring to challenge the jump-off course set by Alan Wade, of Tippery, Ireland.
Going first, O’Connor and Good Luck laid down a solid, clear trip right out of the gate, stopping the clock with all of the rails up in 43.986, a time that would hold up through the rest of the jump-off.
Phillips, of Calgary, Alberta, has been a force to be reckoned with all season at HITS Coachella, and this class was no exception. Her fault-free trip in 41.954 put her in a temporary lead.
Two riders later, Porter entered the arena with Milano, knowing what what had to be done in order to move into the top spot in the running for a $350,000 payout.
They put the pedal to the metal and took every chance they could to shave time off of the clock, which showed 41.600 at the end of the go.
Milano and Porter also showed success during the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Thermal CSI3* week with a win in the $36,400 Desert Classic win and a $25,000 FEI SmartPak Grand Prix win.
“This horse is just amazing,” Porter said of Milano. “I have a feeling this is just the beginning for him. He definitely hasn’t reached his peak and we are excited to see what the rest of his jumping career holds.”
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