McLain Ward and Sapphire win Richest Grand Prix in Show Jumping History as fans from around the World watch the Pfizer Million
SAUGERTIES, NY (September 14, 2010) —
Two-time US Olympic Gold Medalist McLain Ward of Brewster, New York and his majestic, "million-dollar" mare, Sapphire, owned by McLain Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock, won the inaugural Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix on Sunday, September 12 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.
The legendary duo of Ward and Sapphire proudly added their names to the show jumping history books once more when they bested a field of 43 High-Performance riders before an energetic and enthusiastic crowd of thousands that lined all four berms surrounding the Strongid Stadium. Sunday's line-up featured some of the best and most promising athletes and horses in the sport, including some of America's brightest up-and-coming stars and several American and International Olympians.
Olympic Course Designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, Florida set a challenging and technical course that was decorated to the hilt by Olympic Course Decorator Flora Baptiston of Brazil.
"The course was brilliant," explained Ward. "Steve [Stephens] has been a great course designer for years, and he was a brilliant rider before that. Today was a great balance of tests."
After a successful week of show jumping, the Strongid Stadium was transformed into a field of dreams, as custom jumps, exclusive to the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, including a fence from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, set the stage for the biggest event of the year.
The West Point Equestrian Team Cadets performed the opening ceremonies before riders embarked on the course. Stephen's route featured a double combination of square oxers over liverpools, an open water, and a triple combination where element B was a Swedish Oxer, which determined the fate for many competitors on the field.
The lively crowd began to stir as the first rider to go in the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, Colombia's Roberto Teran riding King Ridge Stables' Distant Star 3E, entered the field. The team led off the class with 12 jumping faults.
USA WEG Team Member Mario Deslauriers of New York, New York riding Jane Clark's Urico was the third to take to the field and ended with four jumping faults in 101.316 seconds, as the crowd began to wonder early on how long it would take to see a clean round on Stephen's track.
Ten trips later, New Zealand's Duncan McFarlane riding Mr. Whoopy, owned by Simone Coxe, posted a four-fault effort in a time of 101.709 seconds to move into second place.
HITS Grand Prix veteran Derek Petersen of Archer, Florida riding Lazaro, owned by Jordan Coyne, was the 16th team to enter the field and took the lead to the applause of the crowd with four jumping faults in the fastest time of 97.361 seconds.
None of the 12 horse-and-rider combinations that followed Petersen were able to match his time, falling victim to dropped rails, time faults and elimination's. Germany's Andre Thieme was 29th in the order and posted a four-fault round in 101.745 seconds aboard his own Aragon Rouet.
Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, Florida and Pavarotti, owned by Todd Minikus LTD, were next and held the crowd in the palm of their hands as they appeared to be en route to becoming the very first clean round. The crowd saw a heartbreaking when the very last fence came down to continue the streak of faults.
Two rounds later, Charlie Jayne of Elgin, Illinois and The London Group's Athena led the crowd to a thunderous applause when they captured the first clear effort of the class.
"This was the biggest class I've ever competed in," said Jayne. "I felt the presence of the crowd, and that we were all jumping for the fans today. HITS did a great job of getting an audience to come out for the class."
Jayne and Athena tasted success earlier in the season at HITS-on-the-Hudson when they captured the $125,000 Strongid® C 2X Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health.
Canadian Olympian John Pearce riding Forest View Farm's Chianto looked to be faultless as they cruised through the course. The nail-biting excitement took hold as Pearce raced against the clock on the last line of the course. The team left every fence intact; however, their wide turn towards the open water cost them as they crossed the finish line in 106.507 seconds, a mere half a second over the time allowed for one time fault in a valiant effort. Pearce and Chianto finished the day with the third place honors and a $120,000 check.
Four rounds remained as Tracy Magness of Hughsville, Maryland and Mr. & Mrs. John Bartko's Tarco Van Ter Moude; McLain Ward and Sapphire; Tracy Fenney of Flower Mound, Texas and MTM Farm's MTM Timon; and the leader of the Pfizer Million Eligible Rider Rankings Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ontario, Canada aboard Bottom Line, owned by Bradon Construction LTD, stood between Jayne and a victory.
Magness and Tarco Van Ter Moude had an early four jumping faults and were later eliminated after an unintentional dismount at the triple combination.
The Olympic legends Ward and Sapphire were next, and cast a spell of silence over the crowd as they rode in a graceful display of grandeur and talent, challenging Jayne to a jump-off with the only other clear round.
Fenney and MTM Timon looked to increase the odds, but ended their round with eight jumping faults, which ultimately placed 17th.
In the last effort, Henselwood and Bottom Line, the leading money winners on the 2010 HITS circuit, completed the first round with four jumping faults and a time of 101.688 seconds, which finished in seventh place, and set the stage for a head-to-head battle between Jayne and Ward.
"This was the most beautiful course I've ever jumped in North America," said Henselwood, the highest-finishing female rider of the day. "I want to thank Pfizer, HITS and Tom [Struzzieri] for providing us the occasion to ride in a true international caliber class. It was a fantastic opportunity for the riders and horses to have the experience of this event."
With a time allowed of 55 seconds, Stephen's jump-off route featured seven obstacles, including the B and C elements of the triple and a new fence, a 5'3" Purina vertical. Jayne and Athena were up first and were eager to set the Great American Time to Beat in a classic underdog story. The team ended with four jumping faults in 44.200 seconds.
The best was saved for last when Ward and Sapphire immaculately took the victory with a faultless round in 44.782 seconds, as the crowd witnessed history-in-the-making for the once-in-a-lifetime pair.
"I owe my career to her [Sapphire]," said Ward, who now nears the four-million dollar mark on his mare. "I watched Charlie go, and I've got to say, standing at the gate, I was nervous. There was a lot of money on the line."
Ward and Sapphire led the way in a victory gallop, joined by the top 20 horse-and-riders of the class as the crowd cheered approvingly of the outcome.
"McLain is the best rider I've ever seen, probably will ever see, so it's an honor to be in second place," exclaimed an ecstatic Jayne. "I'm grateful to be able to compete in a class like this...it was an excellent event today, and I couldn't ask for anything more."
"Pfizer Animal Health is very excited at the wonderful success of the first Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix," said Kristin Ruff of Pfizer Animal Health. "The riders and horses gave the crowd a very thrilling afternoon of topnotch competition. Pfizer is proud to be able to be a part of this event and help keep these wonderful horses healthy."
"I was totally satisfied with the way it all played out," said Stephens after the class. "McLain and Sapphire are the best of the best, and it was only a plus for the class that they won. I thought Charlie was on his game. Clearly he did his homework and prepared his horse well for this test. He goes out to win every time and he works every inch of every hair on that horse!"
"I'm proud of all the riders who qualified and stepped up to the challenge of this class," continued Stephens. "This was an Olympic-size course, and every one of them deserves congratulations for their dedication and effort. I've received countless calls, emails and text messages from around the world about this class. I even had riders with 20 faults say to me 'That was fantastic! It was a great day for show jumping"
EquestrianLife.com captured every moment of the action in high-definition on a live-stream internet broadcast and more than 12,000 viewers from around the world tuned in to watch. If you missed it live, log on today to watch the Pfizer Million in its entirety on EquestrianLife.com.
The Pfizer Million is now in the history books as HITS helped raised the level of show jumping in the United States. The future looks bright for show jumping as well as Ward and Sapphire, who now look towards a victory at the World Equestrian Games as part of Team USA.
HITS, Inc. produces high-quality, international-level hunter/jumper horse shows. Based in upstate New York in the village of Saugerties, HITS has been producing shows since 1982 and is now a nationwide company with world-class circuits in California, Florida, Arizona, New York and Virginia. In 2010, HITS took the industry to new heights when it hosted the first-ever Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix on September 12, in Saugerties, New York.
Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix