As the rain subsided at HITS-on-the-Hudson on Sunday, some of the best equestrians in the world took to the course of the second-ever Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.As the rain subsided at HITS-on-the-Hudson on Sunday, some of the best equestrians in the world took to the course of the second-ever Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.
As the rain subsided at HITS-on-the-Hudson on Sunday, some of the best equestrians in the world took to the course of the second-ever Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix. But, after a plane-ride from Germany, upwards of $20,000 in travel expenses and a long week of nerves it was Andre Thieme who will cash the coveted $350,000 winners check.
During the qualifying season in Ocala, Florida, Thieme and his own Aragon Rouet earned over $36,000 in prize money and boasted a historic win in Sundays class over seasoned American riders like McLain Ward, Todd Minikus and Margie Engle. Thieme and Aragon Rouet proved that they deserve to be considered one of the best as they were one of two to advance to the jump-off and the only pair to go double clear. Thieme posted a time of 90.74 seconds in the first round to sneak under the time allowed of 91 seconds and bested the 56 time allowed in the jump-off with a final time of 48.14 seconds.
"I wouldnt have made the trip and spent the money to get here if I didn't think I had a chance, said Thieme."I didn't think I was going to win, but I was hoping for a top-five finish."
He and his horse arrived in Saugerties a week ago and the wait didn't relieve any of the pressure, according to Thieme. "The course was big," said Thieme."I got on [Aragon Rouet] when we were 20 horses away and just walked to relax and prepare."
Forty-five unique horse-and-rider-combinations challenged Olympic course designer Steve Stephens first-round track. The buzz circulating the HITS Saugerties show grounds was all about size. Stephens reached for the stars with this year's course, building some of the biggest jumps riders and horses will see short of the Olympics. Crowds gathered on the berms of the Strongid C 2X Grand Prix stadium to watch as Stephens unveiled brand new jumps from his trailer and began building Friday night.
"This was big as anything," said Charlie Jayne of the course. "I was in the Super League for the past two months and this is one of the biggest courses I have walked this year." Jayne, who finished second in last year's Pfizer Million returned with The London Group's Athena and finished in the ribbons at 17th.
Thieme went head-to-head with reigning Pfizer Million champion, Ward to try and steal the historic victory. Ward finished the first round course with four faults after clipping the top rail on the second fence of the 12ab combination with a final first-round time of 85.63. He ended the day in third aboard Grant Road Partners LLC's Antares F.
"I worried too much about the back rail of the [11ab] combination and opted for the five strides," said Ward. "We saw two great riders in the jump-off and I appreciate a good winner."
The first to go clear and the only competition for Thieme in the jump-off was Duncan McFarlane of New Zealand. The crowd waited twenty trips for a clear round and it was McFarlane who finally delivered in the irons of Simone Coxe's Mr. Whoopy. He was first in the jump-off, but saw trouble at the repeat of 12a and took down the front rail of the 8th jump-off fence to finish with eight faults and a time of 89.27 seconds
"I excited to go clear, but I knew I wasn't going to be the only one," said McFarlane. "The course could be ridden and there were a lot of great riders behind me."
Stephens coupled height with technicality in his course, presenting riders with 13 obstacles, including three double combinations and a wide water jump. "It was important to me that this was not a normal class," said Stevens. "I wanted it to be a hard class last year I thought I had too many four faulters and a miss for me would have been to have too many clear."
Stephens' plan came to fruition as only five riders posted four-fault rounds.
"This is the Super Bowl of show jumping," said Stevens. "I tried to build tests for all horses and stride lengths and if they made a little error, they were going to have a rail down."
The course was unanimously daunting, but riders agreed that the purse was equally intimidating. "To be successful, you have to put the money out of your head and concentrate on the jumps," said Ward.
Rounding out the top four was HITS veteran Minikus aboard his own Pavarotti. He kept the crowd hopeful of a guaranteed jump-off until the back rail of the b fence at the 11ab combination fell. His first round time was 87.23 seconds. Despite the blue ribbon slipping from his grasp, Minikus was positive about the future of the Pfizer Million.
"This class helps to promote show jumping in America and we need to do more of this and continue to create this atmosphere," said Minikus. "It's an awesome event and I hope it continues to grow."
HITS took steps this year to promote show jumping in the mainstream media by partnering with HRTV and A Good Show to deliver live streaming and expert commentating to a global audience. During the event, the live webcast attracted over 131,000 visits from 56 countries. A staggering 82% of those views came from the United States.
"The quality and attention of HITS coverage for the richest day in U.S. Equestrian Sports and use of the latest technologies and distribution opportunities, has paid off beyond our wildest expectations," said David Kiviat, Director/Producer with A Good Show.
Stuart Meikle, Marketing Director, Equine Division at Pfizer Animal Health was present to congratulate all Pfizer Million participants on their performances during a historic moment in elite show jumping. He presented Thieme with winning honors before the top 20 finishers took one last gallop around the Strongid C 2X Grand Prix Stadium.
"Our goal is to connect horses and people," said Meikle. "This accomplishes that with show jumping at its finest. We would love to see it back on prime time TV and Pfizer will be back next year if HITS will have us."
For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit www.HitsShows.com.