Michael Hughes, 17, topped a star-studded field on Sunday in the $50,000 EMO Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Ocala IV. Hughes of Allendale, NJ had two rides in Sunday's main event and captured the win aboard Christina Fried's Luxina.
"It's really exciting to win a Sunday grand prix like this," said Hughes. "My horses jumped great and it was a pretty challenging track. There were so many great riders here today who I have looked up to over the years, so it's great to be competing against them and to do so well."
The course for Sunday's $50,000 spectacle was designed by world-renowned course designer Olaf Petersen, Sr. of Paehl, Germany. Petersen designed a visually stunning, but technical track for a superbly talented group of 35 horse and rider combinations, which included Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix winners Andre Thieme of Germany and Olympian McLain Ward of Brewster, New York. Also stacking the field was Olympian Peter Wylde and USA WEG Team rider Candice King, both hailing from Wellington, Florida.
The allure of the all-new AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, in Thermal, California this March and the annual Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York has piqued the interest of the sport's elite. Some of the world's best found themselves at HITS Ocala this weekend in hopes of qualifying for not one, but two $1 million classes this year.
"The million dollar classes have taken the sport to a new level," said Ward, a two-time winner of the $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York. "It's brought recognition of sponsorships and is also showing people what an exciting sport show jumping can be at its highest levels."
The riders certainly brought their Sunday best and 14 riders produced clear first rounds to advance to the jump-off. With only 12 ribbons to pin, taking home a check on Sunday was not an easy feat.
Peter Wylde was first to go in the jump-off aboard Lewin 5, owned by Societe Cirile de Necurie de Meautry, but fell victim to the challenges Petersen set in the jump-off, with two rails down for eight faults in a very fast time of 48.80 seconds. Wylde has had a historic career in the ring and was enthusiastic about qualifying for the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix this year for the first time. "The $1 million classes are huge," he said. "They have had a tremendous impact on the sport. It's raised a ton of interest and really set the bar at a new level for the United States." Wylde plans to show this spring and summer at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties and has several horses who he believes will be prime contenders for the class.
Sharn Wordley of Ocala, Florida was next to show aboard Filip Amram's Quick Blue Z and rode clear to set the Great American Time to Beat at 57.73 seconds. His early lead would soon come to an end at the reins of Callan Solem of Glenmoore, Pennsylvania and VDL Wizard, owned by Horseshoe Trail Farms, LLC in a time of 50.66 seconds. Solem and Torlando Group's VDL Torlando captured a win earlier in the week in the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, and was hoping to keep a trend going – riders have gone back-to-back with grand prix wins each of the first three weeks of the Ocala circuit this year.
It was not to be, however, as Andre Thieme and Seth Vallhonrat's Catharina 9, took over the lead several trips later with a time of 50.12 seconds. King also posted a clear round riding Stateside Farm, LLC's Campbell VDL to earn a spot in the ribbons, but was unable to catch Thieme.
"It's been great here in Ocala," said King, who plans to head out west in several weeks to compete at the inaugural AIG Thermal Million. King spent many years on the west coast at the former HITS Indio Desert Circuit. "I look forward to being back west soon to compete again." As for King's take on the AIG Thermal Million and the Zoetis Million she said, "having two $1 million dollar classes in the United States is pretty unbelievable. I'm very grateful for Tom [Struzzieri]'s support of show jumping in this country."
Second-to-last in the jump-off was Hughes, who, though still a junior, is definitely a rising star on the grand prix circuit. He has already proven himself with his success at Young Riders, the Junior Hunter Championships and the major Equitation Finals. Hughes was also 16th in the 2012 Pfizer Million. Hughes and Luxina skimmed nearly two seconds off the clock in a time of 48.70 to take over the lead and ultimately the win.
"I knew I had to go pretty fast if I wanted to catch the time," said Hughes. "The jump-off was difficult. The rollback to the triple bar was tough and the rollback past the gate to the oxer at the in-and-out had caught a few people. There was also a long bending line that you really needed to gallop to for the finish. You could have had a rail at any fence in this jump-off."
Hughes is once again on path to making his second appearance in the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix this fall. "The Million last year was a really amazing experience for me," said Hughes. "I'm really excited to show in the class again this year."
Christina Fried's two horses, MacArthur and Luxina, have both shown they're capable of grand prix victories with Hughes in the irons and they're ready for another exciting week at HITS Ocala, as HITS V offers the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix on Thursday and the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, both presented by Zoetis.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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