It’s a good thing, no, an amazing thing that a half-million dollar hunter class is being offered next year, right? During the 2011 HITS “Million Weekend” at Saugerties next September, the $500,000 HITS 3’3” Hunter Prix Final will become the biggest purse ever offered in hunters.
Wait. Hold on a minute there. A 3’3” hunter “prix” ? Hmmm, let’s back up for a sec.
Just what is a hunter prix? Is it like a hunter derby, but with better jumps? No, apparently not. HITS’ Hunter Prix specifications note that a) fences will be set at 3’3” with no higher options b) jumps will be “beautifully decorated without any spooky intentions” and c) no bonus points will be rewarded.
So the biggest purse ever offered in hunters will be for a class that is lower in height and less interesting than a hunter derby. Now, a “prix” usually refers to a “grand prix”, and whether you’re talking jumpers or dressage, a grand prix means the highest level of that given discipline. Somehow, calling a 3’3” hunter class a “prix” just doesn’t seem right.
But there are a lot of smart business people running things over at HITS. One must qualify for the Hunter Prix Final by earning points in at least five Hunter Prix classes held at HITS shows throughout the year. And while riders can compete in the hunter prix classes with several horses, they can only qualify for the Hunter Prix Final with one. So as everyone runs from HITS circuit to HITS circuit to qualify, HITS will be collecting extra entry fees and filling more stalls.
And, good for them. A huge pool of riders will look at the height and think “I could do that.” Who isn’t going to want to qualify for a 3’3” class where 1st place payout is $150,000??? Give me a horse and I’ll line up with everyone else!
It’s the amateur’s shot for glory, and let’s face it, it’s the amateurs who pay the bills. Such a lucrative class for riders and horses at the 3’ and 3’3” level is unheard of, and with one horse per rider allowed in the Final, there’s no assumption that 1-3rd place could go to the same person.
But does the Hunter Prix “bring it back to the hunters”, as HITS President Tom Struzzieri said? Um, I don’t think so.
Bringing it back to the hunters would mean solid coops, 4’3” jumps and a whole lot of galloping. Throw in some old-school Thoroughbreds and then we’d be talking.
Hunter derbies bring it back to the hunters. Remember a mere three years ago, when the hunter divisions had devolved into side-diagonal-side-single rote courses of boredom? Then, with the magical invention of derbies (thank you, George Morris and USHJA), hunters suddenly had qualities many thought were lost forever; excitement! flash! interesting jumps! The course for this year’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Final was awash with big fences, technical questions, and that round hay bale thing.
And it was a $100,000 class.
There are more sides to this debate. But most of all, I’m wondering where hunters can go from here. The 3’6″ – 4′ Working Hunters are suddenly seeming paltry compared to the HITS Hunter Prix. The price of a good 3′ horse just doubled – again. If a trainer is motivated purely by dollars and cents (who isn’t?), are they going to shoot for a $100k hunter derby, or the half-million hunter prix?
No, we are definitely not bringing it back to the hunters.
Photo ©Lauren Giannini