When the Canadian National Anthem played at the conclusion of Saturday's $50,000 Purina Animal Nutrition CSI-W2* Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Thermal it was playing for more than just the winner, Elizabeth Gingras of Alberta. Gingras and the up-and-coming Bretton Chad, also of Alberta, went one-two for Canada in a three-horse jump-off and celebrated together for their home nation.
"We have been riding together in Alberta for many years," said Gingras of her history with Chad. "Obviously you always want to win, but it was awesome to see two Canadians at the top. If the roles had been reversed, I would have been a very proud second."
While humble about the results, Gingras couldn't control her excited reaction to how her 11-year-old Hanoverian mare performed. One of only three to jump clear over Manuel Esparza's original track, Gingras topped a complete field of 21 for her first-ever win in a World Cup qualifying class.
Esparza of Mexico City, Mexico set a technical track within the FEI-standard confines of the Strongid® C 2X™ Grand Prix Stadium. The twelve obstacles offered horse and rider 15 jumping efforts, with a long and scopey line across the middle of the ring that included a vertical with a Liverpool, seven strides to the triple combination and ended with a tall plank vertical.
"The water to the triple was very tricky to jump clear," said Gingras. "The first vertical was a very careful fence and my horse has a large stride, so I was worried about fitting in the seven properly. Then, the plank was tall and pointed right at the out-gate."
Gingras jumped the line unscathed, but others were not so lucky – half the field picked up faults in the triple combination line and it was the only element that crushed clear rounds for six pairs. "Her scope is unreal," said Gingras of the mare that Emile Hendrix found for her over a year ago. "I got her as a nine-year-old, so we have really grown together and become a team. I couldn't have asked for anything more than what she gave me today."
Both Gingras and Chad are undecided about whether they will attend the 2014 FEI World Cup Finals if qualified, but the milestone is not far off for either rider. "This is my first season stepping up into the World Cup classes, so I am just over the moon to even be here," said Chad, who also piloted a mare – Santa Catarina LS La Silla – to second. "My horse was a rock star today. She is so honest and is really helping me to move up and get around these bigger courses."
A jump-off between four fault rides was becoming a real possibility in the first round until Sean Crooks, riding for the United States and hailing from Wellington, Florida, jumped the first clear in the irons of Glen Youell's Armegedon. Chad joined him two trips later before Gingras rounded out the group.
In the jump-off, Crooks rubbed a rail on the second-to-last fence, which eventually came down, landing him with four faults in 44.49 seconds. Chad posted a time of 48.14 seconds, but Floreen SFN's stride paid off for Gingras, as she crossed the timers in 45.58 seconds for the win.
American rider Ashlee Bond Clarke of Hidden Hills, California was the fastest of the four-faulters from the first round aboard Little Valley Farms' Chela LS for third. Fourth was awarded to Thursday's FEI winner Nayel Nassar, representing Egypt on his own Lordan. Bliss Heers of Olivehain, California capped the top five for the United States on Bridgeside Farms, LLC's Cesar.
Saturday night was the final FEI World Cup qualifier of the 2014 winter season at HITS Thermal as attention now turns to who will qualify for the coveted AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on March 16. Weekly grand prix on Fridays and Sundays will continue over the next three weeks as riders race to qualify for the richest class in show jumping.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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