Saugerties, N.Y.—Sept. 11
Just like last year, the second annual Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix ended with a two-man jump-off. But unlike last year, McLain Ward and Charlie Jayne were not the riders battling for the top check of $350,000—Duncan McFarlane and Andre Thieme were. And at the end of the shortened course, Thieme and Aragon Rouet won it all.
The field of 45 quickly dwindled to two—in fact 21 rounds passed until the first clear (McFarlane’s) hit the board, and 17 more combinations were defeated in one way or another by Steve Stephens’ difficult course before the German duo of Thieme and Aragon Rouet jumped through faultlessly. The crowd held their breath as last year’s winner, Ward, rode a smooth course, but gasped in disappointment as Antares F pulled the rail on 12B, the second-to-last fence. Lucy Davis and Nemo 119 were the final pair to ride the first course, and they also had a rail.
McFarlane, San Ramon, Calif., who piloted Simone Coxe’s Mr. Whoopy to a second-placed finish, admitted that his superstition might have cost him the win.
“When I walked [the course for the] first round, I didn't really give the jump-off a lot of thought,” he said. “I'm a bit superstitious like that, and that cost me dearly.”
Thieme was thankful that he was able to ride his first course after having seen so many riders attempt to tackle Stephens’ track. He noticed the difficulty that many had with the two combination line (11AB to 12AB), so he took extra care to make sure his horse didn’t come in short to the final of those four fences.
“Usually, I’m mostly worried about having time faults with this horse,” said Thieme, who placed ninth here last year. “So I was just hoping to stay clean. I thought the course was bigger than last year—thank God I went at end of the class.”
He also had the advantage to ride after McFarlane in the jump-off, and since his opponent had not jumped clear, he had the liberty of taking a longer route to the sixth fence, which eased the approach from a hairpin rollback turn.
Stephens, Palmetto, Fla., designed last year’s courses, and built upon the knowledge learnt from 2010.
“You can't make the hard parts from last year harder,” he said. “You can make the easier parts harder. I want it to be a hard class. With this class it is important to not be a normal class, without seven for a jump-off. Two horses in the jump-off might not be as exciting as a jump-off goes, but it's more exciting as an overall class.”
Ward was complimentary of Thieme, and though he admitted that he was disappointed to not be the victor himself, he noted the German’s hard work in getting to today’s win.
“You always appreciate a good winner,” said Ward, Brewster, N.Y.
Thieme was in jovial spirits after the class. “I'm done showing now,” he joked. “I'm retiring.”