Speed, scope, strategy and nerve were pushed to the extreme in the $54,500 Strongid® C 2X Grand Prix CSI-W 2*, presented by Zoetis, Saturday night at HITS Desert Circuit II. Ultimately, it came down to a contest of two in which Rusty Stewart of Camarillo, California, prevailed on his Grey Fox Farm entry, Bristol. His contender was Lucy Davis and Old Oak Farm's Nemo 119. The event, which took place under the lights before a capacity crowd, was the West Coast's first FEI World Cup qualifier of the winter season and also the first show jumping competition to take place under the banner of Zoetis, the new name of the company formerly known as Pfizer Animal Health. Zoetis will continue to manufacture products such as Strongid® C 2X, Fluvac Innovator® and Quest® Plus.
The Strongid® C2X Grand Prix was a qualifier for both the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, this March and the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix that will take place Sept. 7-8 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York on Championship Weekend.
Of the international field of 30 starters, 26 would finish round one of Portuguese designer Bernardo Costa Cabral's highly technical course of 13 obstacles and 16 jumping efforts of up to 1.60m. It took place not in a tent, as in recent years, but in the grand prix field, which had been reduced to about half its size in order to better approximate the closely-confined FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final that will take place April 24-28 in Göteborg, Sweden.
Davis and Nemo were first in the ring and executed a confident round that left no rails on the ground, but their time of 76.25 seconds earned 3 time faults against the original time allowed of 74 seconds. After two more reference times, the judges adjusted the time allowed up to 80 seconds, which put Davis in the clear. The time was still tight, however, and 13 riders would incur time faults throughout the class.
It was 18 trips later that Stewart and Bristol would guarantee a jump-off. Stewart went in leading in the standings to qualify for the March 17 AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach. As such, he was a crowd favorite whose entrance in the ring was greeted by cheers and applause equaled only by the welcome for 2012 Olympic rider, Wilsonville, Oregon's, Rich Fellers and Flexible.
When it came to the jump-off, the course was reduced to seven obstacles and the finalists knew it would come down to speed, speed and more speed. Davis went first, delivering a coolly superlative clear performance that belied her 21 years. Stewart knew what he had to do: beat Davis' sprightly time of 42.68seconds. He did so by shaving seconds off the last line – cutting a super tight turn between the last two oxers, which were placed almost side-by-side, forcing a 180-degree change in direction. His 40.09 second finish left the crowd gasping and cheering.
"It was definitely a tough course, a real World Cup class – plenty big enough for our first one on the West Coast this year." The victory was all the more sweet for Stewart in that Bristol is the first homebred from he and wife Kandi's breeding operation, Grey Fox Farm, to hit the grand prix circuit. "We were both born on the Fourth of July. He'll be 11 this year." Stewart said he was definitely concerned when hitting the ring to chase Davis. "Lucy is a super rider. I knew I'd have to run hard to catch her and I was just hoping to be close."
For her part, Davis said she enjoyed being first in the ring. "Sometimes when I go later I find myself thinking too much about what everyone else is doing and not riding my best round," she said. Of her round one performance she added, "I went as fast as I could, and still got the time fault, so I was happy they changed the time. But even with that, I knew there wouldn't be too many clears. It was a very technical course, and the first time under the lights in a long time for many of us."
Source: Press release from HITS, Inc.
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