Before the start of HITS Desert Horse Park's $54,500 HITS Grand Prix CSI-W2*, presented by Zoetis, course designer Florencio Hernandez of Mexico said that his goal was to have between one and three clear. He landed on the low side of that projection with no need for a jump-off as Ashlee Bond was the only one to go clean in the first round aboard Wistful.
Riding a California-bred mare owned by her family's Little Valley Farm, Bond of Hidden Hills, California was one among 24 riders to tour the track. Nayel Nasser of Stanford, California, was the only other rider to finish the course with no jumping faults, but one time fault landed him second place with his own Raging Bull Vangelis S.
The track was huge, with 13 obstacles and 16 jumping efforts set between 1.50m and 1.60m. The scope, combined with some tricky distances and a sequence of very tight turns, was more than most horse and rider teams could master. Many riders had time faults even after the time allowed was adjusted from 77 to 84 seconds.
Rich Fellers of Wilsonville, Oregon, riding Harry and Mollie Chapman's Flexible, was the fastest of the four-faulters, breaking the beam at 80.37 seconds to finish third. Of the six who finished with four faults, only two others made the time: Woodside, California's Karl Cook on Signe Ostby's Jonkheer Z, whose 81.27 seconds rounds was good enough for fourth; and Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on Octavia Farms' Malou who finished fifth in 82.68 seconds.
The $54,500 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, took place under the lights in a ring that was shrunk to about 150 by 400-feet, or half its normal width, to better-approximate the tight indoor ring where the World Cup Final will take place in Gothenburg, Germany in April. "It was a very technical and careful course – definitely big enough," Bond said after the class. "The oxers were super-wide, and tall. It was very difficult."
"It was definitely as big as a World Cup Final course," said Fellers, the reigning World Cup champion who piloted the 2012 USEF Horse of the Year Flexible. "That last day at the World Cup Final is really huge, but if you reach that point and you're going well, you're up for it. This is different because you just start out with a big class. It's tough. I'm proud of the West Coast today."
The event was the second World Cup qualifier of the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit, and this week's winning horse Wistful shares some history with the horse that won last week's qualifier. Both Wistful and Rusty Stewart's Bristol were bred at Rusty and Kandi Stewart's Grey Fox Farm, based in Camarillo, California. "I bought her as a seven-year-old" said Bond. "Kandi had done maybe six shows with her before I got her, so she was very green but she has really stepped up this year."
Bond said if she qualifies for the World Cup Final her plan is to take both Wistful and Cadett 7 – who she scratched from this evening's lineup – to Gothenburg. "The first round I would do Cadett," said Bond, already a veteran of two World Cup Finals. "He's really good at speed and she's [Wistful] not ready to run at that level, so if I can do the first round on him and have her take over, that would be ideal."
In addition to being a FEI World Cup Final qualifier, the $54,500 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, was also a qualifier for two big-ticket HITS contests; the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, taking place March 17, and the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix, September 8 in Saugerties, New York as part of HITS Championship Weekend.
Grand prix riders will have one more chance to earn World Cup points this circuit, in the $54,500 Purina Mills Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, February 23 during Desert Circuit IV.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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