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Hester hits high note with Abigail in finale

Now it’s on to Blenheim, then Europe after $25,000 Horsetrader Classic win

Special to the Horsetrader - April 5th, 2012 - Show & Event News

THERMAL— For professional jumpers, the $200,000 Lambourghini Grand Prix sits like an awaiting jewel on the final day of the six-week HITS circuit — big crowds, big jumps and big rewards. Juniors and amateurs have their own version of the “last-day gem,” the $25,000 California Horsetrader Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper High Classic, which some riders regard as a “next big step”.

Lauren Hester took her mare, Abigail, over that step March 11, winning this year’s Horsetrader Classic and getting the duo some much-deserved attention at the end of a successful HITS campaign.

The six-week circuit welcomed top trainers, riders, owners and horses from all across North America and beyond as entries swelled upwards of 2,000 horses at their peak and 12 competition rings brought non-stop action for the majority of the circuit. Sponsors, spectators and horse lovers alike turned out in droves to watch, as some of the best equestrians in the world battled it out for ribbons and big prize money.

The HITS Desert Circuit hosted 16 Grand Prix events over the course of the six-week circuit. Each of these classes served as a qualifier for the 2012 Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.

"I showed Abigail earlier in the week, and she was OK -- not fantastic," said the 24-year-old Hester, who operates Hester Equestrian out of Rancho Santa Fe with her mother, Marsha. "Joie (Gatlin) said she thought I would win the big class on her, so we gave it try and did it!"

"She's kind of crazy," Hester said of Abigail. "I love her -- I love her fight. She fights for the jumps."

Hester will show in April at the Blenheim EquiSports event, then head to Europe to compete for six months.

Perhaps the most notable HITS wins of the season came during the final week of the circuit when Canadian Chris Pratt went two-for-two aboard Indigo Farms LLC’s Cruise to take the final two grand prixes of the season, including the season finale $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix. In an exciting jump-off, Pratt went head to head with fellow Canadian John Pearce and managed to come out on top when he shaved .6 seconds off his time in a nail-biting conclusion to the season.

“Winning both today and Friday was a tremendous ending to the circuit and I couldn’t be happier,” said Pratt.

Always a crowd favorite, the grounds at HITS Desert Horse Park were dotted with Lamborghinis courtesy of Lamborghini of Newport Beach, and the setting could not have been more perfect for the West Coast’s most prized Grand Prix of the year. Some of the world’s most successful High-Performance riders went head-to-head over a $60,000 first place check before moving on to World Cup and Olympic endeavors.

Pratt hails from Lake View Terrace and was one of only four to advance from the first round into the jump-off as many horses and riders struggled to answer the puzzling questions posed by Olaf Petersen, Sr. in his 14-obstacle track. Seventeen jumping efforts included a double combination at fence eight, and a triple combination at fence 12 in front of the HITS VIP Pavilion. Rails fell at a handful of points throughout the course, but many riders found trouble at both combinations. The double was a vertical to an oxer, followed by five strides to another sizable oxer at fence 9, and the triple combination presented a tight distance between b and c to a difficult right-hand turn before fence 13.

Pearce and Chianto demonstrated speed and scope as they were first to go clear in the jump-off, setting the Great American Time to Beat at 42.760 seconds. Pratt’s rebuttal was just fast enough to earn himself and Cruise the win with a round in 42.099 seconds.

“John Pearce was awesome,” admitted Pratt. “I had the advantage to show after him and know exactly what I needed to do.”

Other riders leading the victory gallops this year included 2008 Canadian Silver Medalist Jill Henselwood, who used her time in Thermal as preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she hopes to once again represent her country and bring home another medal. Of the 12 Grand Prix that Henselwood competed in this season at HITS she ribboned in 10 of them, including two first place finishes aboard Brian Gingras’ IV Ever in the first half of the circuit.

In all, Henselwood collected a grand total of $53,230 in prize money and with 57 points earned aboard IV Ever and was named this year’s Platinum Performance Leading Grand Prix Rider for her efforts.

For the second year in a row, John French of took home the blue ribbon in the season finale $25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at the HITS Desert Circuit. Last year, French’s victory came in the irons of Jessica Singer’s Cruise, and this time around he earned the win riding Iwasaki & Reilly’s Small Affair.
French earned a top score of 89 in the first round only to steal the lead from himself after posting an 88 in the irons of Jessica Singer’s Cruise. He coupled his first round score with a second round score of 88 to win the class.

Coming off two Devoucoux Hunter Prix wins this season at HITS Thermal, Nick Haness of San Clemente rode Carolyn Mittler’s Cristiano to second place. Cristiano was one of three horses that Haness had entered in the final Devoucoux. The highlight for the young rider, however, was an impressive score of 92 in the second round on Cristiano, which combined with an 81.5 gave the duo a total of 173.5 for the red ribbon.

Haness was named this year’s Catena Leading Hunter Rider after topping the standings with 53 points earned riding Cristiano.
Seventeen-year-old junior Morgan Geller of Manhattan Beach captured top honors in this season’s R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship. Geller, riding her own Fabricio, beat out 18 other starters in the popular equitation class. Henley Adkins of Moorpark finished second, and Alicia Gasser of Scottsdale, Ariz., was third.

Geller managed to keep her nerves in check and her horse focused on the task at hand despite the distractions of night-time showing in the massive arena to earn a total score of 357 to take the win by two points over second place finisher and fellow barnmate, Adkins. Geller adds this victory to a growing list of career highlights which includes a third-place finish in last year’s R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship and an outstanding victory in the USEF Junior Hunter Championships – West in 2011.

On the final Sunday, the annual Antarès Grand Circuit Champions and SmartPak Second-Half Circuit Champions were honored in a ceremony that celebrated the achievements of equestrians young and old. Emily MacLean of Los Angeles, picked up three awards. She and Georgia Claessens’ Footnote were named champion in the Large Pony and Schooling Pony Hunters, and then picked up a tri-colored ribbon in the Pre-Children’s Hunter Horse with Annie Thomas’ Mr. Darcy.

Professional Hope Glynn of Penngrove shared the champion spotlight with her daughter, Avery. Hope and Helen McEvoy’s Chance of Flurries championed in the High Performance Working Hunter Division. Her second circuit championship came in the Training Hunter division with Diana Heldfond’s Russell, while first-grader Avery was named champion in the Beginner Equitation division.

In the jumpers, Susie Hutchison of Temecula picked up championships with SIG International, Inc.’s SIG Excel in both the Rocky Mountain Show Jumping Level 6 Jumper and the Level 8 Jumper.

Results online: http://www.hitsshows.com/

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