The finale of the Horse Shows In The Sun (HITS) season provided gorgeous weather and some exciting competition, including a $1 million grand prix and a performance by the Charlie Daniels Band.
The first-prize winner was Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, Florida., riding Quality Girl. Following the day’s races, HITS CEO Tom Struzzieri summed up this season, calling the 11th season in Saugerties “our most successful year here.” He described Sunday’s events as “a great way to finish; not only was it a fantastic weather day, but this weekend was big class after big class.”
New technology was on display. The jumps were created at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “SUNY New Paltz has the second-biggest 3D printing program in the United States, and I went down to look at it because it fascinated me so much,” said Struzzieri. “And I said, ‘Why don’t we have them build us a jump.’ We looked at some of the options and we thought we’d start small.”
Struzzieri foresees doing more with plastic in the future, and praised SUNY New Paltz, saying “it’s a great school, and we’re lucky to have it in Ulster County.”
It was a tough course. Indeed, up to the second to the last rider in the grand prix, only one had completed the course without a single fault —Quentin Judge of Wellington, Fla., riding H.H. Donatella. Faults can consist of improper pacing or knocking down a barrier during a jump. From H.H. Donatella’s fourth position perfect round through round 31, the next to last, no other horse achieved a perfect round, and it seemed that no second round would be necessary to establish a winner. Then Minikus, the next to last entry, had a clear round and went on to win first place and the $350,000 first prize.
A million-dollar race is based on the total prizes, not the first alone. Judge and H.H. Donatella earned $200,000 for second place and Elizabeth Gringras, riding Zilversprings, earned $120,000 for third. Horses in the top 20 all earned some money.
Quality Girl was the leading money winner last year, Minikus said, and he predicted she could repeat that record this year.
The day’s races began at 8 a.m. with the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final, continuing with a full morning of racing, with the major event, the $1 million grand prix, at 1 p.m.
Struzzieri had kind words to say about all the winners, describing Minikus as “a great customer of ours; has been for a long time.”
He noted that Judge’s family “is one of the biggest sponsors of the sport in the world, so it’s great to see him come here and get a ribbon and I know his family will be venue happy.”
As for third-place winner Elizabeth Gringras, “I have watched her grow up with us at the horse shows, and I feel she’s part of the family. And I have the best sponsor in the world, sitting right there at the end,” he said, indicating Stuart Meikle of Zoetis, which bills itself as “the largest global animal health company.”
“My wife and I have been showing for years,” said Peter Connor of Phoenix, Arizona. “We show at Ocala (Florida), Culpepper (Virginia) and in Saugerties. I only show at Tom Struzzieri’s shows. They take good care of exhibitors. I don’t know why Europeans don’t come to Tom’s shows. They go to bigger shows, and that’s OK with me because it means I have a better chance to win.”
One spectator said she teaches riding, so she was interested in coming when a friend called up to suggest they go. She has been to some very nice shows in her area, she said, “but this is a really big one.”
Clockwise from top-left: Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, FL, riding Quality Girl; children play on one of the jumps; HITS President Tom Struzzieri looks over the course; the stands were full; Charlie Daniels performs (photo by David Gordon) (ESI Photography)