Saugerties, N.Y. – September 10, 2023 – On Sunday, HITS Saugerties welcomed 42 of the world’s top horse and rider combinations to its newly renovated facility in upstate New York for the biggest event of the year – the $300,000 FEI Grand Prix CSI4*. The field was narrowed to six for the tiebreaker, where it was a race to the finish with clear rounds produced by each of the final three athletes. Israeli Olympian Daniel Bluman was the last to return and proved to be the best of the day, beating fellow U.S. Olympian McLain Ward and Contagious by less than 2/10ths of a second. The youngest rider of the day, 17-year-old Zayna Rizvi, produced the first double clear of the day with Exquise Du Pachis to round out the top three.
“Gemma W and I have been together since she was 5 years old and she’s 12 now, so we’ve been together seven years,” expressed Bluman after his win. “She’s won multiple classes in her career. She’s a very fast horse, a real trier, with lots of quality. She really has a great personality too – we love her very much at the barn. We’ve grown together in these last seven years, and she’s a very reliable horse when you put her in the right classes.”
Oscar Soberon set an exacting track for the world-class field of riders competing during Sunday’s main event in the Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Stadium. It featured a triple bar on a bending line to a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination, which was followed by a wall fence. Riders finished with a technical final line away from the in-gate that began with an oxer-vertical combination to a skinny vertical and concluded with the wide oxer.
“When you look at the results and who made it to the jump-off, I really enjoyed seeing a mix between seasoned riders and up-and-coming riders,” said Soberon. “That shows that it was rideable. There were poles everywhere, which I think was good. It’s a special 4* because it’s a $300,000 class and it is the last class of the season here. I’m pleased with the result.”
The course was narrowed down to six to return for the jump-off, where they had to begin over the triple bar, followed by a bending line with a new vertical to the double combination. Athletes then jumped the wall again followed by the last vertical in the triple combination and finished with a gallop to the last oxer on the course.
Zayna Rizvi and Exquise Du Pachis were the fourth pair to return for the jump-off and the first to leave all the rails safely intact. Her hasty time of 41.27 seconds was also the fastest thus far, but with two Olympians hot on her heels, she knew the door was still open. McLain Ward and Contagious were next to tackle the track, making up time in the turns while wasting no time in the air. They galloped through the timers in 40.16 seconds with each rail in place to take over the top of the leaderboard.
“I knew Daniel was behind me and he’s beaten me with his horse a couple of times,” noted Ward. “I know it’s a very fast horse and I knew Daniel was going to be a very ambitious to win, so I really didn’t have any option but to try to lay down a very good round. I felt like if I had a fast 4 faults, I was going to be up near the top of the results either way. My horse ran a little bit to the right on the left lead, and so when I jumped the second to last, he leaked out a little and I didn’t pick up on the first distance. I knew I had left a little room there that if he was on it could nip me.”
Daniel Bluman and Gemma W were the final pair to return and knew they would need to lay on the gas to earn the day’s victory. Bluman left nothing to chance, just barely edging out Ward as he left out a stride to the final vertical, breaking the beam in a clear 40.02 seconds to gallop home with the win.
“My plan going into the jump-off was to use my horse’s strengths to try to catch McLain’s time,” explained Bluman. “I knew exactly what I had to do. It was a course that was well suited for her and I think she was flowing beautifully around the track and it worked out.”
Bluman continued, “She has scope that is based on the amount of canter you produce. I think you need a little bit of speed to help her with the scope. She’s very, very careful, has a lot of quality and is very competitive.”
This was Bluman’s first trip to HITS Saugerties this year, and he was thrilled with the improvements, concluding, “The rings are spectacular. I think the warmup area and the international ring are state-of-the-art, as good as they can be. That’s the most important thing you can ask as a rider. I think that the show is being run in a way that understands the needs of the riders, the horses and the owners.”
The $300,000 FEI Grand Prix CSI4* marks the conclusion of the show jumping season at HITS Saugerties, but the HITS team is already looking ahead to 2024. One more week of competition remains at HITS Saugerties as riders prepare for the 2023 Marshall and Sterling Insurance League Finals. Exhibitors can also join HITS in Ocala, Florida, for the 2024 winter show season at HITS Post Time Farm. For more information visit www.hitsshows.com.