Riding High at HITS $1M Grand Prix
by Nikki Alvin-Smith
The one million dollar CSI*5 Grand Prix held September 11th, 2016 at HITS on the Hudson, Saugerties, New York was a sunny afternoon filled with bright stars. The latest shining example to win this major East Coast competition was Jessica Springsteen and she was beaming afterward. A well-deserved win with two ambitious rounds that paid off to the tune of $330,000.00 for first place. This is Springsteen’s first win at the CSI-5* level. Her talented mount Cynar Va, owned by Stone Hill Farm, answered her every direction and together they skillfully cut corners to win with just a few seconds to spare showcasing some serious talent and athletic prowess.
The packed showgrounds gave the event a very international competition feel and the crowd stood and roared as Springsteen galloped on after the last fence in the jump-off. The spectators crowded the arena to inspect the fences and take photos before the event kicked off and were evidently very much involved from the beginning. In fact so many people flooded the arena to take pictures and walk the course it was difficult for the announcer to get them to ever leave. The tension built throughout the competition as it was clear there was to be a jump off between the top six. It was top competition at its best, replete with a who’s who of showjumping and a nail biting finish to please even the most jaded of spectators.
As the event was held on September 11th there was a beautiful tribute to those lost on this anniversary date. There was a presentation of the Flags by West Point Cadets, the singing of the National Anthem and a speech by NYS Assemblyman Pete Lopez topped off with Mr. Lopez leading the huge crowd in a rendition of God Bless America. By the conclusion of the tribute there were many teary eyes in the crowd of attendees.
Competition at this event was fierce as you might expect for such a major prize and the culmination of the summer season at HITS New York. Olympic riders such as our own Upstate girl Beezie Patton, Peter Leone and Kevin Babbington soared over the technical course designed by Werner Deeg. Foreign riders included Olympians Daniel Blumen of Columbia and Pablo Barrios of Venezuela, with riders from Ireland, Mexico and Egypt. The grandstands were packed with spectators and the course did not disappoint providing the six clear rounds for the jump-off. HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri pointed out that his preferred number for clears was three to five and he was happy with course designer Werner Deeg’s accomplishment coming close to his ideal number of clears from a deep field of talent.
The course held no single fence that particularly tripped up the participants but it was designed to reward fitness, stamina and true athletic ability with lots of big ‘asks’ as you would expect in a competition at this level. Deeg explained his technique in course construction as being designed to implement the nature and the movement of the horse.
“I have to thank Tom (Struzzieri) for inviting me and putting confidence in me to do this class. I’m a team player and I want to thank Kevin and the team. Without them I’m nothing. The riders rode spectacularly. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do for this class after watching the horses go throughout the week. This is a major, major event for me,” said Deeg with humility.
Struzzieri praised Deeg’s design and explained this was his first time working with Deeg.
“He came with the absolute highest credentials and lived up to all of them.”
Winner Jessica Springsteen also praised the course design as not favoring any particular type of horse but testing the all around ability of all the horses that competed.
“This was my third jump-off with Cynar Va, so I haven’t had that much experience going quick,’ said Springsteen.
As a spectator you certainly wouldn’t know it. Springsteen took daring turns and powered through both rounds with deft horsemanship skills. The timing of her aids was fantastic. As Cynar Va landed after a fence she was right there with the next direction without catching him unfairly in the bridle and without upsetting his balance. The combination was impressive to watch and this ex-showjumper author thoroughly enjoyed the finesse that Springsteen showed in her riding.
“ It feels amazing to win this class. I’m really happy,” said Springsteen. When asked how she felt going in the jump off Springsteen explained that her horse was ‘jumping higher ’ in the warm up for the jump off so she had a good feeling there would be a good result. Her speed at 51.89 was deftly achieved.
Runner up was Catherine Tyree of Chicago, Illinois aboard Enjoy Louis, owned by Joseph and Mary Tyree. Tyree explained she had experienced a rough start to the week and that this day was an amazing turnaround.
“Earlier in the week we tested to see if I can be a gymnast or not,” Tyree said smiling, “ I left him ( Enjoy Louis) till today. I am confident in my partner. I know this horse so well, I’ve had him for a year and a half now. He’s such a fighter and has a huge heart.”
Tyree achieved the first clear round of the jump-off and the cleared the last fence in 53.29.
Brandie Holloway of Topeka, Kansas riding Lucky Strike, owned by Hays Investment Corp, ultimately took 3rd place after giving the jump-off course a game effort being the first to attempt the course. A great time at 52.18 but sadly one rail would leave them with four faults.
“ Lucky Strike started off as an equitation horse,” Holloway explained. She had given the ride on her Grand Prix horse to her daughter Hunter for the Florida circuit and was left with Lucky Strike in the barn. As she rode him she soon discovered that the horse liked to jump and thus he became a jumper but he has not been doing advanced jumpers for very long.
“I thought the course was one of the best courses I’ve jumped, and it wasn’t just for one horses’ style. Everybody all around had a level playing field,” said Holloway, echoing Springsteen’s remarks.
There were two other four fault rounds in the jump-off. Lauren Tisto riding Mr Visto, owned by Tequestrian Farms LLC., and Egyptian competitor Nayal Nassar riding his own Lordan.
Eugenio Garze Perez took eight faults for sixth place aboard Bariano, owned by El Milagro. His round was super fast at 52.55 but the course defeated his brave efforts.
“All of us at HITS are certainly happy with the result today, it was a terrific class and a great turn out of people who came to watch the riders here,” said Struzzieri, “ It was a super class today with great sport. The top finishers all did an excellent job which certainly made for an exciting day, so my hat’s off to them. We’d like to see them back again and complete the million next year.”
There was a special treat after the event as high profile riders took their seats at a table in the burning sun to offer an opportunity for autographs to their fans. A lovely touch to a fulfilling day at a well-organized event and this writer looks forward to covering the 8th Annual $1 Million Dollar Grand Prix at Saugerties again in 2017.