It was a slow build to a big finish. Ten made the jump-off in the $33,000 HITS Desert Classic, presented by Zoetis, but it was 25-year-old Lauren Hester of Rancho Santa Fe, California who scored the win, riding Hester Equestrian, Inc.’s Abigail. Hester, an amateur/owner who trains with Joie Gatlin Morley Abey Show Jumping, said it was a big moment, marking not only her first big victory of the 2013 Desert Circuit. It was also her first Thermal grand prix win ever, a sweet feeling after competing here all seven years, “although I’ve only been doing grand prix for four,” she said after the awards presentation.
Rusty Stewart and Bristol came in second. “Anybody could win on any given day. The competition here in Southern California is that good and you’re looking at some great young riders coming up,” said Stewart, whose Grey Fox Farm is based in Camarillo, California.
A total of 32 horse-and-rider combinations rode Olaf Petersen Jr.’s meticulously constructed course under theatrically moody skies. The 79-second first round time allowed thinned about a third of the pack, while seven had rails, but no time faults. The fence that seemed to present the biggest challenge was number eight - a large vertical placed at a right angle off a choice of oxers.
As the first to go clear, Hester and Abigail were also first in the jump-off and they set a Great American Time to Beat of 44.44 seconds that proved unbeatable. Nayel Nassar of Stanford, California, riding his own Lordan, had a rail. Stewart and Bristol were next, and fell just short of the mark at 44.97 seconds.
Of the three additional horse-and-rider duos to go clear, none clocked below 45 and change. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, of Germany, riding Windward Farm’s Unbelievable 5 was third; Mexico’s Enrique Gonzalez on his own Criptonite finished fourth; and Hester, again, on her own Warinde B capped the top five.“She is so fast,” Hester said of Abigail. “She did the same thing two years ago in Sacramento, where we went first and she still won.”
Hester has had Abigail, a 10-year-old Holsteiner, for five years, having traded her from Richard Spooner for George (who wound up Canadian rider Jill Henselwood’s Olympic horse). “It was probably my best move. Every time we moved her up we thought she’d be a 1.40m horse, but she just kept stepping up to bigger jumps,” Hester said.“He’s just learning to really start picking up the pace in the jump-offs. We’re really taken our time with him,” said Kandi Stewart, who with husband Rusty manages the Grey Fox Farms breeding operation, of which Bristol was the first to hit the ground.
On Feb. 2, Stewart and Bristol won the first FEI World Cup qualifying class of the Desert Circuit, the $54,500 Strongid Grand Prix CSI-W2*, presented by Zoetis. Stewart was one of several Desert Classic riders who, with this first grand prix of Desert Circuit IV, fulfilled their AIG Thermal Million requirement of “four grand prix of $25,000 or more” between Desert Circuit I and VI. The two are currently No. 1 on the AIG Thermal Million Preliminary Rider Standings. Stewart said he is also serious about trying to qualify for the World Cup Final, with one more opportunity to do so at HITS in the $54,500 Purina Mills Grand Prix CSI-W2*, presented by Zoetis, on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Source: pressrelease from HITS Inc.
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