Game On for HITS $3 Mil Marathon

By January 20, 2016
Olympic rider Jaime Azcarraga, of Mexico City, Mexico, is presented a check for $350,000 after winning the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on Anton Radio Formula, in Thermal, March 2015. (Photo by ESI Photography)

Olympic rider Jaime Azcarraga, of Mexico City, Mexico, is presented a check for $350,000 after winning the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on Anton Radio Formula, in Thermal, March 2015. (Photo by ESI Photography)

Okay, sports fans, time to get out the scorecards and track the action to the three biggest prize offerings in U.S. show jumping, the HITS Triple Crown: three individual $1 million classes. With the opening of the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, CA, this week, qualifying starts in earnest.

The rules have changed a bit as HITS has incorporated FEI 5* classes on its major circuits. The one-two punch of the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix and the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix will have the rings sizzling on Sunday, March 20, at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal and on March 27 at the HITS Post Time Farm in Ocala, FL, culminating the coastal winter circuits.

Riders competing at HITS venues on either coast can earn points to qualify for both and, for the second year, West Coast riders were able to get a jump up the rankings list by competing in HITS new National Sunshine Series fall circuit in Thermal, where points accrued to the two $1 million 2016 winter contests.  It’s a big advantage for California riders, particularly among ultra-competitive riders West Coast who haven’t quite made it to the international level but are ready to test their skills against world-class riders on a very challenging course, featuring obstacles of up to 1.6m height (for non-horse folk, that’s 5’2”, and can sometimes also be that wide).

HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri said that in the U.S. market, the sport of stadium jumping is still building the talent to create a broad base of horses and riders that can jump these types of courses. “If you’re a consistent customer and competitor at our shows, and you have a horse that can jump the tracks, you stand a very good chance of qualifying for the $1 Million class in Thermal.”

In Ocala, demand outstrips supply, as top international riders who make their winter home in nearby Wellington have put the Ocala $1 million on their calendars, hotly contesting the 47 starts. “In Florida we have more demand than supply, but that’s not yet the case on the West Coast,” Struzzieri said. “So the money you earn toward qualifying means more in Florida.”

Global superstars of the sport — including Mclain Ward, Beezie Madden and Kent Farrington —  have made a point of jetting their horses cross country to compete for a slice of the $1 million pie on both coasts (with a cool $350,000 going to the winner, scaling to $3,500 for the rider in 20th place). This year, Alan Wade of Ireland will design the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix course in California, with New York’s Buddy Brown handling the design duties for the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in Florida.

Due to the fact that it’s an FEI 5* class, riders will qualify for the HITS $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS on the Hudson in Saugerties, NY, Sunday, Sept. 11, based on their place on the FEI Longines World Jumping Rankings (where Farrington currently sits third, Madden fourth and Ward eighth).

But the action doesn’t end at the $1 million mark. There are plenty of other events to keep things lively in the course of the eight-week Desert Circuit, with jumper highlights that include the $574,000 FEI 5* on Feb. 7, and a $170,000 FEI CSI-W3* World Cup qualifier on Feb. 14.

Even the subdued hunter classes – where suave and relaxation win the day, as opposed to the frenetic bounding of the jumper ring – will build to a fever pitch and the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on Saturday, March 19. A series of weekly $5,000 and $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix will allow riders to qualify for the September HITS Hunter finals in Saugerties, where they can compete in two separate classes, for $250,000 and $350,000 in prize money.

HITS deserves a round of applause for keeping things interesting for every level of rider: even the wee ones will have their day in the sun, with $1,000 Pony Prix on consecutive Fridays, Feb. 5 and Feb. 12.

Also worth noting, HITS for the second year in a row will feature an FEI Nations Cup CSIO4* format in Ocala. Presented by Edge Brewing Barcelona, the team competition during the Ocala Winter Festival, Feb. 16-21 with nearly $300,000 offered in the FEI jumper division throughout the week, including the $100,000 Nations Cup.

Let the games begin!

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