Ocala, Fla.—March 24
Last week, Nayel Nassar sat at the in-gate for the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California, and watched his chances of taking home the win dwindle as Beezie Madden set a jump-off pace that seemed unbeatable. Exactly a week later, Nassar was the one who was dashing other riders’ dreams in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Ocala (Florida).
Aboard Evergate Stables’ speed demon Lucifer V, the rider, who hails from Egypt, was the first to find a clear path around Alan Wade’s initial track. Then he set a blistering fast pace that no one else came close to; second-placed finisher Paul O’Shea on Imerald Van’t Voorhof was more than half a second off Nassar’s time.
“I wouldn’t say I knew I’d done enough, but I knew it would take quite a bit to beat me,” said Nassar. “Lucifer is an extremely fast horse, and I didn’t feel like I wasted time anywhere. I did the seven [strides] from [fences] 1 to 2. Others did the six, but then I could turn short after that. I think that was a wash. He’s just a really quick, careful horse, and I just thought I’d lay it down and see if it holds.”
After a disappointing finish last week in California, O’Shea was thrilled with how his horse went.
“The horse jumped great and made my job easy,” he said. “I’m very happy with second. I think I did all I could do in the jump-off.”
Darragh Kenny, who finished third on Important De Muze, felt everyone following Nassar needed to go all out in order to catch him.
“I thought he did an excellent job,” Kenny said. “His horse is quick across the ground. I thought it would be difficult for any of us to beat him, and you would have to take an awful lot of risks, and none of us were able to do that today.”
Forty-four horse-and-rider combinations came to Ocala to vie for a piece of the $1 million payout. Of those, nine jumped clean in the first round, and four turned in double-clear performances. Another 16 had a single fence down, and while faults occurred throughout the track, predictably many had their dreams dashed in the combinations.
“I don’t do numbers [of desired clear rounds], but I wanted it to be fair to everyone,” said Wade. “There were a lot of up-and-coming people; it’s just right to be fair to the horse, and I think we did have that today.”
Nassar joins an elite group of riders who have won three $1 million classes and is the second—behind Madden—to take a win at all three HITS venues offering the classes.
“It means a lot to be able to get these opportunities in these classes,” said Nassar. “I’ve been jumping these classes since 2013, and it’s just a huge privilege and opportunity for us riders to jump for this kind of prize money at this kind of venue with this kind of competition. It’s been really great. I’ve won all three millions now, so I could probably take a break.”
We’re on site at HITS Ocala all week covering the feature classes during the final week of competition. Don’t forget to check back for more beautiful photos and article on the big winners. Be sure you’re following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @chronofhorse. Plus pick up the April 8 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. What are you missing if you don’t subscribe?