September 11, 2016--The stellar line-up for the HITS Saugerties $1 million Grand Prix boasted three previous winners, Beezie Madden, Todd Minikus and Nayel Nassar, but none of them even made the tie-breaker that included several members of the upcoming generation that is establishing a firm niche in the sport.
Jessica Springsteen earned her first 5-star win with the spectacular jumper, Cynar VA, a personable gray whose style thrilled the crowd that was spread out among bleachers, the hillside and a variety of tents.
He may be the horse that takes her to the Olympics four years from now, but in the meantime, he enabled her to scratch another ambition off her bucket list.
The first three riders in the jump-off all had faults, but Catherine Tyree, a contemporary of Jessie's, was clear in 53.29 when she went third-to-last on Enjoy Louis. (Love that name.)
Jessie had the advantage of being last to go.
“This was my third jump-off with him, I haven't had that much experience going quick,” she pointed out.
“He was jumping unbelievable, so I knew I could take a little bit of risk, and it worked out,” she said.
That was an understatement--Cynar was clocked in an impressive 51 seconds to take the $330,000 first prize. Those screams of joy from the VIP tent were Jessie's mother, Patti Scialfa, who raised her arms in triumph as her daughter galloped through the finish line and the scoreboard flashed the good news.
Jessie trains in Europe with Edwina Tops-Alexander and her husband, Jan Tops, but here she's been getting help from Jimmy Doyle, who also works with Georgina Bloomberg.
The field of 35 encountered a really interesting course, both in the entertaining type of jumps involved and the way course designer Werner Deeg used them.
Who? It's likely you never heard of him, but the German deserves a great deal of respect for the way he put things together here.
The triple combination, an oxer one stride to a vertical topped by a plank (very careful!) two strides from another oxer, had standards shaped like triple-dip ice cream cones. (It was tough looking at them all afternoon; couldn't imagine why I kept yearning for a scoop of vanilla).
Two fences near the end of the first round had colorful standards in the shape of playing cards, and they were placed on the side of the ring that was right in front of the bleachers, always a distraction.
Two giant Rubik's Cubes supported a narrow stack of multi-colored rails, while the verticals at slots five and six had airy honeycomb standards, complete with bees.
Werner had a tough task, because the Million field included a variety of horses and riders, from relative newbies to Olympians and in the case of Beezie, an Olympic multi-medalist. Last year, Beezie won without a jump-off, not the ideal scenario when a big crowd is on hand, but this year, the jump-off was the biggest in the seven-year history of the class.
Werner had been working on the grand prix for six weeks. “You can't do it in five minutes,” he said slyly, noting that all last week, he studied the horses that would be competing.
He's not into tricks.
“For me, it's more important that we implement the natural movement of the horses in our courses. This is what I try to do,” he said.
Brandie Holloway, third on her daughter's former equitation horse, Lucky Strike, with a rail down in a time of 52.18, called the route “one of the best courses I've jumped. It wasn't just for one horse's style. If you had a slower, scopier horse, there were places you could do, say, the five to the five and then there wasn't a tight four with a skinny vertical in your face that you weren't capable of jumping. I thought with a hotter type (of horse) without a huge step you could fade in or out and make the lines work to your advantage. I felt like all around everyone had an even playing field, whatever type of horse you had.”
The jump-off was nearly eight strong, as Karen Polle (With Wings) and Heather Caristo-Williams (Evening Star) each managed to avoid jumping faults but collected 1 time fault apiece. Heather's father, the irrepressible Ralph Caristo, could be heard riding with her over every jump, cheering her on with,”C'mon, baby!” Karen was faster than Heather to finish seventh.
After the class, riders were asked to sit at a long table and autograph whatever for a line of young and old fans who brought forth their T-shirts, baseball caps and even a horse blanket.
I watched the way Jessie dealt with everyone, reacting with genuine pleasure at endless requests for photos, and being especially nice to the young kids who were thrilled just to stand next to her. She's as big an idol to this crowd as her father, Bruce Springsteen, is to his fans.
After her autograph duties, Jessie--always gracious--gave me a few minutes for a video interview.
Click the right-pointing arrow to see what she had to say.
A two-time winner of the HITS $1 million, McLain Ward was absent today because he was riding HH Azur in the $2 million (Canadian) CP International. (Hunter Harrison, who owns Azur, is leaving his job as CEO of CP next year, so McLain wanted to be there for his swan song with the class.)
It almost worked out perfectly. McLain and Scott Brash of Great Britain on Ursula XII were the only two to qualify for the jump-off, but McLain had a rail to finish second. Still nothing to sneeze at.
This was HITS' biggest money day, with an additional $750,000 handed out in other classes.
Patricia Griffith won the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final on Callie Seaman's Skorekeeper, coming into the class with the lead after jumping in the preliminaries Friday and Saturday.
She didn't falter, and took the title with another generous effort by the 12-year-old Dutchbred, who benefited from her precision ride.
I chatted with Patricia afterward, when she spoke about her confidence in the horse.
Click on the right pointing arrow to hear what Patricia had to say.
Brian Moggre, a self-assured 15-year-old Texan with a bright future, went first in a five-horse jump-off to collect the top prize in the $250,000 Black Barn Junior/Amateur-Owner Prix.
After completing his fault-free trip on MTM Flutterby, he saw the other contenders falter.
“I was watching everybody at the gate. I always like knowing what's going on,” said Brian who trains with Mike McCormack and Tracey Fenney. Next year, when he's 16, he'll be eligible for the Million, so watch out, everyone.
His mare originally was bought as an investment horse that could be sold so he could buy the “next big thing.” But as it turned out, “She was the next big thing.”
Be sure to look at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman for more photos from HITS.
I'll be back with you next Sunday for the American Gold Cup. I'm spending every September weekend in New York, so I'm headed to Old Salem Farm in North Salem for that one. It should be good--Jessie will be there, and so will Beezie and McLain.