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As victor in the inaugural Pfizer Million in 2010 with Sapphire, and third placed finisher in 2011 with Antares, Ward is no stranger to the HITS On the Hudson venue nor this class. But after coming back from serious injury this year, and after a disappointing experience this time last month at the London Olympic Games, winning the Million was a very welcome high point.
Ward described the Chinese Dragon vertical at fence 8 as "a ridable line"
“I thought it was tough!” Ward exclaimed of the course. “The jumps were beautiful and the material was a little lighter than past years. I thought the triple combination was a real five star competition caliber, and you needed a real Olympic caliber horse to jump that successfully.”
In the jumpoff, Ward was on his best game, navigating over 8 more fences in a time that simply smoked his competitors. Even if he had had a rail, he still would have won with his time that was 5 seconds faster than the second placed rider. It was a dominating performance, and a challenge that Ward deemed spot on for the level of competition that HITS brings together for the Million.
Despite HITS President Tom Struzzieri’s obvious desire to see more riders fill out the jumpoff, course designer Olaf Petersen Jr. built the 1.60m track strictly to the difficulty warranted by the prize money offered.
That is to say, the course continued to be one of, if not the most difficult show jumping track in the United States. Of the 38 starters, just two others joined Ward in a three-horse jumpoff. And the course was not kind to a good majority of the field that just didn’t have the toolset to successfully navigate the technical questions set at full height.
...and so the jump crew were kept very busy whislt replacing poles in their cups.
In round one, Ward picked up the first clear early on. Just two rounds later, Jonathan McCrea completed a lucky clear with Colorado, bouncing the top pole of 11a at the end of the triple so hard that it could be seen and heard from the other side of the arena. But, it stayed in place, allowing McCrea to move to round 2.
But that close call was a foreshadowing of things to come, as the one stride to one stride triple combination became the cause of many a refusal and fall for most of the riders. That triple combination, and the very short two stride combination at 5ab were the most technical questions asked, while the airy red Chinese Dragon vertical at 8 was a height question that caused several more refusals.
The technicality of the course really became apparent midway through the order, when a string of eight riders either fell, retired, or racked up well over 20 faults.
Henselwood and George made a huge effort through the first round course, going clear
Henselwood was thrilled with the 10 year old Dutch-bred George, who finished 2nd after jumping better than he had at the recent Olympics, where he and Henselwood represented Canada.
“He puts such an effort in, there’s so much height between him and the obstacle, it’s a little hard to sit, it’s a little hard to get under the time allowed,” said Henselwood. “That’s my biggest challenge at 10 years old with him.”
McCrea and Colorado were well clear of the Ferrari oxer at fence 9 in the first round
Her single rail in the jumpoff was better than an unlucky eight faults for McCrea and Colorado, putting the Irish rider third. McCrea knew that Ward was going to be a hard act to follow in the jumpoff, explaining that, “with McLain in the jumpoff I figured I could leave a jump out and I still wouldn’t be fast enough! He’s one of the fastest riders there is I think, and it was going to be hard to catch him!”
George, miles above the huge triple bar in Round 1
George's big effort, especially through the triple combination, paid off for Henselwood in the first round. In the jumpoff, "I set off as fast as I thought I could, and I think by the second fence I was still too slow, but I didn’t stop trying until I faulted," she said. "And then I knew that Jonathan had had a little bad luck, so I just settled down and prayed that I didn’t touch that last jump."
Darragh Kerins also completed a clear round with Lisona, but two pesky time faults kept him out of the jumpoff. Single rails were especially heartbreaking for half a dozen more riders, as just jumping around this extremely tough track was an accomplishment in itself.
But as all the riders agreed, when one is jumping for a piece of a million dollar prize, the challenge shouldn’t be anything but pushing the envelope, and for that reason this year’s edition of the Million was a success.
“I personally don’t like to see someone win a class who perhaps doesn’t have a scopey horse, or can’t solve the questions that I asked,” commented Petersen. “The quality of this field was very different rider to rider, and I was extremely happy with the result.”
The result, and the suberb recovery of the footing in the grand prix ring and schooling area after Saturday’s torrential downpour made the day’s competition an overwhelming success. All four berms surrounding the ring were peppered with spectators out to enjoy the events of the day and the concert that followed the competition.
And to any West Coast riders who might be wondering how next year’s inaugural Thermal Million may shape up, Struzzieri promised that it will not be built softer than its East Coast predecessor. Henselwood, who does a fair bit of showing on the West Coast herself, ventured to say that it would change the sport of show jumping on the West Coast.
Time will tell. For now the Pfizer Million has separated the best of the best from the rest of the crowd for one more year. Ward is heading home with an extra $350,000 in hand to give Antares F a well-deserved break; he’ll show the freakishly talented grey gelding once more this year, at the Alltech National Horse Show in Lexington, KY this November.
Ward and Antares F victory gallop to end the day.
Darragh Kerins and Lisona tried so hard to finish inside the time, but they were just over the time allowed of 84 seconds upon landing.
Laura Chapot was a heavy favorite to win the Million after her successes on the HITS circuit this year. But a refusal at the water was her undoing with Quointreau Du Prince. Their second effort was sucessful and they finished in 27th place.
Another heavy favorite after their brilliant 2nd placed finish in the 2011 Million, Duncan McFarlane and Mr. Whoopy looked to be on their way to repeat success until this fence, the back rail of which Whoopy touched with a back hoof for four faults. They finished inside the top fifteen in 12th place.
Henselwood waves to fans during the victory gallop
2012 Pfizer Million champions
Top Twelve – Pfizer $1,000,000 Million Grand Prix
Rider | Horse | Round 1 Faults | Round 2 Faults | Jumpoff Time
- McLain Ward | Antares F | 0 | 0 | 39.875
- Jill Henselwood | George | 0 | 4 | 45.369
- Jonathan McCrea | Colorado | 0 | 8 | 44.011
- Darragh Kerins | Lisona | 2
- Rodrigo Pessoa | Winsom | 4
- Christine McCrea | Romantovich Take One | 4
- Peter Leone | Lincourt Gino | 4
- Kevin Babington | Mark Q | 4
- Candice King | Kismet 50 | 5
- Patricia Griffith | Wieminka B | 5
- Megan Edrick | Cadence | 7
- Duncan McFarlane | Mr. Whoopy | 7