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THERMAL — In a thrilling contest that came down to the final seconds of the jump-off, Mandy Porter of Encinitas took Plum Creek Hollow Farm’s Con Capilot to victory in the $50,000 EMO Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, bringing the first week of competition at HITS Desert Horse Park to a heart-pounding conclusion.

Porter topped Enrique Gonzales on his own Quilebo Du Tillard after the Mexican rider had been sitting comfortably in first. In a dramatic turn of events, Porter advanced to first, riding next-to-last among 32 starters and last to go in a jump-off of 12.

Canadian designer Danny Foster’s course had 13 jumping efforts that included lots of tight turns and combinations.

First up in the jump-off was Gonzalez riding Criptonite, laying down an early Great American Time to Beat of 41.22 seconds. The next two – Helen McNaught of San Ramon and her own Caballo, and Canadian rider Tammie Phillips of Strathmore, Alberta, on her own Lerche 37 – both upped the ante until Gonzalez returned with a redeeming ride on Quilebo Du Tillard. They ended in second in a time of 40.64 seconds.

Canadian rider John Pearce of Bermuda Dunes and Forest View Farms’ Chianto were faster, at a blazing 39.68 seconds, but a rail put them out of contention. There would be no clear riders under 42 seconds for the remaining rounds until Porter and the Plum Creek Hollow stallion shaved .3 seconds off Gonzalez’s time.

“They went really fast in the jump-off, I felt, and I have to admit, I was really nervous because I haven’t done many big tracks for speed recently,” said Porter. “I was developing this horse, so while I’d go fast, I rated it to what I thought the horse was ready for. Today, I felt he was ready.”

Porter has ridden Con Capilot for Plum Creek Hollow Farm’s Nancy Gooding since he was seven. The horse took its eighth year off due to injury.

“But he matured that year too,” said the rider. “He just turned 10, and he is really coming into his own. He is super careful, so I know I can push him to be quick. Every time I challenge him he tries really hard to answer the question and answer correctly,” said Porter. She admitted that the mantra she played in her head through the jump off round was, “Be like Rich Fellers! Be like Rich Fellers! Just keep galloping!”

For his part, Gonzalez said he does not plan to campaign the 9-year-old Selle Francais for World Cup Points, but instead hopes to make the 2014 World Equestrian Games team.

“I think this is going to be a very important grand prix horse, and I don’t want to rush,” he shared.

The $50,000 EMO Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, was the second opportunity Desert Circuit I participants had to qualify for the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach. There are 13 additional qualifiers during Desert Circuit weeks II-VI. A Wildcard Grand Prix during week VII presents the only possible way to earn a spot without qualifying, when the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix takes place March 17. Riders need to compete in a grand prix at no less than four shows during Desert Circuit weeks I-VI to be eligible for that mega class.

On Saturday, German rider Markus Beerbaum dominated the grand prix ring, taking the blue in the$15,000 Level 8 Jumper 1.45m class, riding Copernicus Stables’ Lancero. Josephina Nor Lantzman of Del Mar placed second on her own Chello Z, and Max Dolger of South Pasadena finished third on Colette Pelissier’s Cyrielle de la Velle CH.

The $5,000 PCHA Jimmy Williams Classic, also on Saturday, saw Wild Turkey Farm’s Ultima V and Soenke Theymann of Wilsonville, Ore., take first place. Brazil’s Eduardo Menezes claimed second on Quintol Mercedes Benz, owned by Sarita Hank. Third went to Jill Humphrey on Alicia Jonsson Foster’s Zubliem.

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