Thermal, Calif.—Jan. 24
Since the HITS Thermal winter circuit last year, Ashlee Bond Clarke has gotten married, retired her horse of a lifetime, Cadett 7, and suffered a concussion. But none of that stood in the Hidden Hills, Calif., native’s way as she rode to an “icing on the cake” win aboard Little Valley Farms’ Chela LS on Jan. 24 at HITS Thermal.
The $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, was the first grand prix back for Clarke after a concussion at the Los Angeles National sidelined her in early November. She admitted that just being back in the show ring was enough.
“I was going to be happy today no matter what the results were,” she said. “Considering what happened to me, today was just a positive day.”
After retiring her partner of a lifetime, Cadett 7, last fall, Clarke admits that she and Chela LS are developing a similar partnership. “She has big shoes to fill, but she is beyond careful, naturally fast and super smart,” said Bond Clarke of the 10-year-old mare she purchased from Simon Nizri in July. “If I get her focused and keep myself in check, she is game for anything.”
While a new ride for Clarke, the partnership with Chela S has seen 14 grand prix starts and already three wins. The goal, says Bond Clarke, is the World Cup-qualifiers offered at HITS Thermal during the winter circuit.
Martin Otto of Muenster, Germany set the course for the first grand prix of the HITS Desert Circuit and welcomed 42 starters to the track. The course wasn’t shy, with a tight time allowed and height that begged for scope. The heartbreak fence was the final jump of the first round, delivering faults to eight pairs.
A total of seven finished clear to advance to the jump-off. Canadian John Anderson of Calgary, Alberta, while seeing his first big grand prix since August, agreed that the track rode fairly—the perfect grand prix to lead off the season. He piloted his 14-year old gelding Terrific to second place. “He loves it here and he always tries hard on this circuit,” said Anderson. “He jumped around like a 9-year-old with all the scope in the world. I was proud of my old man.”
It was fractions of a second that separated first and second, which was attributed to one stride. Both Anderson and Clarke landed from the sixth fence at 33 seconds, but it was Clarke who cut the left turn to seven and left a stride out in the process. “I am a counter of strides and I saw the line, but I was already clear and so happy with this effort,” concluded Anderson.
$25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis