Jeffery Welles’ Pfizer Million fate was sealed on Sunday as he and Aries jumped to a win in the $100,000 Strongid® C 2X Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, and picked up his final required qualifier for September's Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix. Welles, who has earned over $48,000 aboard Aries on the road to the Pfizer Million is now eligible and excited to be a part of the coveted feature class of HITS Championship Weekend, scheduled for September 9.
Thanks to Sunday’s $30,000 winner’s check, Welles jumped from 26th in the Pfizer Million Top 40 Rider Rankings to sit comfortably in the top ten. He piloted Aries – a nine-year-old gelding owned by Noel Love Gross – to the top of a 31-horse field and used an impressively big stride to beat all comers in the jump-off. Welles produced the third clear round of the day over a course set by Canada’s Danny Foster. He was later joined by two more riders in a five-horse second round.
“I took this horse to his very first horse show after Noel [Love Gross] bought him as a four-year-old and it is nice to see all the pieces come together,” said Welles. “He has been quite a project, but I always knew he was a talented jumper and he tried his heart out today.”As a green horse, Aries was as spooky as they come, according to Welles. But, after several ribbon-worthy performances in Florida over the winter, he admits that Aries has come into his own this past year.
Foster challenged each rider with tall verticals and tricky distances. His triple combination at fence five was, according to Welles, the hardest part of the course. The b-c element of that combination returned as the fourth effort in an eight-obstacle jump-off.
First to appear in the second round was Patricia Griffith of White Plains, New York in the irons of her own Wieminka B. She posted the first clear round of the day over the original course and was on her way to double clear when she clipped a rail at the final fence of the jump-off and settled for fifth place with four faults in a time of 49.40 seconds. Griffith also found glory in the hunter ring over the weekend. She won Saturday’s $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix at HITS Saugerties and is hinting at an appearance in both the Pfizer Million and Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final this fall.
Following Griffith was Cara Raether of Palm Beach, Florida aboard Trelawny Farm, LLC’s Saskia 269. She set the Great American Time to Beat with a clear round in a time of 46.58 seconds. Her glory was short lived, however, as Welles took to the ring next.“My plan was to gallop fence one, two and three and then take the combination slow,” said Welles. “Aries has a huge stride and he just ate up the ground in the jump-off.”
Despite a deep distance and a hard rub at one of the final fences, Welles and Aries produced the winning time of 44.99 seconds.
Christine McCrea of East Windsor, Connecticut and Candy Tribble & Windsor Show Stables’ Wannick WH were next in the jump-off and went clear in 46.94 seconds. They, however, were knocked to fourth place when Michael Hughes of Morriston, Florida closed out the jump-off with a clear round in 46.45 seconds. Hughes, who is recovering from a broken collar bone which he suffered earlier this season, piloted Christina Fried’s MacArthur to a redeeming second-place finish.
With only three weeks of shows left and four qualifying Grand Prix remaining before HITS Championship Weekend, the field for the third-annual Pfizer Million is beginning to take shape. Joining Welles on Sunday, several riders punched their ticket for HITS Championship Weekend. After an impressive winning streak over the past couple weeks at HITS Saugerties, Laura Chapot, of Neshanic Station, New Jersey picked up her eighth qualifier with a top-ten finish aboard Mary Chapot’s Umberto. Danielle Cooper of Syosset, New Jersey, Jeanne Hobbes of Southern Pines, North Carolina, Darragh Kenny of Wellington, Florida and Lillie Keenan of New York, New York also found themselves eligible for Pfizer Million glory after Sunday’s rides.