When McLain Ward climbed down from the tack of Dulien Van De Smeets after winning the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix presented by Zoetis, he didn't look for congratulations, but marched straight to the mare's owner, his godmother. Susie Heller stood clutching a winner's trophy and was scooped up by Ward's embrace.
Every win is special, but this was divinely special. This week marked the one-month anniversary of James Heller's passing. "Jimmy" was Susie's brother, friend to Ward and part owner in Dulien Van De Smeets. For Ward, of Brewster, New York, there was no better way to honor him than to bring home a win.
"She [Dulien] won this for him," Ward said. "He was a horse lover and the three of us had been looking for a jumper for some time. Finally, Dulien Van De Smeets came along."
The 10-year old mare was imported from Belgium by Ward and Heller in February, and had a banner spring and early summer. "Today, she picked up right where she left off," said Ward. "The starting field was stacked and the course challenging, but this horse is powerful and did everything I asked her despite not being the most experienced."
Dulien Van De Smeets jumped 1.30-1.40m in Europe and even had a couple foals, but has found a home with Ward as an up-and-coming grand prix horse. "Great horses make my job that much easier," he added.
"McLain was outstanding, but the whole class was perfect," said course designer Bernardo Cabral of Lisbon, Portugal. "It was all in the details. I don't like races, I like courses that ask the riders to be smart."
Cabral put every inch of the expansive Strongid® C 2X™ Grand Prix Stadium to use with 12 obstacles, including water, a vertical split to provide an inside-outside skinny option and a technical triple combination at the second-to-last effort. He will also set Sunday's $75,000 HITS Grand Prix as the stakes continue to climb at HITS Saugerties. "The jumps will go up and oxers gain width," he hinted. "Saugerties' grand prix ring is one of the more beautiful in the world – the size is perfect and allows spectators a head-on perspective of the jumps from any seat."
With a field of 38 competitive starters, ten made it to the jump off. Mary Manfredi of South Salem, New York returned first, setting the Great American Time to Beat at 50.39 seconds aboard Great Span, LLC's Magnus Orfeo. The lead changed hands once to Peter Lutz of Golden Bridge, New York and Katherine Gallagher's Carneyhaugh Manx before Ward took the stage. Channeling Dulien Van De Smeets' speed and strength, Ward was gentle and patient without losing any time on the clock. They bested the field in 46.61 seconds for the win.
Lutz held tight to second while Christine McCrea of East Windsor, Connecticut and Wannick WH were third for owner Candy Tribble in 49.50 seconds. Manfredi was bumped to fourth while Cody Auer of Wellington, Florida rounded out the top five in 51.23 seconds aboard his own Zorana.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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