After a commanding performance under the lights of the all-new Ocala Horse Properties Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd, Andre Thieme of Plau am See, Germany planned a trip home to Europe $350,000 richer. Thieme claimed his first million-dollar victory in 2011 and returned to familiar territory Monday night to take the blue in the debut of the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix with his 10-year-old Oldenburg mare Contanga 3.
"I planned my whole trip around these two $1 million classes," said Thieme after finishing 19th in last weekend's AIG $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Thermal. "I wasn't quite as lucky in California, so I was really hoping that it would work out this time. The pressure was on, but the result was perfect."
No stranger to success at HITS Ocala, Thieme was in the ribbons several times this winter on the road to qualifying for the Great American Million and capped last year's circuit with a win in the $100,000 Sullivan GMC Truck Grand Prix.
"We think of Andre as part of the family," said HITS president and CEO Tom Struzzieri. "He shows with us a lot during the winter and I couldn't be happier to give him this check - he's a great supporter of our show, so it feels good to see him do well."
Kent Farrington, who hails from Wellington, Florida, proved that Bernardo Cabral's track could be jumped from the fifth spot in the order and returned first in the jump-off. After finishing 11th in the AIG Million with Amalaya Investments' Willow, Farrington entered the Great American Million determined to climb the ranks.
In the jump-off, Farrington had the speed with a time of 44.66 seconds, but Thieme's clear round in 52.92 seconds kept him from the win. "I've never backed into a class going slow and hoping for other people to have faults," said Farrington, who was clear and impressively fast in the jump-off until a single rail fell after the double combination. "He [Willow] is a naturally fast horse and my plan was always to do six strides to that fence. If I had to do it all over again, I think I would do it the same. I think it was just Andre's night to win."
Candice King of Wellington, Florida guaranteed a jump-off from the eighth spot in the order aboard Kismet 50 for Bellissimo, LLC and Kirsten Coe of Royal Palm Beach, Florida made it three with Ilan Ferder's Baronez just four trips later. Thieme rode clear from the 24th spot and the crowd saw 26 more horses before California native Ashlee Bond Clarke and Chela LS completed the jump off field.
Thieme was the only double clear round after four jumped off, but he hadn't won it just yet. Bond Clarke was a force to be reckoned with in the last go of the five-horse jump-off. Coming off the momentum of wining the AIG Million at HITS Thermal last week, she and her exuberant mare were poised for a repeat.
"I knew there was a lot of speed coming behind me, so I definitely had to put some pressure on," Thieme said after watching Farrington, King and Coe pick up faults in the jump-off.
When Thieme watched a rail fall for Bond Clarke coming out of the double, he let out a cheer of excitement while standing at the in-gate. "I knew she [Bond Clarke] had the speed, but I realized in that moment that I won the class, and it's a big difference between first and second. Maybe I was a little too loud," he joked. "I think she realized during the jump-off that she had to give a touch more to really get me, and that's when her rail came down."
Coe found herself in the top three again this week after jumping Baronez to the same spot in last week's AIG Million. She crossed the timers in 55.87 seconds, but also picked up four faults at the fence following the combination.
"It's really a dream," she said. "Just to have these $1 million classes is amazing for our sport. Then to have my horse jump clean two weeks in a row is really something special."
King and Kismet 50 turned in a brilliant first round, but their luck ran out in the jump-off and landed them in fourth. Bond Clarke was in the hunt for two out of three in the HITS Triple Crown of Show jumping, but after two rails, she pulled up to save Chela for another day and settled for fifth place and $75,000.
Bond Clarke was one of seven riders to fly horses from California to the East Coast to compete, proving that the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping is attracting national, as well as international interest and fame.
Cabral, a renowned course designer from Portugal has seen it all from the Olympics to the highest in money stakes, but admits he still couldn't escape his nerves. "These are superstars – it was flattering to watch them jump my course," he said. "I was hoping for several clean, so five was perfect and I could not be happier with the result."
Thieme recalled that when he won the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in 2011, his goal for the prize was to build his family a home. Three years later, Thieme says that his goals haven't changed much. "I started building the house and it got way more expensive than I planned, so it's still going straight to the house," he concluded with a smile.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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