It was a battle from the beginning as Hap Hansen and Rusty Stewart went head to head in Saturday's $40,000 Blenheim Summer Classic Grand Prix, presented by CardFlex Financial. The heat was on when Hansen rode the first clear ride under the adjusted time allowed of 90 seconds. Only five rounds later, the reliable Rusty Stewart posted the only other clear round, creating the match race. Seven nations were represented in the fourteen round field as they prepared for the reality check course set by designer Anthony D'Ambrosio. "With only fourteen, I still wasn't going to soften up," D'Ambrosio commented. "I didn't make the distances too difficult but the gymnastics of it were pretty complex." Of the sixteen efforts, multiple riders found faults in the first of three double combinations. Other obstacles included a wide triple bar, a water jump, and a skinny vertical.
Eighteen-year-old Guatemalan rider Ivonne Balz and mount Unique Star were the final pair to try to qualify for the jump-off. Riding a flawless round leaving all the rails in the cups, Balz tripped the wire in 90.538 seconds, accruing one time fault, settling for third respectively.
Hap Hansen and his mount Archie Bunker (owned by Linda Smith) were the first to return for the jump-off duel. Riding for his 100th Grand Prix win, Hansen guided Archie through two new obstacles, cut corners and galloped to the final fence to post the time to beat at 43.553 seconds. Stewart took the field knowing his mount Bristol could handle D'Ambrosio's technical track, but also knew that one mistake could be costly. "Tony (D'Ambrosio) builds great courses." Stewart nodded, "but they can be really hard to jump." Stewart carefully guided Bristol over the two new obstacles, but once they were clear, he put his foot on the gas. Stewart had one scary rub on the second to last obstacle but was able to make it home in 41.826 seconds, good enough for the win."
Based on the course, I thought there would only be a couple clear," Stewart added. "It's hard going against Hap (Hansen) though with that milestone on the line. All in all, I loved the course. It was definitely not a gimmy." The $40,000 Blenheim Summer Classic Grand Prix was the first of seven HITS Million Grand Prix Qualifiers that Blenheim EquiSports hosts. Riders qualify based on grand prix prize money won in participating shows. Saturday's track represented the type of experience needed and level of difficulty to which riders will face in all qualifiers to come. "I think we had a track that Blenheim represents, and that is a real Grand Prix course." D'Ambrosio added, "The two gentlemen (Hansen and Stewart) proved that they knew their horses and understood horsemanship enough to come out on top."
The competition shifts to the Del Mar Horse Park with two back-to-back weeks of top level action. The Showpark Summer Classic, August 22-26, will host the second HITS Million Grand Prix Qualifier with the $40,000 Showpark Summer Grand Prix, presented by California Horsetrader. The Showpark All Seasons Summer Classic, August 29-September 2, highlights the $32,000 Showpark Jumper Classic and the $50,000 Grand Prix of Showpark, presented by EQU Lifestyle Magazine. The $50,000 Grand Prix of Showpark will mark the third HITS Million Grand Prix Qualifier and first of three World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix hosted by Blenheim EquiSports. Visit the Blenheim EquiSports website for up to date event information.
Results $40,000 Blenheim Summer Classic Grand Prix presented by CardFlex Financial
1st - Rusty Stewart - Bristol - 0/0/41.826
2nd - Hap Hansen - Archie Bunker - 0/0/43.553
3rd - Ivonne Balz - Unique Star - 1/90.538
4th - Leslie Steele - Oh My Goodness - 2/91.198
5th - Lane Clarke - Casseur de prix - 4/84.602
6th - Antonio Maurer - Uno Momento - 4/87.720
7th - Marcelo Galan - Dali - 4/88.139
8th - Nicole Shahinian-Simpson - Picturized - 8/87.027
9th - Damian Gardiner - Flexing - 8/88.722
10th - Carlos Perez - Uno - 8/92.180
Source: Press release from Blenheim EquiSports
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