While the tunes of concert headliner Michael McDonald played in the background, McLain Ward soaked in another Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix victory Sunday. After riding to a win in the inaugural event in 2010 aboard the famed mare Sapphire, Ward returned to glory, this time in the irons of Grant Road Partners, LLC's Antares F, who is fresh off the Olympic Games in London. "With being injured and trying to qualify for the Olympics, our schedule was a little unpredictable this year, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of this class and it was a great thing to aim this horse to at the end of his year," said Ward. "The jumps were beautiful and the course was hard. You needed a real Olympic caliber horse to jump a lot of those obstacles."
Ward of Brewster, New York was one of three riders to produce clear rounds over Olaf Petersen, Jr.'s intimidating track. Petersen tested riders with scope, turns, distances and everything in between. The 14-obstacle course offered several options for both approaches and striding, but specifically tested riders at a one-stride to a one-stride triple combination at fence 11. He also included a four-meter wide water element and a long two-stride double combination early in the course. "I designed this course with a scopey horse in mind, as well as a rider that could solve a lot of technical questions," said Petersen, Jr.
With only two trips behind him, Ward rode clear, but was soon challenged when Irish rider Jonathan McCrea guaranteed a jump-off aboard Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables' Romantovich Take One. Twenty-six rounds later, Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ontario, who also just returned from another Olympic Games for her home country of Canada, sealed a three-horse jump-off with Brian Gingras' George."Ollie [Olaf Petersen, Jr.] is one of the world's best course designers and three or four clean was our plan and I think that is just about right for a class of this level," said Tom Struzzieri, President and CEO of HITS. "It was just great sport out there today."
In the jump-off, Ward was the only to jump double clear and set the bar high with a time of 39.87 seconds. McCrea picked up 8 faults in a time of 44.01 seconds for third and Henselwood had a rail late in the course for four faults in a time of 45.36 seconds for second-place."He's a character," said Henselwood of her 10-year-old George, who qualified for the Pfizer Million on the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California this winter. "He has all the scope in the world and I thought I had seen the best that he could jump in London until today – I don't know if the best course designer in the world could build something this horse couldn't jump."
Rounding out the top five was another Irish rider, Darragh Kerins of Wellington, Florida with a two time faults in the first round on Lisona, owned by himself and Maarten Huygens, and Brazilian Olympian Rodrigo Pessoa of Wellington, Florida with a rail in the first round aboard Pessoa Show Stables, LLC's Winsom.
As the HITS-on-the-Hudson Pfizer Million continues to gain traction after three years of attracting the world's best equestrians to American soil, Pfizer Animal Health hints that they are in it for the long haul."We are really interested in revitalizing the whole industry," said Stuart Miekle, Marketing Director of the Equine Division at Pfizer Animal Health. "Events like this attract more people to the sport and that is why we are so invested in it."
Twenty riders earned ribbons on Sunday afternoon in the Pfizer Million, for the complete results, click here.
Source: HITS press release
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