Saugerties, N.Y. – Sept. 8, 2023 – Friday’s $300,000 FEI Grand Prix CSI4* qualifier saw one of the biggest line-ups at HITS Saugerties this show season go head-to-head for the top prize in the $77,300 HITS Jumper Classic CSI4*. Saving the best for last, it was ultimately Kelli Cruciotti Vanderveen and Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve who won the class after coming back as the last combination to compete in the 15-horse jump-off. The duo was fast over the track, leaving all the rails intact to finish just 5/10ths of a second ahead of Victoria Heurtematte and Scarlett Du Sart Z.
“My favorite thing about my horse is the journey that I’ve gone on with her,” beamed Vanderveen following her victory. “I got [Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve] as a 6-coming-7-year-old, and we had a lot of success with her as a 7-year-old in the young horse classes. Then as an 8-year-old, she actually had a tooth abscess that she was out for most of the year with. So we had to start back from the basics and build her back up. This is really the first time that I’ve felt like we’ve come together as a partnership at this level. It’s very special, and a big thank you to my whole team, the vets, everybody that’s helped [Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve] along the way. I’m very appreciative for that.”
Friday afternoon’s main event brought together 69 of the world’s top horse and rider combinations at the Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Stadium where 16 teams qualified for the jump-off round. Oscar Soberon set another 13-jump course that forced riders to ride strategically, featuring obstacles such as a triple-bar oxer, a double and triple combination, respectively, and several rollbacks placed strategically throughout the arena. After being the last pair to go clear in the first round,Vanderveen simply planned for her and Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve – who is affectionally known as “Bella” – to give the second round their best effort and see how it played out.
“My horse is just 9-years-old, so she doesn’t have the same experience as a lot of these other horses,” explained Vanderveen. “I thought the jump-off was really strategically placed. A lot of jumps [for other riders] fell, and I tried to use [Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve’s] naturally quick tempo to my advantage, and thankfully, it worked out.”
With one withdrawal before the jump-off, Vanderveen and Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve had 14 rides ahead of them before it was their turn. The second pair to return, Jimmy Torano and Jet Equestrian Group’s Chewbacca set the time to beat at 45.61 seconds. From there, the class leaders would change following the next round from Torano and Chewbacca to Heather Caristo-Williams and Celtic Hero BZ. Seven rides later, the leadership was overturned again, this time to Victoria Heurtematte and Scarlett Du Sart Z. After putting in a promising effort that resulted in them finishing in 42.69 seconds, it looked like Heurtematte and Scarlett Du Sart Z would be the fastest competitors of the day before Vanderveen and Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve stepped up to the plate.
“[Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve] likes to go fast, so it pushes me to be fast as well,” commented Vanderveen. “I’m a naturally conservative rider, so I have to let her go on her own speed, which is normally the right speed. She needs a very quick ride.”
Vanderveen and Isabella Van De Zuuthoeve ended up capturing the victory after leaving all the rails intact following their ground-eating ride over the shortened track. Their time of 42.18 seconds sealed their fate as the fastest pair in the class, leaving Zanya Rizvi and Exquise Du Pachis as the final duo to round out the top three with their fault-free ride of 42.76 seconds.
“This is actually our first time back since the new improvements [at HITS Saugerties],” concluded Vanderveen. “I have to say, I’m extremely impressed! The horses jump like air off of the new footing. [HITS] really thought about everything for the exhibitors, from shade for us to sit under, the beautiful grass, the new jumps. It’s definitely going to be a staple on our calendar next year for sure!”
Show jumping action competition will continue this week at HITS Saugerties with Saturday’s $2,500 NAL Alorian Junior Amateur Jumper Classic, $5,000 Pyranha Junior Amateur Jumper Classic, $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, and $7,500 Child/Adult High Jumper Classic. Be sure to tune in for Sunday’s feature event during the $300,000 FEI Grand Prix CSI4*, following the $45,000 Platinum Performance Junior Amateur Jumper Prix. For more information, visit www.hitsshows.com.