It was an explosive start to the HITS FEI series at Desert Circuit II, as Francie Steinwedell-Carvin, of La Canada, California, and Prentiss Partners' Lapsus du Lavoir claimed victory in the $33,000 HITS Desert Classic, presented by Pfizer Animal Health.
The Thursday event welcomed 40 horse and rider pairs under sunny skies in the Grand Prix Stadium. Things got off to a strong start as Irish rider Jennifer Crooks and S.F. Uryadi, owned by Olivia Cox-Fill/Stella Farm, went clear around Portugal's Bernardo Costa Cabral's highly technical course. The track included 12 jumps and 15 efforts set at up to 1.45m.
The fourth pair out, Elizabeth Gingras of Alberta, Canada and Floreen SFN, owned by B. Gingras Equestrian, were also clear, and marked the onset of perfection that saw 14 more pairs go fault-free, for a total of 16. Two who moved on—Crooks and New Zealand rider Duncan McFarland, riding Simone Coxe's Mr. Whoopy—would opt-out of the jump off.
Spectators burst into enthusiastic applause as the fifth rider out, Camarillo, California's Rusty Stewart riding Grey Fox Farm's Bristol, finished clear. Stewart and Bristol currently lead the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix Preliminary Top 40 Rider Standings, and the Desert Classic was a qualifier for that March 17 mega-prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach. The duo would ultimately land just out of the money at 13th, with one rail down in the jump off.
The crowd crackled with visible excitement as U.S. Olympians took to the field – first Wilsonville, Oregon's Rich Fellers, riding Harry and Mollie Chapman & Fellers' Colgan Cruise, then Will Simpson of Westlake Village, California, on the Monarch International mare Acornia. Alas, it was not to be their day. Both had rails at fence eight, the triple bar – Fellers the first and Simpson the second. Fellers and Colgan Cruise added four more faults to their tally at the Voltaire jump, number 11, a vertical.
Team Germany Olympic rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum placed third on Malou, owned by Octavia Farms, LLC. Saer Coulter, who trains with Michaels-Beerbaum and husband Markus Beerbaum, placed fourth on her own Graciella 50, while Ashlee Bond of Hidden Hills, California was second with Little Valley Farms' Cadett 7.
Gingras and Floreen SFN were the first in for the jump-off, and they did not disappoint, going clear over the seven obstacles in 44.42 seconds, against a time-allowed of 50. Then Stewart and Michelle Parker of San Marcos, California, riding Cross Creek Farms' Socrates De Midos, each had a rail.
Of the remaining 11, only two would have faults, but Gingras held the Great American Time to Beat until the eighth trip when Westlake, California's Misti Cassar took the lead, riding her own Poeme D'Amour, at 41.39. They would ultimately place fifth.
"He loves to jump," Steinwedell-Carvin said of the 13-year-old gelding she purchased in December and rode her first grand prix on in Thermal last week. "He has Animo in him, and Animo is Dutch, but he's registered French. I took notice of that because Animo is one of my sponsors, and I was like, 'Yay! Cool! He's Animo!'"
Steinwedell-Carvin and her husband, trainer Dick Carvin of Meadow Grove Farms, bought the horse in Florida without so much as sitting on him. "I liked what I saw. I watched videos, I saw him in person and I had a really good feeling."
Carvin said he told his wife before she entered the ring, "You know, you're not going to have to create anything, he wants it," and afterward she agreed, saying, "He chose the pace."
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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