They were the first pair to go clear, and Saer Coulter cleaned up with Graciella 50 to win the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix Wild Card, presented by Zoetis, on Friday. The Stanford-based Coulter piloted the nine-year-old Hanoverian mare, owned by Copernicus Stables, through a blazingly quick jump-off, streaking around the track in 40.33 seconds (on 47 time allowed). “She’s fast in the air and fast over the ground,” said Coulter of the horse she’s only owned since late last year.
For Coulter, who has racked up an impressive string of second and third placings in Thermal, Friday’s victory was a sweet way to start the climactic final weekend of the seven-week Desert Circuit. “I’ve been double-clear a lot. It was great to win one!” she said.
The Wild Card class was designated the final opportunity for one more rider to qualify for Sunday’s AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach. Since Coulter is already qualified, and second-place Eric Navet of France is riding a young horse – Signe Ostby’s Quanto Fino 2 – not yet ready to take on a 1.60m course, the coveted rider list will finalized earlier this week will remain unchanged.
Navet concedes it would have been nice to gain entry to the elite group of riders taking part in the highly-anticipated million-dollar class that marks a climactic close to the 2013 Desert Circuit, but says a great experience this first time at HITS Thermal has made the trip an overwhelming success. “Competing every week with a different course builder is different, and very interesting,” said the veteran of the European show-jumping scene, describing his experience at HITS as “very, very good sport.”
Navet and Quanto Fino 2, who he’s been developing for Ostby’s son Karl Cook, finished in 41.07 seconds in jump-off. Lane Clarke of Laguna Niguel, California, riding Granville Equine’s Casseur du Prix, was third in 42.07 seconds, followed by Rusty Stewart of Camarillo, California, on Grey Fox Farm’s Bristol in 42.89 seconds. Fifth place went to Margie Engle of Wellington, Florida, riding Elm Rock Partners’ Royce to a 43.83 second finish. All three will again take to the Grand Prix Field Sunday for the AIG Thermal Million.
A field of 46 top horse-and-rider pairs took to U.S. Olympic rider Conrad Homfeld’s 12-obstacle course of 12 obstacles and 15 jumping efforts of up to 1.40m in height. Coulter and Graciella 50 were the sixth to enter the ring and the first clear. Coulter’s second trip 11 rounds later, on Copernicus Sables’ Carmena Z, produced four faults, but was good enough to earn twelfth.
For the high-performance jumpers, all attention now turns to Sunday’s landmark AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix – the first $1 million class to be introduced in the Western United States. HITS, the only company to offer such events in the U.S., began hosting the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, NY, in 2010. The event, rechristened the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix, takes place September 8 this year, and many of the riders in Thermal this season have been working toward also qualifying for that event.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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