When the final entry’s jump-off time flashed across the scoreboard a second slower than his own, John Pearce was standing beside Chianto at the Strongid® C 2X™ Grand Prix Stadium in-gate. A winner’s smile swept across his face as he stepped back to appreciate the 18-year old Danish Warmblood gelding, then pointed to the flea-bitten gray.

“This is his 40th grand prix win,” he chanted—though didn’t seem to care who was listening. He wanted everyone in ear shot to recognize how special this horse is.

Pearce [Bermuda Dunes, California] arrived at HITS-on-the-Hudson last week with his game face for the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix this weekend. “We didn’t have a good day Friday in the $25,000 Grand Prix [Pearce was out of the money on three of four mounts, including Chianto], so I told him yesterday that we needed a win today. He listened,” said Pearce. “He was amazing.”

Moving into the HITS Championship, Pearce and Chianto are sitting pretty on momentum from Sunday’s $50,000 HITS Grand Prix win where they topped a field of 26 over a true test by designer Jerry Dougherty [Bokeelia, Florida]. Thirteen obstacles and 16 jumping efforts made up a course that presented riders with three double combinations and technical distances.
Their special partnership began when Pearce got the ride on Chianto in 2007 during his 11-year old season. Since then, the pair has climbed to the pinnacle of the sport, earning second in the inaugural Zoetis Million and third in the 2013 AIG Million. This year Pearce believes experience may win over young talent— and deliver their first million-dollar victory.

A jump-off among four-fault rides seemed a real possibility after 13 trips were unsuccessful. Pearce and Chianto entered the ring 14th in the original order and the crowd erupted with cheers after their clear effort within the tight time allowed.

“The course was difficult but Chianto is in top form,” said Pearce. “I have worked hard to preserve this horse – they only have so many jumps in them and it’s easy to jump their legs off, but he has accomplished more than most in his career. He’s a blessing.”

Careful selection of his schedule and keen knowledge of the horse’s limits have no doubt allowed Pearce to jump Chianto well into his older years, but maintains the number-one contributor to their success has been fitness. “When he’s not competing we do eight to ten miles of trails a day and that’s why he’s still going strong,” said Pearce.

In the jump-off, Pearce was joined by Christine McCrea [East Windsor, Connecticut] on Win For Life, owned by Candy Tribble and Windsor Show Stables, and Ali Wolff [New Albany, Ohio] aboard John Wolff’s Casall IV.

Pearce and Chianto stopped the clock at 45.54 seconds to set the Great American Time to Beat and the bar high for the two who followed. McCrea returned second, but a rail at the fifth jump kept her from contention. Wolff cleared all the fences but posted a time of 46.40, a second slower than Pearce, for the red ribbon with McCrea third.

“We went just fast enough for the win,” said Pearce. “It doesn’t matter where Chianto is, he steps up to the plate like any top athlete.”

Coming off a win in Friday’s grand prix, Laura Chapot and Mary Chapot’s ISHD Dual Star were the fastest of the four-fault efforts and finished fourth. Amanda Flint and Superbad rounded out the top five for The Coverboy Group.

The $50,000 HITS Grand Prix was not only the featured event at HITS Saugerties this weekend, it was also available via webcast. A replay of the event is posted at iEquine.com.