Ashlee Bond earns an unexpected victory, with fellow young stars hot on her heels.
by Kim F. Miller
Hometown favorites and young riders were the Grand Prix ring stars of World Cup Week at HITS Coachella. Ashlee Bond bounced back from the birth of her daughter Scottie four months ago to win the Longines FEI World Cup™ class aboard Chela LS. Chela had bounced back from her own big health issue: staph infections in both hocks about 18 months ago, so Ashlee was understandably swimming in delighted emotions over the win.
San Francisco native Audrey Coulter is riding in the World Cup’s East League but came West specifically to score more points, which she did with a second-place finish on Alex. Mission accomplished as that secured her spot at the World Cup Finals in Omaha later this month.
So-Cal fave Lane Clarke finished third aboard the 18hh Balu U, owned by Georgy Maskrey-Segesman. He then announced his strategy for winning the HITS AIG Million class on Sunday March 19. “I think Ashlee should get pregnant again and Audrey should go back to the East Coast.” The playful statement during the post-ride press conference reflected a spirit of camaraderie between these young West Coast stars. Add Karl Cook to that mix, as he and Tembla were the fourth pair in the jump-off, where, like Lane, he had two rails and was a bit slower. Along with Audrey, he’ll be carrying the California flag to Omaha.
HITS chief Tom Struzzieri noted that all these riders had grown up on the Desert Circuit, formerly known as “Thermal” for its specific location and henceforth to be known as “Coachella.” He recalled Ashlee riding there as a 7-year-old pony star, Audrey and her sister Saer as middle school-aged competitors and Lane and his farrier parents as long-time supporters.
It was a fun family atmosphere at the press conference. Hugs and happy tears celebrated this next generation of West Coast show jumpers. Unusual in the absence of local circuit legends like Rich Fellers, Richard Spooner and Will Simpson. They were all there and doing well in other classes, but not contenders for the World Cup this year. And there were relatively few of the many who’ve come from the East and elsewhere in past years to run for World Cup or other ranking list points and prize money.
The last of seven qualifiers that comprise this season’s West Sub League, the $100,000 Coachella class drew 23 contenders and a nice crowd on a beautiful, partly cloudy day. Popular course designer, Marina Azevedo of Brazil, built a track well suited to the field. Height and width were World Cup standard, per mandates. The track used all of the big outdoor ring, but riders had to make efficient routes and keep the gas on to make an adjusted time allowed of 79 seconds for 13 efforts.
Ashlee rode first and initially exceeded that, though you would not have guessed that from the huge smile on her pretty face after round one. Two riders later, the time was adjusted, Ashlee and Chela’s time faults were erased and they watched as six more went clear. Three of those had time faults, though, so it wound up as a four-way jump-off between Ashlee, Lane, Karl and Audrey, riding in that order.
Ashlee admitted that, given her recent return, she had no thought of riding hard for the win. Compared to the dramatic dashes required for Bond girl victories that are memorialized on big posters behind the press conference table, Ashlee rode conservatively. But a clear go in the jump-off and a time of 40.91 held up for the victory. Riding last, Audrey had her eye on another 20 points for the World Cup standings, but she had to settle for second place’s 17 when a missed distance at the third fence caused a calamity. Lengthening shadows in front of the imposing FEI North American League oxer could have accounted for the miss, but whatever the cause, she and Alex shook it off and went clear the rest of the way.
Lane and Karl each had two rails to finish third and fourth.
The other clean first-rounders caught by the clock started with Mexico’s impressive Daniel Pedraza and Arc de Triomphe, who had a heartbreaking tenth of a second excess. Young Canadian Ali Ramsay and Hermelien vd Hooghoeve were fresh from Thursday’s impressive $36,500 win, but also had a time fault. So did Canadian Olympian Lisa Carlsen and Parette. Daniel, Ali and Lisa finished fifth, sixth and seventh. Texas-based German Christian Heineking and NKH Calango were right behind them, and their extra World Cup points are thought to be plenty to send him to Omaha, too.
Although Jenni McAllister didn’t feel that LEGIS Touch The Sun was quite back on form to contest the Saturday class, they retain their second place standing among American riders in the World Cup West league. So, fingers crossed, they’ll be heading to Omaha, which has been a big goal for Jenni and Team McAllister since the beginning of the season in August. Touch The Sun suffered a hoof bruise in the fall and is still working his way back to peak form.
Can’t leave the Week IV Grand Prix ring without a nod to Miss Consistent Mandy Porter. She finished Friday’s 1.5M $36,500 Desert Classic first with Coral Reef Follow Me II and fourth with Milano, who she rides for longtime student Abby Weese. On Sunday, she and Milano won the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix.
We were happy to catch the tail end of the $50,000 USHJA International Derby on Friday afternoon. Combining Hunter Rings 3 & 4, the HITS crew built a wonderful course that took horse/riders back and forth between the two, and up and down a bank with two obstacles. Plus lots of very high options throughout the course.
Familiar names landed in the winners circle. John French finished one, two and four with Skyhawk, Center Court and Soldier respectively. Jenny Karazissis and Undeniable were third. Really a beautiful class to watch and great that the partial berm between the rings was crowded with fans enjoying it.
Lots of positive talk about ongoing improvements to the HITS Coachella venue. The entry to the Grand Prix arena was moved to the far end of the ring, so riders now go down a ramp and under a new Longines tower to enter the ring. I liked how it gives regular spectators a better view of riders before and after their rounds and it created a new main thoroughfare where there is now a bar area and a big building for the Valencia Sport Saddlery’s shop.