It's on! Now that the preliminary AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix qualifiers at Blenheim EquiSports, Jump Del Mar, Sacramento International and Langer Equestrian Group shows have concluded, it is clear that the HITS Desert Circuit is in for an exciting and competitive season as final qualifying continues. After ten qualifying grand prix, which took place between August and November, Rusty Stewart and his 10-year-old gelding Bristol, owned by Grey Fox Farm, produced three wins and sit atop the preliminary AIG Thermal Million Rider Rankings with $37,000 in accumulated prize money.
Stewart pinned the AIG Thermal Million as a definite on his 2013 winter schedule with Bristol, who is Stewart's first homebred colt and a testament to the Grey Fox Farm breeding program.
"He has been amazing during these last few shows," said Stewart of his mount. "We brought him along from a baby with great success and he's a great horse with a terrific personality. He was fifth in the FEI World Cup Standings for the West Coast, and I'm looking forward to continued success with him this season, right up to the [AIG] Thermal Million!"
Joining the likes of Stewart and Bristol at the top of the preliminary rankings are Ashlee Bond and her 9-year-old KWPN mare Wistful. Another accomplishment for Stewart, however, Wistful was bred at Grey Fox Farm and purchased by Little Valley Farm two years ago. Bond and Wistful boast $27,450 after a strong second place finish at the LA International Jumping Festival and several finishes in the ribbons at Blenheim. Just shy of Bond and rounding out the top three is Nicole Shahinian-Simpson and Imothep with $26,750.
"This is a huge opportunity for us on the West Coast to compete in a really big class and we are excited about it," added Stewart. "I think the collaboration of these shows along with the Desert Circuit is great for the sport."
The top 40 riders in the rankings will qualify for the AIG Thermal Million based on money won, which will be calculated by rider/horse combination with the rider's top money winning horse determining the rider's final ranking. To be eligible for the AIG Thermal Million, riders must still compete in at least one grand prix of $25,000 or more during four different show weeks of the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit prior to Desert Circuit VII.
Momentum from the early qualifiers will soon carry over to the 2013 HIST Desert Circuit as qualifying kicks into high gear. The circuit kicks off January 22 and continues for seven weeks before the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix makes its debut Sunday, March 17. Based on the interest exhibited so far for the AIG Thermal Million, HITS anticipates the 40 spots will be highly contested.
"With over 80 riders vying for these spots, we're really looking forward to the rest of the qualifying process," said HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri. "We have no doubt that the big class will include some of the best horses and riders in the sport."
For more information on the AIG Thermal $1 Millions Grand Prix or to view a Desert Circuit Prize List, please visit HitsShows.com.
To view the complete AIG Thermal Million Top 40 Preliminary Rider Rankings, click here.
Source: Press release from HITS.
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