Postcard: 2017 HITS Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix

The HITS Million in upstate Saugerties, N.Y., was a mesmerizing class, as entry after entry failed to achieve a fault-free trip. The top prize went to a rider who jumped clean, but wasn’t perfect.

September 10, 2017–We were waiting and waiting for the jump-off in the Saugerties HITS Million Grand Prix this afternoon, but it never came. Hopes were raised and hopes were dashed over German course designer Martin Otto’s incredibly demanding 5-star route in the huge arena where the challenge was presented.

When any of the 41 starters made it fault-free past the triple combination of fences 4ABC—an oxer two strides from a vertical two strides from another oxer– the crowd applauded, but as the class went on, everyone learned to dim their expectations. The pitfalls were many, including a delicate, airy white vertical six or seven strides after horses were stretched out going over the water jump; an oxer flanked by giant playing cards, where the deal involved a rollback turn, and a line from there that was six strides from a one-stride double of liverpools, then four strides to another oxer.

Andre Thieme of Germany logged one time penalty but left all the rails in place with Conthendrix to win the Saugerties HITS Million. Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy

The 28th to go, Andre Thieme of Germany, gave cause for a bit of celebration after spectators suffered through a blizzard of 4, 8 and 12-fault jumping scores, many with extra penalties attached for exceeding the 87-second time allowed. The winner of two previous Millions, Andre gives a riding lesson every time he performs, and his round with the obedient gray, Conthendrix, was a classic. At fence 12 of 14, a 1.60-meter vertical that had to be jumped toward the ingate, he steadied and nearly stopped to collect his horse so he could deal with a challenge where many others had failed.

His prudence paid off in one way, as he cleared it neatly, then did the same with the last two fences, a triple bar and a stout oxer. No rails came down during his trip, leading to a momentary burst of joy all around. But the time he took to be safe, rather than sorry, resulted in a single penalty for just going over the time allowed, with a clocking of 87.29 seconds. Afterwards, Andre told me he thought he lost three seconds before number 12 and maybe overdid it, but the wisdom of how he handled the situation was rewarded with the winner’s $330,000 share of the prize when no one else could leave all the rails in place.

“I was hoping it was going to be big, because the last two Millions I did had a lot of clear rounds in the jump-off and I had to run and to run, I couldn’t win,” he said. “When I walked the course, I saw everyone agreed, `It’s big.’” Actually, Andre even was hoping Martin would lower a few jumps.

Find out what he had to say about the class by watching this video 

Andre plans his season around the million dollar classes, and winning the Millions, he said, “has changed my life.” When I asked how it had done that, he quickly replied with a grin, “Now I’m rich.” He thanked the master of HITS, Tom Struzzieri, for putting up the money and working hard with his staff (particularly in view of a rainy week) to make the class so special.

Martin said he would have preferred a jump-off, but observed, “It worked out fine, we didn’t have any damage,” noting “honestly, I expected it would have ridden a little bit easier than it did.”

That $330,000 pot of gold was oh so close for Amanda Derbyshire and Luibanta BH but at the end of the rainbow, the last fence in the HITS Million, a falling rail stole the treasure. Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy

When the fifth from the last went, we thought we would have a shot at seeing a fault-free performance, if not a jump-off. But a particularly cruel letdown was reserved for U.S.-based British rider Amanda Derbyshire on Luibanta BH, who was fault free until the final fence, a rainbow obstacle set appropriately with two painted pots of gold on its standards. The back rail came down as she and her petite 16-hand mare were mere feet from the finish line, and the crowd that had been set to offer a resounding cheer instead gave a unanimous groan.

Daniel Bluman, who won three classes at the Hampton Classic show that ended last weekend was my pick for the top prize with Ladriano Z, but he toppled a rail at fence 10, a turquoise and yellow oxer. Still, he put in the second-fastest 4-fault round to collect $150,000 by finishing third, just ahead of Amanda.

“I believe when you’re jumping for $1 million, one of the biggest purses of the year, you have to jump something like this,” said Daniel.

New Zealander Sharn Wordley, always a player, was lickety split in 83.99 seconds on Barnetta to be the runner-up and take home $200,000, but of course, he, too, had 4 faults. “I haven’t jumped a course that big since the ‘90s,” he said, noting his mount had never undertaken such a challenge, and he figured he better be fast in case he caught a rail (as he did) in order to scoot up the placings.

Million Dollar Man Andre Thieme, center, with Hits Million runner-up Sharn Wordley (right) and third-place Daniel Bluman. Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy

The top American in the prizes, Catherine Tyree with Enjoy Louis, wound up fifth in the international field, with 14 nations represented.

I caught up with Amanda, who was cheerful despite her disappointment (soothed by $100,000 in prize money, of course) and we chatted about what “almost” is like. 

Watch this video of our conversation. 

The Million was the star of today’s card, but it wasn’t the only competition worth watching.

The $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix is always exciting, and was even more so this time, because no scores were announced for the final round until the winner was pinned. That was Jenny Karazissis, who came all the way from California to take the title on Undeniable.

Jenny Karazissis topped the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix in Saugerties with Undeniable. Photo copyright 2017 by Nancy Jaffer

She noted at the beginning of the week she was cautious, but became confident enough today to “really gallop at the jumps.”

Undeniable, a very flashy 11-year-old Oldenburg whose wins include the West Coast World Hunter Rider Spectacular, “is human,” said Jenny, who cited his smarts and the fact that he always covers for her.

“He never lets me down,” she said.

Taylor St. Jacques was the only rider in the $250,000 Black Barn junior/amateur jumper class to come through all two days of competition fault-free, excelling on her Qantar des Etisses. The 18-year-old is known for her equitation prowess (she wowed them at Devon this year) but she “really loves the jumpers, because there is more adrenaline to it.”

Taylor St. Jacques led the victory gallop with Qantar des Etisses for the $250,000 Black Barn Junior/Amateur Grand Prix. Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy

“This is the biggest money class I’ve ever entered. I was a little nervous,” she admitted.

She loves her horse, known around the barn as Oliver.

“He is such a character. He has the biggest personality I’ve ever met on a horse.”

Turns out he has something in common with Jenny’s mount.

“He’s like a human, honestly,” said Taylor.

“I have an amazing bond with him,” she said, noting he is the first horse she has owned since her pony days.

Taylor got a scholarship to Auburn University and is on the team there. She is staying in New York to train for the equitation finals, but after that, she’s headed for Alabama. 

“She’s a great rider, but she’s a great competitor,” Taylor’s coach, Andre Dignelli said, said after Taylor topped the two-horse jump-off.

“She’s a winner. She puts in the work. She’s a good student of the sport. She can ride all different kinds of horses. She’s around the barn all the time,” he said, saying she does everything the old-fashioned way, that is, paying attention to every aspect of equine care.

“She’s a horsewoman,” was the way he summed it up.

I’m spending all my weekends this month in New York, September’s equestrian hot spot.

Next Sunday, I’m visiting Old Salem Farm in Westchester County. Be sure to check back for my postcard, which will focus on the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping New York.

Until then,

U.S. Paralympic Equestrian Team Announced for Paris
Laura Kraut Is Back for Another Olympic Games
Journey in Honor: Boyd Martin and Fedarman B's Unexpected Partnership for Paris
U.S. Olympic Jumping Team Announced for Paris 2024 Olympic Games