Ashlee Bond Clarke of Hidden Hills, California has had her eye on Chela LS for years. The big-bodied chestnut mare was the ride of Simon Nizri before Bond Clarke purchased Chela LS in July. It was then that she realized just how special the mare, now coming 10, really was.
"In the beginning, I was overriding her, but now that we know each other a little better, she is everything I could ever ask for in a horse – she fits my style perfectly," said Bond Clarke after winning the $33,500 HITS Desert Classic, presented by Zoetis, on Thursday at HITS Desert Horse Park. The win was their second of the seven-week circuit, after clinching last week's $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, to kick off the circuit.
Riders with their eye on qualifying for the 2014 FEI World Cup in Lyons, France are prepping for Saturday's $50,000 Strongid® C 2X™ Grand Prix CSI-W2*, presented by Zoetis. With the results as evidence, course designer Olaf Petersen, Jr. presented them with a perfect warm-up on Thursday.
"When I walked the course, I could see that Olaf [Petersen] took a softer approach tonight than he usually does, which I think is key since he will surely build big on Saturday," said Bond Clarke of the course that included 12 obstacles and 15 jumping efforts.
Petersen saved the most technical element for last, with the final line of the original course including four fences – an oxer with six or seven strides to a vertical-vertical double combination, finishing with a wide oxer. "The last line was the main task for the riders," said Petersen. "The ones who executed it clear all chose to do seven strides, and the ones who did six had faults. I didn't push the limits, but made the track exciting enough."
In reference to Saturday's World Cup qualifier, Petersen was quick to promise more height. "The rails will go up, but I am hoping for really great sport again like we saw today," he said.
Of the seven-striders that Petersen referenced, four were clear over the entire course to advance to the jump-off. Owner/rider Enrique Gonzalez of Encinitas, California, but hailing from Mexico, was first clear aboard Quilebo Du Tillard, with Egyptian rider Nayel Nassar of Santa Clara, California guaranteeing a jump-off with his reigning Zoetis Million Champion Lordan. They were later joined by Mexican rider Juan Pablo Gnecco of San Jose, California in the irons of Onlyjumpers.com's User ID, as well as Bond Clarke and Chela LS.
Gonzalez returned first, but approached the incorrect fence to be off course. Nassar picked up eight faults near the end of the short course, leaving the blue up for grabs. Gnecco was conservative with User ID and set the Great American Time to Beat at 59.15 seconds with only Bond Clarke to return.
"After I saw Nayel [Nassar] have a rail and that Juan Pablo [Gnecco] wasn't really pushing it, I knew I didn't really have to rev her up – she has a tendency to get really strong, so I was happy to be able to take it easy," said Bond Clarke. The pair rode clear in 55.51 seconds for the win.
As the sun set on the desert near the end of the first round, Bond Clarke was able to get some practice under the lights for Saturday's night class, which will begin at 6pm PST. "She was always great here under the lights with Simon [Nizri] and she is the kind of horse where nothing spooks her. If anything, I think she jumps better out here at night," she admitted.
With 20 slated to appear in Saturday's qualifier, Bond Clarke feels confident that she left enough in the tank to have a great ride, "Chela LS comes out every day wanting to win, and we have left her really fresh for Saturday, so we are hopeful, but we will see what happens."
While World Cup fever spikes at HITS Thermal, weekly qualifiers for the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix will continue to give high-performance riders opportunities for the coveted March 16 event, as well as for the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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