Thermal, Calif.—March 17
The spectators waited and waited for a clear round in the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix—and then they waited some more. By the time 31 pairs, including experienced teams like McLain Ward on Antares F and Jill Henselwood on George, had left the ring after lowering at least one rail, even the announcer was sounding pessimistic.
“Looks like we’ll be jumping off these 4-faulters if we don’t get any clear rounds, folks,” he said.
The day wasn't over yet, though. John Pearce and Chianto trotted into the Grand Prix ring in Thermal like men on a mission, laying down an impeccable fault-free round, and everyone started to believe again. But while Duncan McFarlane and Mr. Whoopy left all the rails up, they picked up 1 time penalty, and Karl Cook earned 3 time penalties aboard Jonkheer Z. The crowd had turned from wanting at least a single clear round to wanting a jump-off, and it didn’t look they were going to get one.
Then two before the end of the start list, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and her 2012 London Olympic Games partner Bella Donna also left all the rails up, and they did it within the time allowed. The crowd went crazy for the second time; they were assured a jump-off.
But in the end, it wasn’t a race to the finish; only Michaels-Beerbaum and Bella Donna managed two clear rounds, earning the win and the top check for $350,000. Pearce and the 17-year-old Chianto had to settle for second and $200,000 after pulling one rail in the short course.
“I’ve never been to a $1 million event before, but I heard that it’s traditionally a championship-type class, and this was a championship course today,” said Michaels-Beerbaum, who rides for Germany but often spends her winter seasons in the United States, of only having two clears out of 41 starters. “It’s a really exciting event. When you’re riding for $1 million dollars, it should be a championship event.”
Problems were spread around Conrad Homfeld’s course, with no one fence serving as the bogey.
“I thought it was a brilliant course. It was a fair course, but a good test,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. “There were very good rounds, some rails down, but very good competition.”
Bella Donna, a 10-year-old Holsteiner (Baldini II—Orlis I, Calido I) mare owned by EOS Sport and Michaels-Beerbaum, has been in Michaels-Beerbaum’s barn since she was 6. Markus Beerbaum rode the mare in her 7-year-old year, and then Michaels-Beerbaum took her over.
“Last year she made a big breakthrough. She’s always been a fantastic jumper, but it’s taken me a while to get her rideable,” said Michaels-Beerbaum. “She was difficult to turn, difficult to adjust and difficult to change leads, but now she’s really come along. She made the Olympic team for Germany as a 9-year-old, which really shows you how good she is, and was second in two Global Champions Tour classes.”
“OK, I feel better now,” added Pearce.
Big news came from HITS President Tom Struzzieri, who announced today that three $1 Million grand prix classes are planned for 2014. One will be held in Saugerties, N.Y., in the fall, and then the other two will be held at the Thermal and Ocala, Fla., winter circuits. A rumored $7 million will be offered to any competitor who can win all three aboard the same horse. Qualification details, dates and other information will be released soon, according to Struzzieri.
For more details about today’s class—including Pearce’s unusual conditioning method that helped bring Chianto back this year—and the HITS Desert Circuit, make sure to check out the April 1 issue of the Chronicle.
Full results available online.