With hopes of million-dollar success, John Pearce of Bermuda Dunes, California made his way east this week and piloted Forest View Farm’s Son of a Gun to the top of the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Saugerties on Friday. Pearce is one of several West Coast riders who are in Saugerties preparing for next weekend’s Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix as part of HITS Championship Weekend.

Course designer Jerry Dougherty of Bokeelia, Florida set a 13-obstacle course with 16 jumping efforts for a field of 41 competitors. The track included an oxer-oxer two-stride at fence seven and a vertical-oxer-vertical triple separated by one stride apiece at fence 12. From the first round, a star-studded field of 13 advanced to the jump-off.
“Today’s class was a great way to start building up for the million. There was enough width, but it wasn’t too testy,” said Pearce.

Pearce, a Canadian rider, was joined by a number of other international competitors who recently arrived in Saugerties to prepare for the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix next Sunday. New Zealand’s Duncan McFarlane, Venezuela’s Luis Larrazabal and fellow Canadian Jill Henselwood are just a few who make up the laundry list of global talent that will take the stage for the richest class in show jumping.

In the third trip of the jump-off, Pearce set the Great American Time to Beat at 40.66 seconds with a clear round aboard his first ride, Forest View Farm’s Chianto. The 17-year-old gelding is Pearce’s planned mount for the Zoetis Million after the pair finished in second-place at the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Thermal this past March.
“I wasn’t planning to go that fast with Chianto because I am trying to save him a little for the Million,” said Pearce. “He’s the “man” right now and has proven that he is a winner at this level – he deserves a shot next Sunday.”

Lisa Goldman of Hawthorn Woods, Illinois answered Pearce with a clear round in 40.35 seconds in the irons of Mary Goldman’s Centurion B. After winning three grand prix at HITS Ocala this winter, Goldman has high hopes for her debut Zoetis Million appearance.

Pearce returned ninth and piloted Son of a Gun to a blazing time of 38.62 seconds. “He’s been out for a year and a half because of an injury, but is really coming along well,” Pearce said of the 14-year-old gelding that was purchased as a 10 year old. “Son of a Gun has a lot of jump with the ability to run, be quick in the air and jump carefully. He likes to leave the jumps up and that’s what I like the most about him.”

Henrik Gundersen of Wellington, Florida gave Pearce a run for his money in the final trip, but was one one-hundredth of a second slower, finishing in second place with his own Krake Ask. They posted a final time of 38.65 seconds. Goldman finished third and Peter Wylde of Lake Worth, Florida landed in fourth aboard Winley Farm, LLC’s Wiesielottie. Their jump-off time was 40.43 seconds. Pearce capped the top five with Chianto.

“I hadn’t planned on going that fast today, but I figured I had nothing to lose with Son of a Gun, so I went for it – and it worked out!” said Pearce. “You have to be able to go fast in Saugerties – there are a lot of good riders here. I love being back here.”

Grand prix action will return Sunday with the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, before Week VIII delivers HITS Championship Weekend. After a year of qualifying, a talented cast of riders will converge on the Strongid® C 2X Grand Prix Stadium to ride for the top prize in the Zoetis Million Grand Prix.