On Sunday afternoon, September 10, 2017, 41 of the world’s most accomplished equestrians sought to master the Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix course, designed by Martin Otto of Muenster, Germany. Only one rider, Andre Thieme, riding for Germany atop his own Conthendrix, delivered a clear jumping round. His score of one fault accrued only when he surpassed the time allowed by a fraction.
When Thieme galloped into the ring as the 28th in the order of go, Devin Ryan on Eddie Blue held the top spot with a score of five faults, four of which were from one knockdown at fence number 13—a massive black and white triple bar heading away from the in-gate—and the fifth from one time fault for exceeding the time allowed.
Thieme brought the crowd to its feet when he and his handsome grey Hanoverian gelding soared clear over the final fence number 14, a stout, rainbow-clad square oxer facing the scoreboard.
After the round, when asked if he thought his score would hold up for the win, Thieme said, “I wasn’t sure I’d live…waiting until the end of the class.” Thirteen formidable competitors were yet to go, and each had a successive advantage in evaluating the trouble spots seen in previous rounds.
As the class drew near to the end, no one had come close to Thieme’s lead, so when the final entry, Andrew Kocher piloting Navalo de Poheton, rolled off a rail at fence 8, Thieme had been assured his victory. This achievement marked a significant milestone: The 2017 Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix was his third HITS Million win. No other rider in the history of the 17 previous HITS $1 Million Grand Prix offerings has thrice conquered the class.
All of the High Performance riders agreed that the 17-effort course was big; very big. The triple combination, which was placed in front of the grandstand, provided a close-up view of the phenomenal athleticism required of each horse and rider to negotiate a track of this magnitude. Otto had expected a few horses would go clean, but, moreover, said his first concern as course designer was the safety of horses.
As Thieme watched the class, he adjusted his strategy. “After seeing 10 or so go, the white skinny vertical [fence 12], came down quite a bit, and I realized this was kind of the joker in the course, at least to me,” noted Theime. “I changed my plan so as to not just roll back on it and try to stay in the time allowed, but instead, to almost fully stop him there, catch our breath, and then ride that one as if it was a new first fence. I thought I may have overdone it when I added three extra strides. That really cost me the time allowed, which got me the time fault, but no jumping faults. In the end, my plan worked out for the win.”
Second-place finisher, New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley, has competed in the Million in the previous two years. But he hadn’t planned on riding in the Million on Barnetta until the day before when the big bay jumped so phenomenally that Wordley thought he’d give it a shot. “It’s the first time [Barnetta] had jumped a five-star grand prix, which today made him impress me even more,” he noted.
Despite 16 of the entries incurring time faults, and none clear but Thieme, one rider after the next thanked Otto for a stout and challenging course. Third-place finisher Daniel Bluman, who rides for Israel, said, “I believe that when you are jumping for a million dollars, the course should be huge. Though it was set big and wide, and never stopped challenging, the course was technically friendly, not tricky.”
Bluman, who went late in the order, was able to watch everybody ahead of him go. “I really thought there were going to be a couple of clear rounds,” he remarked. “I knew Andre was a big contender, and when he had a time fault, I thought I had my opening to maybe win this grand prix. My horse is feeling great; I didn’t see Sharn’s round, but I was convinced that even if I had one down, I would be second, so it was quite disappointing to land from the last one to see that I was third.”
Amanda Derbyshire of Great Britain rounded out the top four placings. Until the last rail on course fell, she was the only contender who came close to taking the lead from Thieme. Catherine Tyree’s fifth place finish aboard her longtime partner, Enjoy Louis, earned her the accolade as the highest-placing U.S. rider.
Thieme claimed his first million-dollar victory in Saugerties in 2011 aboard Aragon Rouet, followed by his second in 2014 at HITS Ocala during the debut of the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix with Contanga 3, his 10-year-old Oldenburg mare.
In a press conference following the Million, each of the of top three stated that the prize money they won today not only changed their year, but their lives.
The full results can be viewed here (scroll to the bottom of results for class 725).