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Top names, top money at HITS AIG Million

Special to the Horsetrader - April 7th, 2016 - Show & Event News

THERMAL — Two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward and Sagamore Farms’ Rothchild, rose to challenge a top-notch field of 33 riders, including Ocala’s 2015 Great American Million winner Charlie Jayne, to claim a prestigious victory by going double-clear on a challenging course in the first Jewel in the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping, the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on March 20.

It is Ward’s third HITS Million Grand Prix win, the first coming with his long-time partner Sapphire in Saugerties in 2010 and the second in 2012 on Antares F.

The 2016 HITS Desert Circuit was in its final week of the season as an electric crowd descended upon HITS Desert Horse Park to witness the grand finale of the winter show circuit. A large spectator crowd filled the grandstand, as well as a sold-out VIP club and thousands more viewing a live United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Network webcast.

“I try to be fair to everyone, and a Grand Prix of this magnitude should have a sense of achievement,” said course designer Alan Wade of Ireland in regards to his 17-effort course built for both the seasoned competitor and Million new-comer. “The distances for the most part are straight forward but whether you jumped clear or had a rail, I want riders to walk away feeling like they learned something or their horse learned something.”

“The course shows what a genius Alan is,” ward said after the win. It was straight forward in some areas, tricky in others. HITS always has new and innovative jump material every year — it keeps the sport interesting and keeps the horses’ and spectators’ interest up. I love coming out here to show at HITS Thermal.”

Faults were spread evenly throughout the first round with both a tight time allowed of 87 seconds and a few navigational tests on course. A combination near the in-gate ending with a wide oxer followed by a left turn that came up quick to another oxer provided many faults as well as the last jump, the tall AIG liverpool heading toward the in-gate. Only three in the talented field would go clear to advance to the jump-off: Ward and Rothchild, Charlie Jayne and Chill RZ, and Jonathan McCrea and Aristoteles V.

Charlie Jayne of Elgin, Ill., returned first. The 2015 Great American Million Grand Prix winner and the big-strided Chill RZ, owned by Maura Thatcher and Alex Jayne, had taken third in the 2015 HITS Thermal Million. This year, they soared through the course, jumping clear, but were unable to leave out a stride in two of the option lines.  They put down a quick, fault-free round in 39.829 to set the tone.

“I’ve been in the up position a few times before and I knew I needed to be quick with McLain following me,” said Jayne. “He’s a fast rider and has a faster horse. Things didn’t go exactly according plan — I was planning six strides from jump two to three, but I caught the angle and had a bit of a shift. I just had to put the pressure on being fast.”

Going next, Ward and Rothchild, were eager for a “bit of revenge,” as McLain would later say admit after coming in second to Jayne in last year’s Great American Million in Ocala, Fla. He and “Bongo” took the challenge, as the fiery chestnut zoomed through course at his naturally fast pace.  They clocked in with a blazing, fault-free 37.648 to steal the lead from Jayne by nearly two full seconds.

“I’ve made the mistake with [Rothchild] before where I hold back and try to ride more conservatively to back into the win,” said McLain of his jump-off ride. “I knew Charlie wasn’t as fast as he could be and a few of his stride options didn’t show up, so my plan was to ride a quick round without taking massive risks.”

With Ward topping the leaderboard, Connecticut-based McCrea  and Aristoteles V, owned by Candy Tribble and Windsor Show Stables, clocked in fault-free, but their time of 40.410 was not fast enough to edge out Jayne and Ward on the leaderboard, putting them third.

“It was a great class, and we of course have the super sponsor AIG for four years in a row now which is extraordinary,” said HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri.  “We thank them for that amazing support. It was a great way for us to finish the Desert Circuit.”

All of the top three HITS Thermal Million riders and their horses traveled to Ocala, Fla., the following week for the second jewel of the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping, the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix on March 27. Ward and Rothchild (sixth) and McCrea and Aristotoles V (ninth) finished in he Top 10.

More online: Http://bit.ly/1604A_HITS.

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