It was big and it was fast! Forty-nine horse and rider teams competed for top slots in the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, Friday. Seventeen made the jump-off, with times getting progressively faster and building to a bang as the last pair to take the field, John Pearce and Chianto, knocked it out of the park for the win in 42.68 seconds.
Pearce, who lives in Bermuda Dunes, California, and rides for Canada, was able to shave fractions of a second off the ride that immediately preceded his – a tour by Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Windward Farm’s Unbelievable in 42.82 seconds, who took second place. Michaels-Beerbaum was also third on Octavia Farm’s Malou, in 44.38 seconds.
It was the second SmartPak Grand Prix win this winter for Pearce and Chianto, owned by Forest View Farm and Allison Moore. The duo won the $30,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, on February 24. “It was just a great jump-off, right down to the wire,” Pearce said. “I went last, and the times just kept getting faster and faster. When Meredith went before me and was winning I knew I’d have to push as hard as I could.” Pearce’s strategy was to “gallop to the first line, which nobody else did. Out of the gate, I was flat out, and that’s what made the difference.”
Michaels-Beerbaum also had plenty to be proud of at the end of the day, going double-clear on all three of her rides, with a seventh place finish on Octavia Farm’s Checkmate rounding out her stellar performance. Lane Clarke of Laguna Niguel, California, and Granville Equine’s Casseur du Prix were fourth at 44.88 seconds, while Duncan McFarlane of San Ramon, California, riding Simone Coxe’s Mr. Whoopy placed fifth in 45.56 seconds.
German designer Olaf Petersen’s course was technical, but not trappy, according to riders. Built at heights of up to 1.50m with 13 obstacles and 16 jumping efforts, horse-and-rider pairs took to the field under blue skies and billowing white clouds. The oxer-vertical-vertical triple combination at jump nine stood between many hopefuls and the jump-off, with fifteen riders knocking down one or more rails. “The line to the triple combination was very challenging,” Pearce said. “It was more than a 90-degree bend in a very short distance. It didn’t give you time to think – you had to land and make a decision right away.”
Michaels-Beerbaum and Checkmate were first in and the first clear in round one. A few rounds later, there was another clear with McFarlane and Whoopy, signaling the intense competition ahead. After the first few riders posted times in the seventies, the round-one time allowed was reduced from 81 to 75 seconds – snug but manageable. Pearce had three horses in competition, but a rail down at 9b prevented Forest View Farm’s Son of a Gun from making the jump-off. On that owner’s Johnny B Good Pearce finished eleventh, with four faults in round two.
Pearce and the other riders are now turning their focus to the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, next week on Sunday, March 17, the last day of the circuit. While he’s feeling good about his two recent grand prix wins, Pearce is approaching the million dollar class with humility. “There are so many variables in sport and with horses,” Pearce said. “You just have to hope you everyone wakes up feeling good on the right day, and all the pieces fall into place. With the AIG Million, it’s going to be a whole different league. We’ll see it go from national level to Olympic level overnight.”
Of Chianto, the 17-year-old horse he’s been riding for the past five years and plans to ride in the AIG Thermal Million, Pearce said, “He’s got a lot of heart and he’s feeling great. If you can keep an older horse sound and fresh, they are the best because they are experienced, and you have a partnership that has grown over time.”
Source: Press release from HITS Media Team
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