Michelle Parker and Happyness Win the $50,000 Cosequin Grand Prix at Indio

Michelle Parker, 29, from Tucson, Arizona, riding Happyness, owned by JR Farms, won the $50,000 Cosequin Grand Prix at the Indio Desert Circuit in Indio, California, today, edging out Olympian Lauren Hough's ...Michelle Parker, 29, from Tucson, Arizona, riding Happyness, owned by JR Farms, won the $50,000 Cosequin Grand Prix at the Indio Desert Circuit in Indio, California, today, edging out Olympian Lauren Hough's ...

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Michelle Parker, 29, from Tucson, Arizona, riding Happyness, owned by JR Farms, won the $50,000 Cosequin Grand Prix at the Indio Desert Circuit in Indio, California, today, edging out Olympian Lauren Hough’s double-clear ride on Clasiko by just 0.37 seconds. Hap Hansen on Maloubet had the only other double-clear score, but was almost two seconds slower than Parker and had to settle for third. The event was one of four World Cup Final qualifiers to be held during the six-week Indio Desert Circuit. A field of 36 horses competed and 26 of them were declared World Cup horses. Though Parker had not declared Happyness, after today’s class she said, "Happyness excels in an outdoor arena and the World Cup is indoors. But let’s see what happens over the circuit." Parker took home the blue ribbon, an engraved silver tray, an embroidered cooler and $15,000 for owner JR Farms.

Prior to the class, Course Designer Michel Vaillancourt from Schomberg, Ontario, Canada, said that designing for a World Cup qualifier does influence how he builds a course. "A World Cup Qualifier has to be considered as such–it’s a qualifier. It’s not so much an event that only qualifies riders to compete in the final, but it’s also an event that decides which riders should compete in the final. So if I stay a little bit too soft with the event, then we may get the wrong result and end up sending the wrong people to the World Cup Final. We do have certain specs that we have to follow. It is an FEI competition. It should be of international caliber, so it will be.

The jumps will pretty much be at maximum height. The riders that actually do well on it will have a good shot and deserve to go to the finals. I always build the World Cup qualifiers as a pretty serious test for that reason. I want to make sure that the right horses really end up qualifying." For today’s Round One, Vaillancourt built 14 jumps including water at Fence No. 4, a double at Fence No. 8, and a triple at Fence. No. 12, with Time Allowed set at 91 seconds. The highest jump was Fence No. 11 at 5′ 2". The widest spread was the 6′ wide oxer going into the triple bar in the triple combination. Seven riders had clear first rounds and moved on to the jump-off.

Vaillancourt’s eight-element short course had Time Allowed set at 46 seconds. Hap Hansen, 41, from Encinitas, California, on Linda Smith’s Maloubet went second in the order of go and had the first clear round. Hough from Ocala, Florida, on her Olympic mount Clasiko owned by the Clasiko Group was fifth to go in the jump-off and turned up the speed with a clear in 40.93, knocking Hansen out of first place by 1.48 seconds. Parker, who trains with Ronnie Freeman and now lives in Orange County, California, jumped after Hough and shaved a fraction of a second off the lead time, clocking in at 40.56 for the win. "It went great," said Parker, adding that her only concern today had been the line in front of the Grand Prix tent–Fence No 7, a 4′ 8" high oxer to Fence No. 8, the double combination. "I had to keep her steady. Sometimes when you have to steady her, she’s a little difficult. I was a little worried there, but she came back to me nicely and jumped cleanly." Parker has only been riding the 15-year old mare since September and had not planned on qualifying with her for the World Cup Final which takes place in April in Goteborg, Sweden. "They’ve already started the league and I haven’t done many of those classes. This is a new horse for me." Parker added that she had only shown Happyness in small arenas before today, but that the mare has competed extensively in European Grand Prix classes.

The line that stopped many of the riders from going to the jump-off was at the opposite long side of the arena from the line that concerned Parker. In front of the bleachers, Vaillancourt placed a triple to a final oxer. Sixteen riders had faults at the triple and eight riders tumbled the last rail in the oxer–a heartbreaking last rail for several riders who were otherwise clear. Parker described how she managed it, "You wanted to jump the plank carefully and then that line rode in a bit of a forward five. When you do the forward steps, they tend to get a little bit flat especially at the end of the course when some of them are tired. For Happyness it’s best if I leave a step out as opposed to adding steps. It’s just better to stay out of her way and let her jump."

Vaillancourt also commented on that line. "That was a technical line from the triple combination. It had a real funny distance. If you count a normal horse stride, it was exactly on a half stride, about six-and-a-half. From that jump to the last jump was five-and-a half. So the riders had the option of either going very short in seven and then out and short in six. The first few riders didn’t really figure it out. They’d try to do the five, the five got too long and the jump was too big. The other option was to gallop the whole line and just trust the horses to gallop over the plank–and if they did that, then you could continue and do just five strides to the last jump–like Will Simpson did. That’s how he qualified himself for the jump-off. But some others tried it and it didn’t work for them. Rich Fellers went with the first horse and he jumped fabulous, but he did seven short strides to the plank and then tried to move up inside the last one. That didn’t work. Eventually they figured it out. It was a great event."

Nine horses had four faults in Round One, resulting in a nine-way tie for eighth place. According to the rules of this FEI competition, after the seven placings for the horses that had clean first rounds, all of the horses with four faults are awarded the next place number, regardless of time. Each of the nine four-faulters received $666.66 in prize money. Today’s class was also a qualifying Grand Prix for the Cosequin U.S. Grand Prix League Invitational Finals to be held in Culpeper, Virgina, September 26-30, 2001.

For more information, MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Hilton, HITS Media & Public Relations, January 17 to March 12, Indio Desert Circuit, Tel: 760-342-2833; Show Office Phone: 760-342-1461; Fax: 760-775-7752, E-Mail: hiltonhits@cs.com