Nick Haness and McQueen. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Just when you think Nick Haness has had his best day, that day gets better. Friday of Desert Circuit IX may have taken the cake as a top day for Haness in the hunter rings, culminating with a win aboard McQueen in the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular, sponsored by Irene Neuwirth.

McQueen, owned by Strasburg Morin Inc., has been coming along over the course of Desert Circuit 2023, peaking just at the right moment in the evening’s feature class. Over the first round track, designed by Meghan Rawlins, Haness tied for second place with a 91.5 alongside Avery Glynn and Dauphin, owned by AE Farm.

Nick Haness and McQueen, pictured with Traci and Carleton Brooks, Irene Neuwirth, Ryan May, and Viva Hallinan. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I am elated with the results tonight,” Haness reflected initially on his win. “It’s a great finale to the circuit. It gave me goosebumps. It’s a class we work all circuit and strive for. To win the class feels great.”

Though the class was a big step up for McQueen, Haness and trainers Traci and Carleton Brooks of Balmoral felt the horse could handle the challenge.

“McQueen is a rather green horse; he’s never shown under the lights before,” Haness continued. “I knew he’d go in and be very brilliant. He’s a very good jumper. I was a little nervous going into the handy but I knew his brilliant jump would ultimately clinch the win for us and I didn’t need to take too many chances.”

Nicole Bourgeois and McQueen. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

There were still a few chances taken to guarantee that top spot, including a big hand gallop to the last oxer of the handy round.

“We were definitely flying ‘Lightning McQueen’ to the last jump,” Haness joked. “The horse had been jumping beautifully and I could feel him listening to me. His focus was on par tonight. He came around to the last jump and really galloped it. I knew Nicole Bourgeois was in the lead so I had to be creative and make up some points and be extra special. It paid off.”

His handy performance secured him the win, going head-to-head against Bourgeois and another McQueen, but this one a mare owned by Barbara Lovre. Down to the wire, Haness’s second-round score of 94 gave him the win, with Bourgeois in second. Glynn and Dauphin placed third.

Avery Glynn and Dauphin. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Not only did Haness secure the win, but he managed to place all three of his rides in the top seven among 49 entries in the starting order.

As for whether a result like that is skill- or luck-based, he replied, “There’s skill but there’s also a lot of luck. Any day with these horses is a privilege for us riders, but any given day you have to have a little luck on your side. You can prepare as much as you can prepare and get your horses in form, but it comes down to the wire between fractions of points separating riders. Some luck is definitely involved and I was very lucky tonight. [The horses] all proved they deserved to be here.”

The handy track provided many options for riders to create their own destiny, knowing each of their mounts and which option would best suit them. “It gave every rider an opportunity to do something their own way,” Haness said of the handy round, where he is quite the specialist. “In a class like this it was fun. You could do what you thought was best. It presented hard options and some of the horses and riders chose hard combinations, but it should be a challenge for $100,000 tonight. It was really fun.”

For the win, the owners of McQueen were awarded a custom pet pendant from Irene Neuwirth. Haness and his winning team received $30,000 in prize money, a custom cooler, a custom picture frame, a painted ceramic plate, a custom WCHR jacket certificate for rider, owner, trainer, and groom, plus a brand-new jump from SkyHi Industries.

Nick Haness was named Leading Hunter Rider and WCHR High Score Professional. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Prior to the class, Haness was awarded a brand-new Top Jock tack box for winning Leading Hunter Rider of Desert Circuit 2023. An ultimate display of consistency, Haness earned 796 points in the qualifying divisions to earn the title. He was also named the WCHR High Score Professional, while Nicole Bourgeois was named the WCHR High Score Developing Professional.

WCHR week continues through the weekend as champions are crowned in respective junior and amateur divisions.

Final Results: $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular

1. McQueen / Nick Haness / Strasburg Morin Inc. / 91.5 + 94 = 185.5
2. McQueen / Nicole Bourgeois / Barbara Lovre / 92.25 + 92.5 = 184.75
3. Dauphin / Avery Glynn / AE Farm / 91.5 + 89.75 = 181.25
4. Lifestyle / Halie Robinson / Stable Assets LLC / 88 + 88.75 = 176.75
5. Tangled Up In Blue / Lisa Wall / 3P Equine Partners, LLC / 88.125 + 86.25 = 174.375
6. Estimated Prophet / Nick Haness / Roaring Fork Farms LLC / 89.875 + 84.5 = 174.375
7. On Call / Nick Haness / Lindsay Maxwell / 85.25 + 88 = 173.25
8. Wayfinder / Nicole Bourgeois / Hilary Sosne / 91 + 82 = 173
9. Lykke Li-Terma Z / Michelle Morris / Ava Park / 86.25 + 84.5 = 170.75
10. Vagadam PSH / Chelsea Brittner / 84.125 + 85.5 = 169.625
11. Kingston / Halie Robinson / Stonefield Sport Horses LLC / 87 + 82.5 = 169.5
12. Higgs / Hope Verschleiser / Hope Verschleiser / 84.5 + 84.75 = 169.25

Gregory Wathelet Races Home with $77,300 CSI4* 1.50m Speed

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Argentina De La Marchette. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) has a winning edge no matter the mount, but his homebred mare Argentina De La Marchette worked even more into his favor Friday morning to win the $77,300 Brown Advisory CSI4* 1.50m Speed during Desert Circuit IX.

“I knew the class today would be quite fast,” Wathelet said. “It was a nice course; it was good for a speed class. I know she’s fast. She’s done good things here. I gave her some quiet weeks because if I try to rush all the time she gets a bit hot. I knew this was a class that was a good fit for her today with good prize money. The plan was to put her in this class and it worked well.”

Coming in the first half of the starting order of 30 entries, Wathelet blazed the 11-year-old SCSL mare (Acajou De La Marchette x Del Piero PB) around Peter Grant’s (CAN) track in 68.74 seconds, leaving very little wiggle room and pushing Katie Laurie (AUS) and Django II into second place with their time of 71.18 seconds. Laurie ultimately finished second, while Eliza Broz took third with Kardenta Van’t Meerhof in 76.11 seconds.

“My plan was to go for it,” Wathelet said of his round. “There were a few fast ones coming behind me. I had my own plan and she was jumping fantastic. She was really fighting. I picked up a good speed and I kept it until the end.”

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) in his winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

On the tail end of a highly successful circuit, Wathelet is reflecting on his choice to bring the four horses he did, feeling a sense of accomplishment and progress with each one of them.

“You always come with a good plan and hope, but it’s always normally the other way,” he reflected. “It’s usually bumpy. I took the right horses here. They’re good horses, horses that were performing a lot in Europe. They’re in good form, and my horses have proved to be quite competitive. Everything has gone right but that is the sport; next year it might be different but we have to take it day by day.”

Argentina De La Marchette is unique to Wathelet as she is a homebred, bred by his father, Hubert, and has been in the family ever since. Gregory himself has ventured into breeding on his own farm back home, realizing the passion behind producing horses from the very start.

At the beginning I was not as interested. It’s a long process and expensive. I also had no time.. I started about seven years ago when I got my own farm. I have stallions, mares, and the place [to raise them]. I wanted to try at least. [Argentina] is different because my dad bred her before I got started myself. It’s more his mare.

“It’s a long process, an expensive process, you [often] get disappointed, but that’s also why we do the sport, because it’s the same thing,” he said of what he’s learned as he has gotten more involved with breeding. “There are many good times and then small things that [remind] you teh [reason] of why you have done that, like when you win a big grand prix or win at Aachen. Then you know why you had to fight [for so long].”

The difference, according to Wathelet, with breeding your own horses as a top professional is you’re playing the long game.

“It’s different when you buy a horse and you can sell it or use it straight away,” Wathelet continued. “What we do today, [we see the result] maybe eight years or 10 years later. When you have some when you’ve ridden the mother and father it’s a bit more special. We have some coming 2 to 3 years old that are really nice ones.”

Show jumping resumes Saturday with the final $50,000 National Grand Prix, sponsored by Kubota, the awarding of the $100,000 National Grand Prix Rider Bonus, and the $38,700 Pomponio Ranch CSI4* 1.45m Classic.

Final Results: $77,300 Brown Advisory CSI4* 1.50m Speed

1. ARGENTINA DE LA MARCHETTE: 2012 SCSL mare (Acajou De La Marchette x Del Piero PB)
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Gregory Wathelet: 0/68.74

2. DJANGO II: 2011 gelding by Lordano x Brilliant Invader
KATIE LAURIE (AUS), Katie Laurie: 0/71.18

3. KARDENTA VAN’T MEERHOF: 2010 BWP mare by Cardento x Concorde
ELISA BROZ (USA), Hidalgo LLC: 0/76.11

4. CHIC D EMMA Z: 2013 ZANG stallion by Cigaret JV H Z x Unique Drum Van Het Juxschot
SAMANTHA BUIRS (CAN), Samantha Buirs: 0/76.87

5. HAVANA: 2012 KWPN mare by Cardento x Judgement
KASSIDY KEITH (CAN), Cheryl Keith: 0/77.17

6. ARMENTOS: 2011 OLDBG gelding by Armitage 2 x Levantos
KAITLIN CAMPBELL (USA), SWS Training & Sales: 0/83.02

7. CERA CARUSO: 2008 AWHA gelding by Casall x Capone
KATIE LAURIE (AUS), Carissa McCall: 4/69.07

8. THEO 160: 2012 HOLST gelding by Christian 25 x Calando IV
CONOR SWAIL (IRL), Team Philippaerts: 4/69.44

9. BERLINE DU MAILLET Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Berlin x Action-Breaker
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Mambour Delphine: 4/71.75

10. NADALE VAN DORPERHEIDE: 2013 BWP gelding by Zilverstar T x Winningmood
CASSIO RIVETTI (BRA), Ilan Ferder: 4/73.36

11. GALLUP: 2011 KWPN stallion by Hickstead x Rush-Hour
SHAUNA COOK (CAN), Gallup Syndicate: 4/74.54

12. INDUS VAN HET KEYSERECK: 2015 BWP gelding by Carabas VD Wateringhoeve x Nabab De Reve
CAMILO RUEDA (COL), Camilo Rueda: 4/74.62

True That Earns Repeat Victory in $20,000 Young Hunter Championship

Nick Haness and True That. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Another victory came Nick Haness’s way with the win in the $20,000 Young Hunter Championship, sponsored by the Surrey, for the second time this season. In the second running of the championship, Haness and Rainie Rose’s True That strutted to their second consecutive victory. With scores of 92 and 93, it was a convincing win, securing victory by 14 points.

“Actually my mom picked him out at Capital Challenge last year,” Rose said of the 7-year-old Mecklenberger gelding. “She saw him and knew immediately that he was something special. It was kind of a fluke. She fell in love with him and had to have him. He’s made a pretty big splash on the West Coast so far.”

Nick Haness and True That in their winning presentation, pictured with owners Rainie and Bailey Rose, plus Emma Werner of the Surrey. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Regarding the addition of major championships with significant prize money in the hunters at DIHP, Rose remarked, “I think it’s awesome. It’s really nice to showcase the young hunters and make something special for the people developing horses in the sport.”

True That has proven himself a true winner throughout the circuit, and he is just at the beginning of what is likely a well-decorated career as a top hunter.

“He’s very consistent,” Rose continued. “He jumps consistently, he performs consistently, he has a great expression, he really likes to win, and I think he always gives it his all.”

“True That Is an amazing young horse,” Haness said. “It’s such a great opportunity for young horses in this class. It’s great for the owners on the West Coast to have a special class to reward young ones on their development. I was so happy to win with True That again. It’s a very consistent horse. He’s a real competitor and displays a lot of qualities we want to see in the next generation of hunters.”

Nick Haness and Cardentos Dree Boeken. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Haness’s winning ways began early Friday as he topped the $5,000 Platinum Performance USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open with Cardentos Dree Boeken, owned by Sara L. Vanfleet. The duo’s scores of 93 and 92 put them at the top with a combined total of 185. Skylar Wireman took second aboard Fine By Me, owned by Emma Woodworth, while Haness took third as well aboard Valor, owned by Natalie Fuller.

As the day went on in Main Hunter, Caroline Ingalls took a big win, this time aboard Big Country in the $5,000 Platinum Performance USHJA National Hunter Derby – Junior/Amateur. Her scores of 88 and 90 put her into a convincing lead on a score of 178. Christina Smith and Sunday Styles claimed second place, while Lillian Muzzy and Baldeur took third.

Caroline Ingalls and Big Country. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Final Results: $20,000 The Surrey Young Hunter Championship

1. True That / Nick Haness / Rainie Rose / 92 + 93 = 185
2. St. Somewhere / Julia Rossow / Balmoral / 85 + 86 = 171
3. Sapphira Z / Gabriela Pattinson / Kim Hall / 85.5 + 85 = 170.5
4. Well Chosen / Leslie Steele / Valerie Cooper / 86 + 84 = 170
5. Copyright / Dustin Godwin / Hannah Scheuer / 84.25 + 85 = 169.25
6. While Away / Nina Alario / Estancia Farms Inc / 84.5 + 84 = 168.5
7. Ironwood / Jamie Sailor / Kaitlyn Patterson / 82.75 + 84.5 = 167.25
8. Trending / Marisa Metzger / Laurie Jueneman / 84 + 82 = 166
9. Faberge / Corene Smith / Anne Hill / 82.5 + 81 = 163.5
10. New Girl / Marisa Metzger / Laurie Jueneman / 83 + 71 = 163.5
11. Connect The Dots / Nicole Bourgeois / Amy Bean / 91 + 60 = 151
12. Wonderful / Lindsay Ransom / Marilyn Miller / 82 + 50 = 132