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Canadian Olympian John Pearce leads the way in the $200,000 Desert Standings Invitational Grand Prix

THERMAL, CA (February 18, 2008)— Thanks in large part to his victory in the $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix, Canadian Olympian John Pearce and his mount Archie Bunker are sitting on top of the leader board for the riders eligible to compete in the $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix of the Desert on Sunday, March 16 at HITS Thermal to close out the 2008 circuit.

The top 30 pairs based on Grand Prix prize money won during the 2008 HITS Desert Circuit will be invited to compete in the class. According to Pearce, it is crucial that he remains on top of the mountain because the rider with the most prize money accumulated throughout the circuit will have the advantage of going last in the class.

"It's one thing to qualify for the class, but it's another thing to win it," said Pearce. "Going last will give me a tremendous advantage to win and take home the $60,000 in first-place prize money."

With over $500,000 in Grand Prix prize money remaining during the 2008 HITS Desert Circuit, Pearce and Archie Bunker are no lock to keep that enviable last-to-ride position. One combination hot on their heels is Joie Gatlin and Camaron Hills Shan Roe. Aided by a blue ribbon in the $125,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by EMO, the pair have collected $41,500 in prize money so far at HITS Thermal and, compared to the $44,500 earned by Pearce and Archie Bunker, it looks like it could be a photo finish.

Rich Fellers and Flexible have won both $50,000 Tourneau FEI World Cup Qualifiers, presented by Adequan, at HITS Thermal to put the pair in third place with $30,000 in prize money won. Rounding out the top five are the HITS Desert Circuit's all-time leading money winner, Richard Spooner ($21,500) and his mount Cristallo and 22-year-old Ashlee Bond ($18,250) and her mount Tommy Gun. Click here for the complete leader board.

"It would be a dream to be number one," said Bond. "I have some of the top riders in the world in front of me, so I am going to have to work really hard to move up in the standings. But being number one can also be a disadvantage. Sitting in that top spot, there is so much pressure and you have to be able to handle it. I know I am up for it, though."

One rider not to overlook is Pan Am Games Gold Medal Winner Jill Henselwood. She missed 10 days of action due to an illness but still sits in seventh place aboard Black Ice. "As a rider, it's important for me to achieve good results in the next three weeks because I prefer to be late in first round. After you watch a third of the class, you have a good idea of how to solve the equation."

Show jumping at HITS Thermal returns on Tuesday, February 19 for four consecutive weeks of shows and runs until Sunday, March 16 when the new Desert Circuit Championship will close out the season with 17 different championship classes, including the R.W. Mutch Equitation Classic and the first-ever $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix of the Desert.

Highlighting DC IV are three Grand Prix classes. First, on Thursday, February 21 the $25,000 Ariat Grand Prix takes the stage. On Friday, February 22 all eyes will be on the third of four $50,000 Tourneau FEI World Cup Qualifiers, presented by Adequan, as curiosity is high to see if Fellers can pull off a triple. Finally, some of the top competitors in the world will shoot it out for first place in the $50,000 STRONGID® C 2X™ on Sunday, February 24.

HITS, Inc. is a special events management company primarily focused on producing hunter/jumper horse shows. Based in upstate New York in the village of Saugerties, HITS produced its first horse show circuit in Gainesville, Florida in 1982. Since that time, HITS has grown into a nationwide company with world-class hunter/jumper circuits in California, Florida, Arizona, New York and Virginia.

For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit http://www.HitsShows.com

PHOTO: ©Flying Horse Photography

John Pearce and Archie Bunker at HITS Thermal. The pair is leading in the standings for the upcoming $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix of the Desert.


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