Thermal, CA – November 8, 2016 – Riders and horses returned to the desert gem that is HITS Desert Horse Park for the first week of National Sunshine Series in Thermal, California. The Sunshine Series kicked off with supreme weather, top-notch competition and a plethora of property upgrades for exhibitors to enjoy.
$50,000 Sunshine Series Grand Prix
Eric Navet rode away with the win in the grand finale of Week I on Sunday aboard Catypso, owned by Signe Ostby.
“The course was very nice, Alan Wade is one of the best course designers in the world in my opinion,” said Navet. “The Grand Prix ring footing felt better, and it felt good in the schooling area, too. I am very proud of [Catypso]. I wanted to save him for the FEI week, so the horse only jumped once last week—it means a lot to me that this horse can only do the Grand Prix and do well.”
“I am pleased to hear that Eric feels that the Grand Prix Ring and schooling areas are improved. We changed that ground as well as other rings here in Thermal just last month,” said HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri. “HITS is constantly trying to improve our product at all of our facilities. I also agree that Alan is one of the finest course designers in the world, and he has become a regular fixture on the Desert Circuit tour”.
Navet squared off with Kevin Babington, who won the SmartPak Grand Prix and Johnson Horse Transportation Open Welcome last week, in a two-horse jump-off. With Navet scoring the only clear jump-off round, Babington would take home second with Mark Q.
Third place was Mavis Spencer riding Disco Lady, owned by Neil Jones Equestrian, Inc. Spencer nearly qualified for the jump-off, keeping all of the rails up, but two time faults kept them out of the second round as they crossed the finish.
Many riders in Sunday’s Grand Prix are returning veterans of showing at HITS Desert Horse Park, and the new location of the in-gate was a popular improvement.
“The new-in gate location is much safer, it keeps the horses and crowd separated when the crowd is moving to the stands to watch,” said Navet. “It is also very nice angle for everyone in the VIP to watch, too.”
$5,000 Johnson Horse Transportation Grand Prix
The first feature class of the week was the Johnson Horse Transportation Open Welcome. The winner was Kevin Babington piloting Double O Seven 7. California equestrian, Kristin Hardin was second with Bert, and Christian Heineking was third with NKH Diazella, owned by NKH, LLC.
Babington was thrilled with his win aboard the striking grey gelding, saying he had high-hopes for the horse and was happy with his performance. Babington also gave praise to the grounds and the improvements.
“This is my first time out to this facility, I came out to the old facility for the winter circuit in ’95,” said Babington. “But as my first time in Thermal, I was very impressed. The weather is beautiful—there’s really not much you couldn’t like about it here.”
Wade’s course allowed three to advance to the immediate jump-off, where Babington would prevail with a fault-free round in 30.773. Hardin trailed Babington with another clear round, but just a hair slower in 31.168. Heineking garnered third with a speedy trip in 30.770, but eight faults kept him from topping the leaderboard.
Babington is looking forward to showing at HITS Desert Horse Park for the rest of the series, marking the Olympic equestrian’s first experience with HITS in the desert at the Thermal facility.
“We’re really happy to be here and to show here for the next few weeks,” said Babington. “Our stabling has been excellent, and the stalls were matted when we got here, so my groom was really happy about that! It’s lovely, we’re very glad to be here for the experience.”
$25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix
After taking home the first-ever Johnson Horse Transportation Open Welcome victory earlier in the week, Kevin Babington returned to the Grand Prix to claim another win among a field of forty-six. This time, the blue came aboard Shorapur, owned by Shorapur, LLC.
“The footing in the Grand Prix ring was very nice, as well as the schooling area,” said Babington earlier in the week. “As riders, it’s important that we are not always jumping our horses on hard ground, the footing had a lot of cushion and is probably the best footing I’ve jumped on all year.”
Second place was Mavis Spencer riding Cornetiero and third place was Christian Heineking and NKH Calango, owned by NKH, LLC.
Eight advanced to the jump-off to contest the shortened course where five would go clear. Babington had the quickest time in 40.108. Spencer finished closely on his tail with a fault-free trip in 40.691. Heineking crossed the markers in just fractions of a second behind Spencer in 40.783.
$5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix
Jenny Karazissis and P.S. I Love You, owned by Dulcie Morris, brought home the first $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix win at the 2016 National Sunshine Series.
“[P.S. I Love You] is a little bit of a new ride for me, I’ve only shown him once before, but I’ve been an admirer of his over the years. The junior that owns him allowed him to come here to show in the Prix, so I was very excited that it paid off so well,” said Karazissis.
Karazissis and P.S. I Love You earned a first round score of 83, combined with a second-round score of 86 for a total of 169.
“We’re very excited to be back out here; thank you to HITS for putting on this prix.” said Karazissis. “The property looks great, I could really tell a difference in the stabling entrance and the paving of the roads. The VIP area and the air-conditioning is awesome, too. I can absolutely feel a difference.”
Karazissis also took home third place aboard Puissance R, owned by Lisa Hankin with scores of 80 and 83.
“I’m really excited about [Puissance R], and it was really nice to be able to ride in Hunter I to get us ready for the upcoming year,” said Karazissis.
Second in the ribbons was Jenni McAllister riding Charly Oboliensky.
$1,500 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix
Grace Pearson took center stage in the $1,500 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix last weekend piloting Cambiaso, owned by Highland Horses, LLC, to the blue ribbon. They took home the victory with a first-round score of 84, improving to an 85 in the second round for a winning total of 169.
Second place belonged to Jamee Crawford and Fifty Fifty, owned by Kyle Owens. They scored just behind Pearson with a 168— a product of their scores of 85 and 83.
Rounding out the talented top three was Annika Singh piloting Casual, owned by Singh Family Farms, LLC. Only half a point separated Singh and Crawford, but Singh and Casual would settle into third place with a total of 167.5.
$1,500 West Coast Pony Hunter Final
The team to emerge victorious in the West Coast Pony Hunter Final was Lily Larson aboard her own Loose Buttons. They carried away the highest scores in both rounds, an 85 and 85, for the winning total of 171.
Next in the ribbons was Savannah Strome piloting Happy Place. They scored a 76 in the first round, then made a big improvement to 83 in the second round for a total of 159 and the second-place prize.
Katalina Rickard rode Sanibel, owned by Lily Larson, to the third place spot with scores of 79 and 75 for a total of 154. Rickard also took home sixth place with Elite Hollywood Smoke, owned by Micaela Kennedy.
Shiloh Roseboom made out with fourth, fifth and eighth place in the final. Fourth place came aboard Heavenly Patch of Blue and fifth aboard Buzzworthy, both owned by Enchantment Farms. Eighth place was with Always Happy owned by Brooke Morin.
$1,000 West Coast Pony Jumper Final
Sophie St. Clair took home the title in the West Coast Pony Jumper Final with Captain America, owned by Sarah Durrer.
St. Clair competed in a jump-off against Kayla Long and Khall Me Luna, owned by Long Farms. Both riders had four faults, but the speedy St. Clair could not be overtaken — she and Captain America crossed the timers in a lightning-fast 34.462.
Long and Khall Me Luna clocked in behind St. Clair at 39.503 earning her second place. Third in the ribbons was Avery Kim riding Joel, and fourth place was Sydney Flashman riding Karamel.