Rich Fellers of Wilsonville, Oregon and the famed Flexible climbed the ranks at HITS Thermal on Friday to win the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, over a field of 58 starters. Earlier this year, the fate of 2012 USEF International Horse of the Year Flexible was an uncertain one. The 18-year-old gelding was diagnosed with blood clots in his right hind leg in June and his showing career was put on hold.
"His future is a mystery right now," said Fellers of the chestnut stallion owned by Harry and Mollie Chapman. "The vets say that he shouldn't be able to handle full work, let alone jump – there is no real explanation as to how he is happy and able to still perform."
Fellers admits that he is listening closely to Flexible and is taking every day class by class. "If he's not right, he won't jump," said Fellers confidently. "I love him too much to take any risks."
On Friday, there was no indication that Flexible was anything other than at the top of his game. He carried Fellers to join 11 other clear contenders, setting the stage for a 12-horse jump-off.
The SmartPak Grand Prix course was designed by Bernardo Cabral of Carnaxide, Portugal and faults were mostly isolated to the second half of the 13-obstacle track. "This guy is top class," said Fellers of Cabral. "Today was super, fair and nobody had any real problems on course. The jump-off was certainly entertaining."
Richard Spooner of Agua Dulce, California proved early that the course could be jumped, piloting Chivas Z for SN Stables, LLC to a clear round from the second spot in the original order. In the jump-off, Spooner set a challenging standard with a clear effort in 39.52 seconds.
Fellers returned one trip later and mirrored Spooner's approach, taking inside-turn options and letting Flexible gallop every line. "Richard [Spooner] is a brilliant rider and it's helpful to watch a top rider lay down an efficient, quick round," said Fellers. "I was standing at the gate watching everything he did and my plan was to copy that."
The difference, according to Fellers, was Flexible's speed. Arguably one of the fastest horses in the field, Flexible shaved more than a full second off the Great American Time to Beat, crossing the timers in 38.27 seconds. "He's faster than most horses and when we follow the same track, he usually ends up ahead," said Fellers.
The two international stars stayed at the top with Spooner finishing in second. Mandy Porter of Encinitas, California jumped the stallion Con Capilot, owned by Plum Creek Hollow Farm, to third with a clear jump-off round in 40.18 seconds. Eric Navet of Panileuse, France piloted Signe Ostby's Tembla to fourth in 41.43 seconds. Spooner capped the top five on his second ride – Cristallo, owned by Show Jumping Syndications – with a clear effort in 43.15 seconds.
With the second annual AIG Million on the horizon, grand prix action returns to the Strongid® C 2X Grand Prix Stadium on Sunday with the $50,000 CardFlex Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis. A live stream of Sunday's event will be available at iEquine.com.
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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