Thermal, Calif.—March 15
When asked to describe his mount, Anton Radio Formula, Jaime Azcarraga didn’t think long about his answer.
“He’s a winner,” he said. “He likes to compete. He’s a tough horse.”
And “Anton” was all those things as he topped the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix today, at the conclusion of the HITS Desert Circuit, earning Mexico’s Azcarraga a $350,000 pay day. Anton and Azcarraga had to fight for that victory in a close jump-off, and in the end they won the top placing over McLain Ward on Rothchild with little time to spare. Charlie Jayne picked up third on Chill RZ.
“I think the jumps were high, and it was very technical,” said Azcarraga, who’s based in Mexico City and works for his family’s radio company. “But the ground was good, and my horse was unbelievable.”
The testing first course included a massive triple combination—a triple bar to a vertical in one stride and then two tight strides to an oxer—and a final line of a wide oxer to a skinny upright vertical. Several riders who’d been on clear rounds previously came to grief at that final line.
“I thought the five strides to that skinny was the hardest part,” said Azcarraga. “The horses were getting tired by then.”
Five of the original 43 qualified for the jump-off over Marin Zevedo’s track, including Eduardo Menezes on Quintol and Susan Artes on Zamiro, who finished fourth and fifth respectively. The start list included several East Coast riders who flew in for the event and then many HITS Desert Circuit regulars. Previous HITS $1 Million class winners Andre Thieme and Contanga 3 and Todd Minikus on Quality Girl had two rails each, and FEI World Cup Final winners Rich Fellers and Flexible had two down as well.
Ward had to return first for the jump-off, and he laid down a clear round with Sagamore Farms’ experienced “Bongo.” But he knew he’d left the door just slightly ajar. And when Azcarraga went back in, he walked through that small opening, going through the timers in 41.05 seconds.
“I don’t mind going early [in the jump-off],” said Ward. “He’s a fast horse naturally. The plan I had was a fast round—not crazy, but I wanted to put pressure on these guys. I knew they were all capable of meeting it, but I was hoping the stress might take its toll of them. That’s the round that wins eight out of 10 times. This is what I do for a living, so I make that my game plan. They stepped up today, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
Jayne was on track for a fast finish on Chill RZ, but his final time of 41.31 relegated him to third. “I watched McLain go and didn’t get to see Jaime because he went right before me,” said Jayne. “My strategy was to do one less stride everywhere because he’s naturally a little bit of a slower moving horse. I thought it worked perfectly until I landed from the double and headed to the last fence. When he shifted right in the air and landed, it was a split decision. I went for seven [strides] and didn’t see it, and I pulled, and we did eight, and I think that’s what cost it.”
Both Jayne and Ward are planning to contest the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Ocala, Fla., on March 23, but Azcarraga isn’t at the moment.
The Olympian splits his time between riding and working, and he’s had the 11-year-old Anglo-European (Marome NW—Todetia, Orville) for about two years. The pair usually compete in Mexican national shows, but they’ve also had successes so far at Spruce Meadows (Calgary).
“We don’t get the chance to compete at this level very often,” he said. “Anton can be a nervous horse. You have to calm him down and walk him a lot so he gets a bit quiet. But I think he was concentrating today and not minding the noise. I think he likes to jump for a crowd.”