McLain Ward was wearing his poker face Friday at HITS Saugerties and gambled his way to win the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix presented by Zoetis on new mount, HH Ashley. Second to go in a five-horse jump-off, Ward chased down speedster Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, Florida, who posted an immediate Great American Time to Beat at 37.15 seconds aboard Two Swans Farm's Arino Du Rouet.
Ward and HH Ashley landed off the sixth fence of the short course a fraction slow, but made a right-hand turn where Minikus had turned left to roll back to a tall plank vertical. For a moment it appeared Ward had gone off course, but two lead changes and what looked like a cutting-horse impersonation got the pair to the seventh fence in six fewer strides, stopping the clock at 36.53 seconds.
"It was a huge chance," said Ward who hails from Brewster, New York. "I knew I didn't have the speed on the ground to catch Todd – his horse is fast and mine is careful – it was the only way to win." Finally all smiles, Ward seemed impressed as he exited the in-gate after laying down an unbeatable round. "Ashley's handy and she knows her job – today she proved that again," he noted, of the 13-year old Hanoverian mare – a ride he took over from Rodrigo Pessoa at Double H Farm.
Pessoa had formerly piloted HH Ashley to a list of accolades, highlighted by Team Silver in the 2011 Pan American Games before she was sidelined by injury. "She's been phenomenal since coming back to the grand prix level," added Ward.
Contesting Minikus and Ward in the jump off were Peter Lutz of Golden's Bridge, New York; Ronan McGuigan of Far Hills, New Jersey and Laura Chapot of Neshanic Station, New Jersey over Florencio Hernandez's (Mexico City, Mexico) technical but fair course. Lutz followed Ward and appeared to have him beat aboard Carneyhaugh Manx for Katherine Gallagher, but crossed the timers in 36.62 seconds – a tenth off the lead. He finished second, bumping Minikus to third. McGuigan and his own Capall Zidane settled for fourth after a rail, while Chapot rounded out the top five with eight faults in the irons of Mary Chapot's ISHA Dual Star.
Ward's win kicked off summer qualifying for the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix at the HITS Championship September 7, which will continue throughout the HITS Saugerties Circuit. This Sunday, the $50,000 Horze Grand Prix presented by Zoetis takes the stage in the Strongid® C 2X™ Grand Prix Stadium. The event will be aired live via HRTV and iEquine – tune in at HRTV.com or iEquine.com.
Source: Press release from HITS Media Team
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