Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hunter/Jumper: Tucson: HITS: Bjorn Ikast and Gretchen Lof Shine at the HITS Tucson Winter Classic

For Immediate Release
February 24, 2011
TUCSON, AZ (February 24, 2011)—The midway point of the six week HITS Arizona Winter Circuit was highlighted by big victories for Bjorn Ikast in the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, and Gretchen Lof in the $2,500 Devoucoux Hunter Prix.

Ikast, originally from Kolding, Denmark and now a Colorado resident, is a regular at the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit and has been knocking on the door for a Grand Prix win all season. He finished third two weeks in a row but all that changed this week. Ikast had three horses in Sunday’s feature class and took the top three spots on each of his mounts, forcing New Mexico’s Elani Rager and Lisa Upplegger’s Castor, the winners of the first two Grand Prix of the season, out of the top of the class for the first time.

Ikast was the only rider to go clear on Canadian Danny Foster’s course and he did so on each of his three mounts, first aboard his own Brave Heart, second on his own Iz’s Viva La Vida and third aboard Bovee Limited’s Colorado.

“It was a nice course, as it always is from Danny [Foster],” said Ikast. “I thought it was technical but not huge, which suits my riding and my horses very well. The fences came up fast and there were some pretty short distances, which seemed to give others some trouble. I felt really well-prepared on Sunday after riding his courses all week. He did a nice job building to get us ready for Sunday. We’ve come close a few times over the past couple of weeks. Last week I had the same last rail down which was unlucky, but still managed to finish third. This week it was my day!”

Rager and Castor’s reign came to an end on Sunday when they had a rail in the first combination of the course, and then finished with four faults in a time of 87.469 seconds to take fourth place.

Canadian Eric Martin and Jan Ash-Gross’ Kumano knocked down the same rail as Rager did, and finished in fifth place with a time of 89.116 seconds.

The win marked the 22nd Grand Prix victory for Brave Heart, a Danish warmblood who Ikast has had for almost seven years. “He’s a well-seasoned horse; I call him my ‘teenager’. He’s a good, loyal friend and he does really well with short distances. My other horses are relatively new to me and we are getting to know each other. I’m looking forward to more success with all three of them here in Arizona.”

Ikast, with three qualifying Grand Prix in his pocket, holds the number 11 spot in the current Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix Rider Rankings with more than $14,000 in prize money won with his leading mount Colorado. “The Pfizer Million is just a fantastic opportunity and I’m so thankful that HITS has provided this chance for the sport in the United States. If my horses keep going well and stay sound, and if I also stay sound, it will absolutely be a goal of mine to qualify for that class. It would be the chance of a lifetime to compete for a purse of that size and I hope to be able to do so this year.”

Currently, Rager and Castor enjoy the sixth-place spot in the Pfizer Million Rider Rankings with $17,000 in prize money won. Oregon’s Rich Fellers still holds the number one spot in the Rider Rankings with more than $28,000 won aboard his leading mount, Flexible.

High-Performance riders showing at HITS Arizona this winter will have three more opportunities to get an early jump on qualifying for this year’s Pfizer Million, which will take place on September 11 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.

$2,500 Devoucoux Hunter Prix
On Saturday Gretchen Lof of Cave Creek, Arizona piloted Nancy Gray’s Shine On Me to a first-place finish in the $2,500 Devoucoux Hunter Prix. Lof, who finished second in the class last week aboard her own Dresden, scored an 86 in the first round and an 88 in the handy for a total of 174.

Meredith Houx-Remiger of Albuquerque, New Mexico riding her own Malbec scored an 84 in the first round and an 85 in the second round for a total of 169 and the second-place honors.

Third place went to Gillian Hormel of Paradise Valley, Arizona who was in the irons this week with Lof’s Dresden and scored a 73 in the first round and an 87 in the handy for a total of 160.

Rounding out the top five in the class was Michael Dennehy of Elizabeth, Colorado and Midas, owned by Martha Krell, in fourth place with a score of 159, followed by Susie Straus and Welcome, owned by Ryann Thomas, in fifth place with a score of 150.

The $2,500 Devoucoux Hunter Prix is a new addition to the HITS Arizona schedule and is a qualifier for the all-new Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final which will take place September 10-11 in Saugerties, New York. In all, HITS Arizona will host a total of six Devoucoux Hunter Prix qualifiers for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final, including the $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix which takes place on Saturday, March 12, during Week VI of the circuit.

With the win, Lof now sits at 23rd in the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final Rider Rankings with 55 points aboard Shine On Me. Other Arizona riders breaking into the Rider Rankings this week were Dennehy and Sir Topham Hat, Houx-Remiger and her leading mount Malbec, and Ali Cost and Rocstar.

Competition continues today at HITS Arizona with the Sahuaro Classic. On Friday night, the annual FarmVet Exhibitor Party at the Cantina on the show grounds will welcome exhibitors and their families for some after show fun, with great food and great company. The next $2,500 Devoucoux Hunter Prix will take place on Saturday, and then on Sunday the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, will close out the week.

The all-new Diamond Mills $500,000 3'3" Hunter Prix Final is another innovative offering from HITS that has equestrians from around the country eager to earn their spot in this historic event, which takes place the same weekend as the Pfizer Million in Saugerties, New York. In order to become eligible for the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final a rider on any horse/horses will need to compete in five or more Devoucoux Hunter Prix at any combination of HITS Shows during the qualifying period. Once a rider has competed in five Devoucoux Prix, they will become eligible and the points on their leading horse will place them in HITS Hunter Prix Final Rider Rankings. For more information on the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final, including complete qualifying specifications, please click here.

About Devoucoux
Devoucoux, makers of fine French saddles, is proud to be the title sponsor of each and every qualifying Hunter Prix leading up to this year's phenomenal Diamond Mills $500,000 3'3" Hunter Prix Final. The Devoucoux Hunter Prix will be a featured event at all HITS horse shows this season as riders from around the country set out to qualify for the historic Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final, which will take place September 10-11 at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.

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