A sand and windstorm blew in to HITS Thermal only minutes before the Saturday evening course walk for the $50,000K HITS Grand Prix CSI2* World Cup Qualifier. Against the setting sun, the blowing sand created a haze that set the sunset ablaze. It had been hot all day, but as the sun set behind the mountains temperatures dropped rapidly. Exhibitors and spectators who spend any time at HITS Thermal usually come prepared for the wild temperature shifts. Jackets, scarves and blankets materialized from tiny golf cart baskets as riders completed their course walks. To accommodate the World Cup field dimensions, the large outdoor grand prix arena at HITS Desert Horse Park was partitioned off to create a smaller space. Golf carts lined the berm closest to the action, and the atmosphere there was like a tailgate party with hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs being shared amongst friends. At the packed VIP building, spectators spilled out on to the berm to be as close to the action as possible. But as the announcer asked everyone to rise for the national anthem a hush fell across the spectators and continued through out the evening as each rider took to the field for their shot to win.
Twenty two horse and rider combinations competed in this, the first of two World Cup Qualifier classes scheduled during the Thermal winter circuit. The field included both national riders and those representing Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Germany. The course designed by Martin Otto of Munster, Germany, proved difficult to conquer. The plank at fence three was a consistent problem for several riders throughout the night. Of the 22 combinations, only two went clear in the first round; Stanford University schoolmates Alec Lawler, aboard Agamemnon, and Lucy Davis, aboard Barron.
Lawler and Agamemnon returned first for the jump off, and started strong but had an unfortunate refusal at the third fence. That changed Davis’ plan of attack dramatically. When asked about her strategy going into the jump off she explained, “Since there were only two riders, Alec really had to go for it. Which he did. Before we made our total plan we were going to see what Alec did.” But after the refusal, Davis just needed to get around the course from start to finish. “I could have a rail but I still needed to not have time faults. I wanted to be smooth and quick and my horse went even better in the second round.” Finishing third was Vinton Karrasch with Coral Reef Follow Me II.