East Coasters Eye Thermal Million

Filed under AIG Thermal $1 Million
McLain Ward and his grey steed Antares F on course at HITS.

McLain Ward and Antares F on course for the winning round at the 2012 HITS Pfizer Million in Saugerties, NY. (ESI Photography)

HITS’ AIG Thermal Million Grand Prix presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach is generating buzz on the East Coast, where a number of top riders are strategizing how they can qualify for the highly anticipated class – one of only two seven figure competitions in the U.S., the other being HITS’ Zoetis Million Grand Prix, taking place in Saugerties in September.

“I’ve been very clear about how people need to qualify for this class. It’s kind of like a frequent flyer event for the customers at our shows,” HITS president and CEO Tom Struzzieri explained.

“We have the four HITS grand prix of $25,000 or more system in place, and have also established that the top rider from the HITS Arizona circuit will be invited, and now some of our clients on the East Coast are using our venue at Ocala to qualify and hope to be shipping their horses to California,” he added.

Among the marquee names staking out an Ocala claim to earn their way in is Tracy Fenney, who is spending the entire winter circuit at the HITS Florida venue. Additionally, McLain Ward, Candice King, Margie Engle, Jimmy Torano and Peter Wylde have made arrangements to show in Ocala this week in a bid to jump-start their high-stakes efforts.

Tracy Fenney and MTM Timon clear a huge red and blue jump on course at HITS.

Tracy Fenney and MTM Timon competing at a HITS show. (ESI Photography)

“It’s always a dilemma for someone like me who wants to support those who support HITS, to have riders who don’t regularly show in Thermal that want to come in and compete at the big class,” Struzzieri said, noting, “it’s really no different from the fact that riders from the West Coast  try to qualify for the what used to be known as the Pfizer Million, now the Zoetis Million. and come back East to compete.

“Duncan McFarlane and Helen McNaught are among the California riders that have competed for $1 million in Saugerties—Duncan and Whoopy were second in the class in 2011,”  the HITS executive pointed out.

“The idea is that in addition to rewarding HITS customers with some very significant prize money, we want to increase the visibility of U.S. show jumping on a national, and even international level, and attracting this sort of coast-to-coast participation does exactly that,” Struzzieri said.

Beyond that, the addition of some very accomplished East Coast riders to the lineup will definitely add a level of sizzle for spectators. It also raises an already high level of performance that sees a number of Olympic riders – including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Jill Henselwood and Will Simpson – spending the winter in Thermal.

“The fact that we’re getting this level of rider out here speaks volumes about the quality of the Desert Circuit and level of competition in California,” Struzzieri said.

For a list of the AIG Thermal Million Preliminary Rider Rankings, please click the link.