Nayel Nassar of Stanford, California proved that a 3,000-mile trip across the U.S. was well worth the effort when he rode Lordan to a hard-fought victory in the fourth-annual Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Saugerties, taking home $350,000.

Nassar, who rides for Egypt, and the nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding he piloted to the coveted victory were one of only three riders to crack Olaf Petersen Jr.’s course. “I can’t believe this – it’s very surreal, but this horse has been on a roll lately,” said Nassar who is a senior at Stanford University in California and will soon graduate with a degree in Economics. Upon graduation he plans to ride professionally for Egypt in the U.S.

Coming off a big two weeks on the West Coast, Nassar and Lordan were the second pair to ride clear. New Zealander Sharn Wordley of Ocala, Florida and Ashland Stables’ Derly Chin De Muze posted an early clear round in the third trip of the order, but crossed the timers just fractions over the 83-seconds time allowed for one time fault. Twenty-one rounds later, Nassar put together the winning formula with a fault-free ride in 82.76 seconds. He was later joined by Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, Florida who guaranteed a two-horse jump-off with his own Quality Girl.

“This is the biggest class this horse has jumped and I was definitely worried when I saw Todd go clear, but my plan was to put as much pressure on him as possible while leaving all the jumps up,” said Nassar. “Lordan jumped incredibly and was very careful.” Nassar bought the gelding as a six-year-old and admittedly took it slow with his progression. A spooky ride at the start, Lordan matured nicely over the past couples year, according to Nassar, and has kicked off elite competition on a high note with this weekend’s win.

Nassar’s clear jump-off round in 45.63 seconds was enough to keep Minikus on his toes, but Quality Girl was composed and focused as she entered the ring. After a thrown right front shoe early in the first round, Quality Girl attacked the jump-off course under less than perfect conditions. “I hate to make excuses, but she wasn’t quite herself as we warmed up for the jump-off,” said Minikus. When a rail came down, the pair was still guaranteed second and Minikus elected to pull up, airing on the side of his horse’s well-being. “It speaks volumes for the footing that my horse was able to jump the majority of that course without a shoe,” he added.

Wordley and Derly Chin De Muze finished third while Margie Engle of Wellington, Florida rode Elm Rock Partners, LLC’s Royce to the fastest four fault effort in the first round for fourth. Capping the top five and still cashing a $75,000 prize money check, Hugh Graham piloted King Ridge Stables’ Distant Star 3E to four faults just three tenths of a second behind Engle.

While the buzz surrounding the Zoetis Million is rightfully the prize money, the course is always second on everyone’s mind. Petersen of Meunchen, Germany set the track for the second year in a row and was pleased with the result. “The thing I liked the most is that there were no falls. It’s rare to have that at this level and I am happy that everyone had a good experience,” he said. “The results prove that the difficulty was just right.”

Nassar rode in the inaugural AIG $1 Million Grand Prix in Thermal, California this winter and was eager to compare the difficulty between his two million-dollar experiences. While the course was smaller in height, difficulty crept its way to the surface through other channels. “It was very technical and every stride kept us thinking,” he said.

Tom Struzzieri, President and CEO of HITS Horse Shows acknowledged that today’s course was a prime example of how he wants his $1 million dollar classes to function. Despite a difficult time to beat and scattered faults, Struzzieri is confident that the course helped to make each and every horse better for having jumped it. “Even the ones not in the top spots had a good day,” he said.

Struzzieri announced that this year marked the first of a two-year contract with Zoetis as the presenting sponsor of HITS Shows grand prix nationwide. With the promise of a 2014 Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix, the health of show jumping in North America continues to improve. “It’s very unique to have a sponsor as dedicated to the sport and committed to advancing it as Zoetis is,” said Struzzieri.

Stuart Meikle of Zoetis agreed that with more classes like this, coupled with increased interest from competitors and spectators alike, this country is on its way to having horse sport become a part of everyday American life.

Minikus, the only American rider represented in the top three, revealed that when he used to dream of becoming a grand prix rider he never thought the sport would reach the level that it has in this country. “Where prize money is concerned, we are pushing the sport to equal events like golf and tennis,” he said.

With sponsors like Zoetis willing to invest in the sport and organizations like HRTV dedicated to shining a spotlight on the athletes, there is a promise that show jumping will continue to gain traction in North America and beyond. As the sun set on the 2013 HITS Saugerties season, attention has already turned to 2014 and the three $1 million dollar events that will take place as part of the HITS Triple Crown of Show Jumping in Thermal, California; Ocala, Florida and Saugerties, New York.

Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix

Place/Horse/Owner/Rider/Prize/$/Rd/Faults/J/O Faults/J/O Time
1 Lordan/Nayel/Nassar/Nayel Nassar/$350,000/0/0/45.63
2 Quality Girl/Todd Minikus, Ltd./Todd Minikus/$200,000/0/Ret./-
3 Derly Chin De Muze/Ashland Stables/Sharn Wordley/$120,000/1/-/-
4 Royce/Elm Rock Partners, LLC/Margie Engle/$100,000/4/-/-
5 Distant Star 3E/King Ridge Stables/Hugh Graham /$75,000/4/-/-
6 George/B Gingras Equestrian, Ltd./Jill Henselwood/$40,000/4/-/-
7 Mark Q/Kevin Babington/Kevin Babington/$30,000/5/-/-
8 Colorado/Candy Tribble/Jonathan McCrea/$20,000/5/-/-
9 Nougat Du Vallet/Grant Road Partners, LLC/Katie Dinan/$15,000/6/-/-
10 MTM Timon/MTM Farm/Tracy Fenney/$10,000/7/-/-