Thermal, Calif.—March 7-9
What brought Richard Spooner home to California from Europe after two years away from the HITS Desert Circuit? The allure of the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on March 17.
With that in mind, Spooner rode his veteran Cristallo to the top of the $50,000 CardFlex Grand Prix at HITS Desert Circuit on March 9. He hopes he and the 16-year-old Cristallo are just getting warmed up. “When the jumps get bigger, Cristallo gets better, so we will see what happens,” Spooner said.
The first-round track, designed by Bernardo Cabral of Portugal, included three double combinations, but faults were spread evenly throughout the course. Spooner picked up a time fault in a brilliant ride aboard SN Stables, LLC’s Chivas Z to keep him from the jump-off, but returned 41st in the 42-horse order determined to advance. Well under the first round time allowed, he piloted Cristallo, owned by Show Jumping Syndications, into an eight-horse jump-off.
“We’ve been everywhere and done everything together,” said Spooner of Cristallo, who has been a top mount for Spooner the past nine years. “I’m not sure where I would be without him, but it certainly wouldn’t be the winner’s circle.”
Mandy Porter of Encinitas, Calif., jumped a high-spirited Con Capilot to an early clear round in the jump-off, posting the time to beat at 44.72 seconds. Ashlee Bond Clarke of Hidden Hills, Calif., returned next and quickly stole the lead on Little Valley Farms’ Agro Star with a time of 44.56 seconds.
The next clear round came from Spooner and Cristallo. Their time of 42.72 seconds seemed to be enough for the win, but Spooner was not quick to start counting his prize money. Bond Clarke returned last with her second ride of the jump-off. “Ashlee is a brilliant competitor and she has the ability and the speed to beat anyone at any time,” said Spooner.
Bond Clarke rode Little Valley Farms’ Chela LS clear in 43.44 seconds, just fractions shy of the win. She ended in second with Chela LS and third on Agro Star.
Earlier in the week, another legendary partnership claimed a win. Rich Fellers returned to the ring with his 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final winner and mount for the London Olympic Games, the 18-year-old Flexible, topped the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix at HITS Thermal.
Earlier this year, Flexible’s fate was an uncertain one. He was diagnosed with blood clots in his right hind leg in June and his showing career was put on hold.
“His future is a mystery right now,” said Fellers of the chestnut stallion owned by Harry and Mollie Chapman. “The vets say that he shouldn’t be able to handle full work, let alone jump—there is no real explanation as to how he is happy and able to still perform.”
Fellers admitted that he is listening closely to Flexible and is taking every day class by class. “If he’s not right, he won’t jump,” said Fellers confidently. “I love him too much to take any risks.”
On March 7, there was no indication that Flexible was anything other than at the top of his game. He carried Fellers into a 12-horse jump-off.
Spooner of Agua Dulce, Calif., proved early that the course could be jumped, piloting Chivas Z for SN Stables, LLC to a clear round from the second spot in the original order. In the jump-off, Spooner set a challenging standard with a clear effort in 39.52 seconds.
Fellers returned one trip later and mirrored Spooner’s approach, taking inside-turn options and letting Flexible gallop every line. “Richard [Spooner] is a brilliant rider and it’s helpful to watch a top rider lay down an efficient, quick round,” said Fellers. “I was standing at the gate watching everything he did and my plan was to copy that.”
The difference, according to Fellers, was Flexible’s speed. Arguably one of the fastest horses in the field, Flexible shaved more than a full second off Spooner’s time, finishing in 38.27 seconds. “He’s faster than most horses and when we follow the same track, he usually ends up ahead,” said Fellers.
$50,000 CardFlex Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis
$25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis