Everything you need to know about the star-studded line-up at this week's Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League event in Thermal, California.

The fourth season of the prestigious Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League is in full swing and dozens of riders are looking ahead to this week's $100,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Thermal

The World Cup qualifier class is part of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League. The series offers 14 venues, in three different countries, the chance for elite athletes to qualify for the Longines Jumping World Cup™ Final Gothenburg in April 2019. At each of the 14 venues, coveted World Cup points are up for the grabs to a handful of the top-placing riders.

If you're following along with the NAL series, be sure to keep a close eye on the other World Cup qualifying event this week at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Canada, which highlights the $205,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Toronto. The impressive class line-up features three out of the four U.S. WEG team members (McLain Ward, Adrienne Sternlicht and Devin Ryan) along with other fan favorites Kent Farrington, Margie Engle and a slew of other notable athletes. 

Here's a look at who's competing out West this weekend, hoping to garner valuable World Cup qualifying points:  

Returning NAL Champions

The past two winners of the prestigious class are returning this year, hoping to take another crack at a top podium position. 

Nayel Nassar and Lordan

Nayel Nassar and Lordan

Earlier this year, it was U.S.-based Egyptian rider Nayel Nassar and his long-time partner Lordan who won the prestigious class (the event was previously held in February, as one of the last qualifiers for the West Coast riders). This wasn't the first time that Nassar and the small but mighty Hanoverian stallion have led the victory gallop at this event--they also won in 2016. Nayel's "horse of a lifetime" overcame an injury and subsequent year-long lay-up to bounce back into action a few years ago, and has been successfully competing at top events around the world, including the World Cup Finals in 2017 and the Global Champions Tour in Europe this summer. The pair won a 1.45-meter class at Thermal last week as a final stepping stone before this weekend's NAL class. 

Ashlee Bond and Chela LS

Ashlee Bond and Chela LS

Ashlee Bond and her mare Chela LS finished atop the pack at last year's World Cup qualifier. Before that, Chela overcame a life-threatening staph infection that kept her sidelined for over a year. Since then, the pair represented Israel at the World Equestrian Games and also won a 1.5-meter class last week as a prep for this main event. Besides Chela, Ashlee has three other horses in contention for a slot in the World Cup class. If riders are lucky to have a string of upper-level horses, they often try and qualify more than one for the weekend's pinnacle class, though only one horse per athlete may compete in the World Cup qualifiers at each show. 

A few weeks ago, Zazou Hoffman and Samson II won the Del Mar World Cup qualifier. Currently, they hold the top spot in the Longines Jumping FEI World Cup™ Western sub-league standings with 32 points, after getting a major boost for the win at Del Mar and a 5th place finish at Langley in August. 

Kristen Vanderveen took top honors at the Live Oak World Cup qualifier back in March in Ocala, the final event of last year's NAL season, and she's hoping for another victory this weekend. She has three horses in contention for the qualifier, including Bull Run's Faustino de Tili, who won the Ocala class. The exceptionally friendly and dashing grey stallion, known as "Frosty," has an impressive resume of top FEI wins and another victory is well within his grasp. 

Germany's Wilhelm Genn and Bugatti racked up World Cup points with their win earlier this fall in the qualifier at Sacramento. The pair had notable finishes in two FEI classes last week at Thermal as well. 

Back in August, Uma O'Neill and her stallion Clockwise of Greenhill Z kicked off their NAL season with a win at the first West Coast event of the series at Langley. They picked up 20 World Cup qualifying points for their win, along four points for their finish in class in Del Mar, CA, last month. The pair earned a top 10 finish at an FEI class last week. 

Ones to Watch

Several notable names will be vying for coveted points this weekend. 

Eve Jobs is the current runner-up on the West Coast rankings, just one point behind Zazou. She will have two horses hoping to qualify of Saturday's class. 

Richard Spooner, a fan favorite, is always a contender at the World Cup classes, and brings three mounts to try. his luck: Arthos R, Love and Quirado RC. Spooner is ranked 5th on the West Coast NAL leaderboard. 

Jamie Barge and Luebbo

Jamie Barge and Luebbo

Jamie Barge, Karl Cook, Mandy Porter and Rich Fellers are frequent faces on the West Coast jumper circuit and they'll be returning to Thermal this weekend, hoping to pick up more NAL points. 

Some East Coast-based riders have traveled West in hopes of clinching a few late-season results to boost them in the Eastern sub-league rankings and ensure a ticket to the World Cup final. 

Kristen Vanderveen, who is currently in just outside the top 20 in the East Coast standings, could add some much-needed points with a solid finish at Thermal this weekend. Vanderveen took top honors at the Live Oak World Cup qualifier back in March in Ocala, the final event of last year's NAL season, and she's hoping for another victory this weekend. She has three horses in contention for the qualifier, including Bull Run's Faustino de Tili, who won the Ocala class. The exceptionally friendly and dashing grey stallion, known as "Frosty," has an impressive resume of top FEI wins and another victory is well within his grasp. 

Other Eastern League ranked riders hoping to pick up a few points include Charlie Jayne and Ireland's Kevin Babington. 

A limited number of athletes from each of the 16 international leagues are invited to attend the World Cup Final, based on their qualifications throughout the season at the designated events--14 riders from the NAL league will receive qualifying tickets for the Final. Seven riders from the East Coast sub-league will qualify, three from the West Coast sub-league, and two each from Canada and Mexico.

With only one three qualifiers left for the Western sub-league, athletes will be hoping to make each trip count to try to qualify for the championships in Gothenburg next April. 

How to Watch

Both of the FEI class will be live streamed online on the HITS Facebook page and the FEI Jumping Facebook page

Saturday's World Cup class will be live streamed on the FEI TV's subscription-based site

Event Times:

Thursday: $35,000 Desert Welcome Stake - 5:30PM EST

Friday: $40,200 Desert Classic - Time TBD (check the Facebook pages for most accurate time)

Saturday: $100,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ qualifier - Time TBD (check out FEITV for the latest broadcasting info)

Want to watch your favorite athletes competing in person? Check out the HITS site for spectator info and purchase tickets here

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