HITS Press Release/ Photos: ESI Photography.
Two-time US Olympic Gold Medalist McLain Ward of Brewster, New York, who rides in ECOGOLD Saddle pads, and his majestic, "million-dollar" mare, Sapphire, owned by McLain Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock, won the inaugural Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix on Sunday, September 12 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.
The legendary duo of Ward and Sapphire proudly added their names to the show jumping history books once more when they bested a field of 43 High-Performance riders before an energetic and enthusiastic crowd of thousands that lined all four berms surrounding the Strongid Stadium. Sunday's line-up featured some of the best and most promising athletes and horses in the sport, including some of America's brightest up-and-coming stars and several American and International Olympians..
Olympic Course Designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, Florida set a challenging and technical course that was decorated to the hilt by Olympic Course Decorator Flora Baptiston of Brazil.
"The course was brilliant," explained Ward. "Steve [Stephens] has been a great course designer for years, and he was a brilliant rider before that. Today was a great balance of tests."
After a successful week of show jumping, the Strongid Stadium was transformed into a field of dreams, as custom jumps, exclusive to the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix, including a fence from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, set the stage for the biggest event of the year.
Charlie Jayne of Elgin, Illinois and The London Group's Athena led the crowd to a thunderous applause when they captured the first clear effort of the class. The pair finished second in the jump off.
"This was the biggest class I've ever competed in," said Jayne. "I felt the presence of the crowd, and that we were all jumping for the fans today. HITS did a great job of getting an audience to come out for the class."
Jayne and Athena tasted success earlier in the season at HITS-on-the-Hudson when they captured the $125,000 Strongid© C 2X Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health.
The best was saved for last when Ward and Sapphire immaculately took the victory with a faultless round in 44.782 seconds, as the crowd witnessed history-in-the-making for the once-in-a-lifetime pair.
"I owe my career to her [Sapphire]," said Ward, who now nears the four-million dollar mark on his mare. "I watched Charlie go, and I've got to say, standing at the gate, I was nervous. There was a lot of money on the line."
Ward and Sapphire led the way in a victory gallop, joined by the top 20 horse-and-riders of the class as the crowd cheered approvingly of the outcome.
"McLain is the best rider I've ever seen, probably will ever see, so it's an honor to be in second place," exclaimed an ecstatic Jayne. "I'm grateful to be able to compete in a class like this...it was an excellent event today, and I couldn't ask for anything more."