Thermal, Calif. – Mar. 20, 2018 – Sunday was filled with excitement, contagious smiles, and weather that was just shy of perfect as the crowds filled the stands to watch the sixth annual AIG $1 Million Grand Prix, an event that only happens once a year where show jumping’s most talented horses and riders join us from across the country and around the world for a shot in winning the lion’s share of prize money.
HITS welcomed in Mark McGowan from Kilmaronack, Great Britain to design his first “Million Dollar Course” for HITS. “I was happy with the spread of faults throughout the first round and absolutely elated with the result,” said McGowan. “To get six clear rounds and have an absolutely fantastic jump-off where the last one to go wins is the coolest thing ever.”
A carefully planned jump-off ride would be required in order to capture the blue ribbon in the AIG Million with six coming back to compete for top honors. Only two riders would turn in clear jump-off rounds.
The dynamic duo that took home the blue ribbon, cooler and trophy was Nayel Nassar, of Encinitas, California, aboard his own Lordan. Last to go in the jump-off and topping a field of 51, riding home in a time of 44.418, Nassar and Lordan secured their second HITS Million win, to go along with their 2013 victory in the Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York.
During the post-competition press conference, Nassar discussed that as Lordan is getting older (the Hanoverian gelding is now 14), he is trying to compete him more sparingly. The first show of the year for Lordan was at the HITS Desert Horse Park when the team took home top honors in the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Thermal CSI3*-W, and that was the last show for him up until this week. Just as Nassar said after the World Cup, “[Lordan] is just such a trier and he is small, but the jumps never feel small on him. We just want to take care of him as best we can,” Nassar said. “We have an incredible partnership and at this point we go in the ring and it’s almost like we don’t have to think anymore.”
Less than a second behind Nassar was Rowan Willis and Blue Movie with a clear round in 45.738. Willis said, “[Blue Movie] has always been quite feisty, but she tries her heart out and she’s very fun to ride in the ring.” This team has been preparing at HITS Ocala, where they won the $265,000 Longines Grand Prix FEI CSIO5* during the Ocala Winter Festival (Week V). It was a successful day for the team that traveled across the country, but the thrill hasn’t stopped yet – they are en route back to HITS Ocala to compete in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix.
Paul O’Shea, another HITS $1 Million Grand Prix veteran, would take home the third place ribbon aboard Skara Glen’s Presence with a four fault time in 45.753. “I didn’t stick to my strategy and I should have; my plan was to do seven to fence two and I was just too slow coming to the first fence so I had the back rail down, but my horse jumped great,” said O’Shea. “The course was perfect as it’s a difficult job to build for so many starters. It was a great day, great crowd, and great class.”
Taking home the fourth place ribbon was Christian Heineking aboard NKH Caruso with a four-fault time of 53.757. Even with an unplanned refusal at fence 12b, Heineking was able to make up time and be fast enough for fourth place. Erynn Ballard and Fantast were first to go in the jump-off and they started off with a great trip to set the pace, but the last two fences came down for an eight fault score in 43.750 for fifth place. Zazou Hoffman and Samson II would round out the top six.
AIG $1 Million Grand Prix
Place / Horse / Rider
1. Lordan / Nayel Nassar
2. Blue Movie / Rowan Willis
3. Skara Glen’s Presence / Paul O’Shea
4. NKH Caruso / Christian Heineking
5. Fantast / Erynn Ballard
6. Samson II / Zazou Hoffman
7. Akuna Mattata / Nicole Shahinian-Simpson
8. Garkus Van Het Indihof / Theodore Boris
9. Calypso VD Zuuthoeve / Laura Hite
10. Cupilor / Michelle Parker
11. Amice Z / Charlie Jayne
12. Darko’s Promise / Alberto Michan