Samantha Schaefer and Mahalo Win $500k Hunter Prix Final

All bets were off Sunday morning as judges cards were wiped clean from Saturday's first two rounds of the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final and the top 25 riders advancedAll bets were off Sunday morning as judges cards were wiped clean from Saturday's first two rounds of the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final and the top 25 riders advanced

Story originally posted by Horsecity.com Staff

All bets were off Sunday morning as judges cards were wiped clean from Saturday's first two rounds of the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final and the top 25 riders advanced to the final two rounds in the Strongid C 2X Grand Prix Stadium at HITS-on-the-Hudson. With an impressive fourth-round score of 92.33 and a total score of 178.08, junior Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, Maryland piloted Lyn Pedersen's Mahalo to victory.

Schaefer finished Saturday's rounds in the top four and was looking forward to "having some fun" on Sunday. Despite the rain that fell throughout most of the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final, Schaefer was all smiles when she received her first-place ribbon and $150,000 check. "I didn't ride any differently than I usually do, I just did my best," said Schaefer. "After it was over I saw the check and thought, wow, that's a lot of money!"

The Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final was developed by HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri. The class welcomed professionals, amateurs and juniors to participate on a range of horses from pre-green to seasoned hunters. It has, in turn, revolutionized the Hunter discipline and welcomed all levels of horses and riders from all over the country to compete for serious prize money.

Of the 63 who competed in the class, 25 were chosen to compete in the third round on Sunday, and the top four moved on to the fourth and final round.

"This class has opened up the playing field," said Nick Haness of Coto de Caza, California. "It attracted good horses from different levels and the best, obviously, rose to the top."

Haness led the way after posting a score of 87.330 in the third round, but couldn't best Schaefer's 92.33 fourth-round performance. He finished with a total score of 171.830 and claimed second-place honors in the irons of Jessica Singer's Cruise.

Kate Conover of Ocala, Florida and Redfield Farm's Balios Z were one of the pairs to advance to the final round and posted a fourth-round score of 87 to claim a total of 170.33 points and the third-place ribbon. "This course was set really well," said Conover. "It was designed to show off a good horse."

The inaugural Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final course was designed by HITS' own Rian Beals and Jerry Dougherty. Beals and Dougherty built the course in the Strongid C 2X Grand Prix Stadium at HITS Saugerties, asking Hunter riders to maneuver around the Grand Prix jumps that were already set for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix later that day. The top riders seemed not to be phased by the distractions and posted commendable scores.

"This class felt important," said Patricia Griffith of White Plains, New York. "Being in the Grand Prix ring with those jumps made us realize how big a deal it really is." Griffith advanced to the fourth round and posted a final score of 164.99 to take fourth-place honors aboard Lexi Maounis' Sienna.

"The bigger ring made my horse more alert," said Haness. "I learned that he likes having a lot to look at." With the first Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final behind them, everyone involved is excited to see how the class progresses.

"It was great to see a junior win it demonstrates the diversity of the class. I thought it was beautifully judged and I look forward to seeing it grow in popularity," said Struzzieri. "With the addition of a 3' class next year, Pfizer Million Weekend will start to resemble a real national championship for this sport."

Professionals, amateurs and juniors alike agree that the popularity of the class will continue its momentum and experience immense growth during the 2012 qualifying season. "Next year I think we will see people fighting to get into this class," said Schaefer.

HITS took steps this year to promote show jumping in the mainstream media by partnering with HRTV and A Good Show to deliver the live streaming and expert commentating of Pfizer Million Weekend 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.

The qualifying season for the 2012 Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final begins this January at the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California and the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit in Florida and will draw Hunter riders from all parts of the country to ride for a chance at the largest purse in the world. Qualifying opportunities will make their way back east during the spring and summer with stops in Culpeper, Virginia and Saugerties, New York. The qualifying period will end September 2, 2012.

For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit www.HitsShows.com.