Thermal, Calif.—March 13
HITS, Inc., announced the final list of riders set to compete in Sunday’s AIG $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, at HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, Calif.
With the touch-down of the East Coast qualified riders and manager’s picks yesterday, the list is made up of a cast of international superstars, World Cup Champions, Olympians and wide-eyed young talent.
On the West Coast, momentum has been building for weeks leading up to the AIG Million. Competitors including California native Ashlee Bond Clarke and reigning Zoetis Million champion Nayel Nassar, who rides for Egypt, are primed to give the field a run for their money.
Canada’s Bretton Chad will top the list of young riders looking to make a splash at the top level after finishing second to fellow Canadian Elizabeth Gingras in the CSI-W at HITS Thermal earlier in the circuit. Other Canadian riders in the order will include John Anderson and 2013 AIG Million red-ribbon winner John Pearce.
Coming off a grand prix win on Sunday, Richard Spooner and Cristallo will go to bat with a star-studded field. “The list of riders competing is a super one and I think we all agree that it is great to see this kind of money offered in one class,” he said. “Right now I am focused on making sure my horse is the best he can be and reminding myself to treat this like any other class.”
FEI World Cup champion of 2012, Rich Fellers of Oregon, will sit on 2012 USEF Horse of the Year Flexible for Sunday’s event, while other West Coast favorites will include Will Simpson, Bliss Heers, Jenni McAllister and Mandy Porter.
From points south, Eduardo Sanchez Navarro and Enrique Gonzalez will ride for Mexico, while Eduardo Menezes represents Brazil. John Perez and Juan Pablo Gnecco will fly Colombian colors.
Both prize money and the allure of a championship-caliber field brought riders and horses across many borders for a chance at $1 million. Headlining the contingent of East Coast riders who made their way to the first leg of the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping is 2013 USEF Equestrian of the Year Beezie Madden and Pan-American gold medalist Kent Farrington. Madden will pilot Coral Reef Via Volo, while Farrington has selected Willow as his mount.
“This is my first time competing in one of the [HITS] $1 million grand prix, so I am not sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to a big course and great competition,” said Madden. “This kind of prize money is starting to rival other mainstream sporting events and it’s a really positive step for our sport.”
Coming off a win in the $280,000 FEI World Cup Qualifier Grand Prix in Wellington, Fla., Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa put his name in the hat with Status, a 9-year old gelding who came to the Pessoa string just a few months ago.
Fellow East Coast riders include Candice King, Kirsten Coe, New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley and Charlie Jayne.
While some are new to the million-dollar scene, several riders are returning to very familiar territory. Rounding out the East Coast contingent is 2011 Zoetis Million winner Andre Thieme for Germany and Todd Minikus, who was just shy of the top spot in last year’s Zoetis Million.
In total, 42 horse-and-rider combinations will represent nine nations as they take to Sunday’s $1 million course, set by Brazilian designer Marina Azevedo.
A final order of go will be announced after Friday’s $25,000 SmartPak Wild Card Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis. If not already qualified, the winner will receive a wild card berth into the AIG Million on Sunday. The final order will be determined by performance in qualifying grand prix, according to reverse-order specifications with the wild card entry riding first.
The AIG Million will take the stage at HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, Calif., at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 16 and will be available worldwide via live webcast, presented in cooperation with HRTV, iEquine.com and A Good Show. Tune in on Sunday at iEquine.com or HRTV.com.