Thermal, Calif.—Feb. 20
“When I landed, I looked at the clock and saw that I only had 10 seconds to get to the other end of the ring, so I put the pedal to the metal,” Nayel Nassar admitted.
It all came down to a flat-out gallop in the $33,500 FEI HITS Desert Classic Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Thermal. With only two horses in the jump-off, Nassar put the speed of his 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding Lordan to the test and bested Bliss Heers by fractions of a second.
Nassar, of Santa Clara, Calif., represents his native Egypt and secured a jump-off in the HITS Desert Classic after chasing down Heers’ early clear in the first round. They would eventually be the lone two to advance.
Heers, who hails from Olivenhain, Calif., recently returned to American soil after riding in Europe for a time, and was the first to prove that the course designed by Mexico City’s Manuel Esparza could be jumped. She piloted Cesar, a 12-year-old gelding, for Bridgeside Farms, LLC. Heers and Nassar topped a field totaling 24.
“It didn’t walk big—it was fairly technical, but a tight time can make any track difficult,” said Nassar. “I was a little surprised that there were only two clears, but I’m not complaining.”
The clock indeed proved to be the trick as seven were kept from the jump-off with a single time fault. In the jump-off, Heers set an immediate time to beat of 40.28 seconds, putting all the pressure on Nassar and Lordan. Nassar jumped the first six fences of the course, including a double combination, relatively conservatively, but left nothing to chance in the last line.
From Fence 6, a long gallop stood between Nassar and the final jump. Lordan extended his stride, jumped the final fence and landed in 39.48 seconds for the win. “He is a very quick horse and once I put him in gear, he set his eyes on the fence and that was all it took,” said Nassar. “He is a small, compact horse, so he sits on his hind end really quickly and I had no problem getting him back after the gallop.”
Cheers exploded from the onlooking crowd as the pair’s nail-biting effort to the last fence paid off, delivering Nassar the win and Heers second.
With the fastest of the time-fault rounds over the original course, Ashlee Bond Clarke of Hidden Hills, Calif., rode the Little Valley Farms’ mare Chela LS to third. Also with 1 time fault apiece, Jenna Margaret Thompson of Calgary, Alberta jumped her own Webster to fourth, while Mexico’s Enrique Gonzalez capped the top five on his own Quilebo De Tillard.
With the momentum they gained in the HITS Desert Classic, Nassar and Lordan will jump in Saturday’s FEI World Cup Qualifier, but Nassar admits that the pressure is off. “We are locked into the World Cup Finals already, but I obviously want to be competitive in every class,” he said.
Along with his FEI World Cup goals, Nassar is also pointing Lordan to million-dollar glory. The pair is hoping for a repeat of last year’s win in the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, N.Y., when they return to the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on March 16. Nassar also announced that he may even have his eye on the HITS Triple Crown of Show jumping—he and Lordan plan to make their way to Ocala, Fla., the week after the AIG Million to jump in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix on March 24.
“We have been aiming for the Millions all circuit and Lordan has the experience, but I just have to remind myself to ride them like any other classes,” said Nassar in reaction to the possibility of a second, and maybe third million-dollar victory. “I didn’t jump him too much the first half of the circuit and I plan to keep him really fresh during second half as well.”
World Cup qualifying will return to HITS Thermal on Saturday with the $50,000 Purina Animal Nutrition Grand Prix CSI-W2*, presented by Zoetis.
Across the country, in Ocala, Fla., Tracy Fenney scored the win in the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix at HITS Ocala aboard MTM Timon.
$33,500 HITS Desert Classic, presented by Zoetis