It all came down to the gallop in the $33,500 FEI HITS Desert Classic, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Thermal on Thursday. With only two horses in the jump-off, Nayel Nassar put the speed of his nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding Lordan to the test and bested Bliss Heers by fractions of a second.
Nassar of Santa Clara, California represents the colors of Egypt and secured a jump-off in the HITS Desert Classic after chasing down Heers' early clear in the first round. They would eventually be the lone two to advance.
Heers, who hails from Olivenhain, California, recently returned to American soil after riding in Europe for a time, and was the first to prove that the course designed by Mexico City's Manuel Esparza could be jumped. She piloted Cesar, a 12-year-old gelding, for Bridgeside Farms, LLC. Heers and Nassar topped a field totaling 24 over a track of 13 obstacles and raced a tight time allowed of 80 seconds.
"It didn't walk big – was fairly technical – but a tight time can make any track difficult," said Nassar. "I was a little surprised that there were only two clears, but I'm not complaining."
The clock indeed proved to be the trick as seven were kept from the jump-off with a single time fault. Heers went clean in the third go, while Nassar prompted a jump-off from the 19th position in the original order. In the jump-off, Heers set an immediate Great American Time to Beat of 40.28 seconds, putting all the pressure on Nassar and Lordan. Nassar jumped the first six fences of the course, including a double combination, relatively conservatively, but left nothing to chance in the last line.
From fence six, a long gallop stood between Nassar and the final jump. "When I landed, I looked at the clock and saw that I only had ten seconds to get to the other end of the ring, so I put the pedal to the metal," he admitted.
Lordan extended his stride, jumped the final fence and landed in 39.48 seconds for the win. "He is a very quick horse and once I put him in gear, he set his eyes on the fence and that was all it took," said Nassar. "He is a small, compact horse, so he sits on his hind end really quickly and I had no problem getting him back after the gallop."
Cheers exploded from the on looking crowd as the pair's nail-biting effort to the last fence paid off, delivering Nassar the win and Heers second. With the fastest of the time-fault rounds over the original course, Ashlee Bond Clarke of Hidden Hills, California rode the Little Valley Farms' mare Chela LS to third. Also with one time fault apiece, Jenna Margaret Thompson of Calgary, Alberta jumped her own Webster to fourth, while Mexico's Enrique Gonzalez capped the top five on his own Quilebo De Tillard.
With the momentum they gained in the HITS Desert Classic, Nassar and Lordan will jump in Saturday's FEI World Cup Qualifier, but Nassar admits that the pressure is off. "We are locked into the World Cup Finals already, but I obviously want to be competitive in every class," he said.
Along with his FEI World Cup goals, Nassar is also pointing Lordan to million-dollar glory. The pair is hoping for a repeat of last year's win in the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York when they return to the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on March 16. Nassar also announced that he may even have his eye on the HITS Triple Crown of Show jumping – he and Lordan plan to make their way to Ocala, Florida the week after the AIG Million to jump in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix on March 24.
"We have been aiming for the Millions all circuit and Lordan has the experience, but I just have to remind myself to ride them like any other classes," said Nassar in reaction to the possibility of a second, and maybe third million-dollar victory. "I didn't jump him too much the first half of the circuit and I plan to keep him really fresh during second half as well."
World Cup qualifying will return to HITS Thermal on Saturday with the $50,000 Purina Animal Nutrition Grand Prix CSI-W2*, presented by Zoetis. Also, with only three weeks left to secure a spot, the race for the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix is on.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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