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Richard Spooner and Cristallo Win the $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix of the Desert

THERMAL, CA (March 17, 2008)—Richard Spooner has won a lot of Grand Prix classes in his career. In fact, the HITS Desert Circuit's all-time leading money winner now has 104 victory gallops under his belt, six of which are from this season at Thermal. But Spooner's blue-ribbon performance from Sunday's $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix of the Desert marks the single largest purse that he has won to date.

Spooner had seven different horses in the money during this year's circuit and earned himself the number six spot on the Invitational list, thanks to his top winner, Apache. Together, they amassed $37,500 in prize money. Out of seven horses to chose from, Spooner selected Cristallo, who's highest ranking this year in a Grand Prix was second place in the $50,000 Tourneau FEI World Cup Qualifier, presented by Adequan during DC II, to compete in Sunday's class. It turned out to be a great choice as Spooner and Cristallo had the fastest double-clear round, outlasting 26 starters in the first round and six pairs that came back for the jump-off, to score $60,000 in prize money for Show Jumping Syndications International.

"HITS worked hard to put on this great class and I am honored to win it," said Spooner. "The HITS Desert Circuit has always been good to me and it keeps getting better and better."

"Richard is a great competitor and he happens to be a good friend," said Dale Harvey, HITS' High-Performance Liaison. "So it was exciting to see him reach his 100th Grand Prix win on this circuit and then, ultimately, take the win in today's big class. It is such a lesson to watch someone like him stay so focused and achieve the kind of success he has enjoyed."

After his victory, a handful of supporters joined Spooner in the Oasis Club for a champagne toast and cake. "It was nice to celebrate with Chris, Sara and Katherine Bardis," continued Spooner. "We had a great run together during the circuit."

In last Sunday's $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, Spooner scored a first and second-place finish aboard Ace and Apache, respectively, helping to bring his total for Grand Prix prize money won during the 2008 HITS Desert Circuit to well over $200,000.

First to go in the jump-off were Guillermo Obligado and Sulleyman De Wulf Selection. The pair dropped the California Horsetrader vertical early on in the jump-off and eventually finished the round with 12 faults, which earned them a sixth-place finish and $10,000 in prize money for owner Audria Mashburn.

Second to challenge Brazilian course designer Guilherme Jorge's route were Keri Potter and Rockford I. The pair, who had earned $16,000 in Grand Prix prize money over the course of the circuit, went clear and set the Great American Time to Beat at 47.715. Potter would eventually finish the day in second place and collect a check for $44,000, bringing their total winnings for the season up to an even $60,000.

Ireland's Eddie Macken and his mount Tedechine Sept were third in the order. The pair had an unlucky rail down midway through the course and collected $16,000 for Valerie Robinson after their fourth-place finish.

Fourth to go were Spooner and his mount Cristallo. They shaved almost four seconds off Potter's time and stopped the clocks in 43.254 to take the lead. "With Will Simpson and Jill Henselwood behind me, I knew I had to go as fast as I could and that still might not have been fast enough," said Spooner.

Next in the order were Pan Am Games Gold Medal Winner, and Olympic hopeful, Jill Henselwood. Despite a slow start to the season due to an illness, Henselwood earned herself the number five spot in the standings for the Invitational, thanks to her work aboard Black Ice and their $43,000 in total winnings. But on Sunday, it was her mount Special Ed who got the start. The Canadian and her ride had four faults and finished in third place to collect a $26,000 check for Juniper Farms.

Finally, Will Simpson and his mount El Campeon's Tosca entered the ring in the jump-off's envious last-to-ride spot. The pair had eight faults and finished the day in fifth place. Simpson was invited to compete in the class based on his grabbing the blue ribbon in two-out-of-three 2008 Olympic Games trials in Wellington, Florida

"I came in and gave it my best shot," said Simpson. "Richard is one of the best riders in the world and he has been showing here for eight weeks."

"I was very impressed when I saw all of the improvements," added Simpson. "The Grand Prix ring looks phenomenal and the footing is great. I can't wait to see what else HITS has in store for 2009."

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; Richard Spooner and Cristallo win the $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix of the Desert


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