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Hap wins No. 99

Halftime in the desert as Hansen takes Archie Bunker to GP victory

Special to the Horsetrader - March 1st, 2012 - Show & Event News

THERMAL – With the opening half of the 2012 HITS Desert Circuit officially in the books, trainers, riders, owners and horses are enjoying a much deserved week off. Entries are up and the sport of show jumping on the west coast appears healthy and active this year.

The facilities at the HITS Desert Horse Park continue to mature and impress, as thousands of exhibitors have flocked to the warm, sunny climate of the Southern California to escape the cold grip of winter.

HITS’ signature classes continue to draw excitement and interest as riders all over North America are abuzz about this year’s Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix and $250,000 HITS 3’ Hunter Prix Finals. Once again, all eyes are on Saugerties in September.

Grand Prix Highlights: Hap Hansen closes in on an impressive career milestone after a victory in Sunday’s $30,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health

Hap Hansen brought the crowd to its feet in the Oasis Club during Desert Circuit III when he rode Linda Smith’s Archie Bunker to the blue ribbon in Sunday’s $30,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health.

Hansen, who is one of the most winning Grand Prix riders in the world, scored his 99th career triumph before a boisterous crowd that gave him a rousing ovation for his efforts.

“It was pretty cool to have everybody standing on their feet cheering for me,” said Hansen. “It’s such a good feeling to have your friends behind you.”

Hansen was one of 26 starters to take to the field on Sunday afternoon and one of four who advanced to the jump-off. Florencio Hernandez of Mexico designed a challenging course that seemed to use every inch of the outdoor Strongid® C 2X Stadium with some wild twists and turns and three double combinations.

The first clean ride came early at the hands of Elizabeth Gingras of Edmonton, Alberta and her own Avensis and after that, 14 starters failed to follow Gingras’ lead. It wasn’t until Hansen and Archie Bunker entered the ring that the dynamic shifted. The pair left all the rails up and ensured the crowd a jump-off. Two trips later Michelle Spadone of Lake Worth, Florida joined them with a clean ride of her own aboard Red Field Farm’s Coco.

Three trips later, Olympian Will Simpson of Thousand Oaks and Monarch International’s Acorina were the next and last pair to join the group advancing to the jump-off.

In the jump-off, Gingras followed her flawless performance from the first round with another clean effort. She and Avensis stopped the clock in 45.620 seconds to set the Great American Time to Beat. Her glory would last only a few moments as Hansen and Archie Bunker maneuvered the course with ease and managed to shave more than three seconds off the pace to set the new leading time at 42.254 seconds.

Spadone was up next and also went clean, but her time of 43.723 seconds wasn’t enough to take the lead away from Hansen, so she had to settle for second place. Simpson was last to go but had a rail down at the third fence and finished the class in fourth place with a time of 56.546 seconds and four faults.

After the class, Hansen was soaking it all up. “I would like nothing more than to win my 100th at Thermal. I have so many good memories here. Sunday was my first Grand Prix since July when I broke my leg so I was just hoping for a good round. This was more than I expected.”

If Hansen is going to get his 100th victory at HITS Thermal he’ll have plenty of chances to do so, as the second half of the circuit will offer eight more Grand Prix classes.

“I certainly have the horse for it,” said Hansen. “Keep your fingers crossed for me.”

Hansen is one of seven different riders to cash in on a Grand Prix victory during the first half of the season. Canadian Olympic Silver Medalist Jill Henselwood was the first to capture a win at Thermal this year when she edged out Great Britain’s Helen McNaught in the opening $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, during Desert Circuit I. Two days later, McNaught was the one standing in the spotlight when she captured the $50,000 EMO Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, aboard Alison Heafey’s Lariccello.

During Desert Circuit II it was Rich Fellers, Francie Steinwedell-Carvin and Josephina Nor-Lantzman who each grabbed a victory in the $32,000 HITS Desert Classic (FEI), $53,000 Strongid C 2X CSI2*-W Grand Prix, and $30,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, respectively. Jill Henselwood returned to the winner’s circle during Desert Circuit III with a victory in the $32,000 HITS Desert Classic (FEI) and two days later, New Zealand’s Duncan McFarlane rode Simone Cox’s Mr. Whoopy to a first-place finish in the $53,000 HITS CSI2*-W Grand Prix.

PFIZER MILLION FEVER HEATS UP: Desert Circuit riders currently make up six of the top 10 riders in the rider rankings for the world’s richest Grand Prix. Thanks to her two wins, Henselwood is sitting at the top of the preliminary Pfizer $1 Million Rider Rankings. With six of the eight Grand Prix needed to become eligible, Henselwood and her leading mount, Brian Gingras’ IV Ever have amassed $34,060 in prize money won.

McFarlane, who finished second in the 2011 Pfizer Million, is currently in third place with four Grand Prix and $24,670 aboard Mr. Whoopy, while McNaught sits in fourth place with five Grand Prix and $24,215 in prize money won aboard her leading mount, Lariccello.

HUNTER SPOTLIGHT: John Bragg is usually not the bragging type, but has plenty to boast about this season at HITS Thermal. The California native won two of the three Devoucoux Hunter Prix that were offered during the first half of the circuit. During Desert Circuit II, Bragg teamed up with Stephanie Ray’s Castle Hill to earn a total score of 184 and beat out 60 starters to take home the top prize in the $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix. One week later, when the stakes and prize money were higher, they did it again earning a total score of 173 to beat out the rest of the class in the $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix.

The first victory of the season in the Devoucoux Hunter Prix belonged to New York’s Kate Considine. Riding Hannah Goodson-Cutt’s Caretano, Considine earned a total score of 170.5.

Thanks to their efforts, Bragg with 202 points and Considine with 120 points currently sit in first and fourth place in the preliminary Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final Rider Rankings. Other West Coast Hunter riders placing in the top of the preliminary standings include Joie Gatlin in third place with 151 points aboard Kistler, Hope Glynn tied for fifth place with 119 points aboard Chance of Flurries, John French in eighth place with 106 points aboard Over the Moon and Jenny Karazissis in ninth place with 100 points aboard Cornerstone.

In the hunt to qualify for the all-new $250,000 HITS 3’ Hunter Prix Final, West Coast riders are putting up some fierce competition. Six of the top 10 riders in the preliminary Rider Rankings are all HITS Desert Circuit exhibitors.

During DC II Amateur rider Emily Winkler of Long Beach, California led the way in the $1,500 HITS 3’ Hunter Prix when she rode her own horse Landmark to the blue, while last week’s props went to Junior rider Haley Giddings of Laguna Niguel, California who posted a win in the $5,000 HITS 3’ Hunter Prix aboard Cavallo Farm’s Opportunity. Winkler is currently in the number two spot in the rankings with 105 points aboard her leading mount, while Giddings sits just outside the top 10, in 12 place with 59 points.

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