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Catskills Leslie Howard and Nick of Diamonds Win $100,000 Avis Grand Prix at HITS Catskills III

ELLENVILLE, NY (July 22, 2001)-U.S. Olympic Team Silver Medallist Leslie Howard, 44, of Westport, Connecticut, aboard Nick of Diamonds, was the fastest of five double-clears to win the $100,000 Avis Grand Prix at HITS Catskills III today, besting a field of 22 that included another three U.S. Olympians-Nona Garson, Peter Leone, and Todd Minikus. Sydney Team Alternate Minikus, 39, had four clear for today's jump-off, including his Olympic mount Oh Star, but the win eluded him. "It only takes one horse to win," said Howard, who rode only the single entry in today's class. "My horse is extremely fast. If he keeps the jumps up, I don't think there's a faster horse in the country. His ground tempo is so quick and he turns so quickly. When Oh Star had problems, I knew that if I kept the jumps up, I had a good chance."

Howard was awarded an embroidered cooler from the Cosequin® U.S. Grand Prix League, an engraved silver tray, certificates from Agway for 650 pounds of horse feed, and a check for $30,000. The S'Blieft Group owns Nick of Diamonds, a nine-year-old gray Swedish-bred stallion. Sally Mackenzie, an Account Manager for Avis, made the presentations in ceremonies before the victory gallop. "I'm proud to be a part of the horse show and to be a sponsor here," said Mackenzie. "This is a great turnout and we're looking forward to many more horse shows after this."

Anthony D'Ambrosio of Mt. Kisco, New York, designed the course. D'Ambrosio, the former two-time world record holder and the current North American world record holder for the North American puissance, won a total of 32 Grand Prix classes in his riding career and retired from competition in 1998. He has been designing courses full-time for three years. For Round One, D'Ambrosio built a 13-obstacle course that started riders off with an oxer at Fence No. 1 followed by a left turn that took riders on a long sweeping tour of the arena in which they jumped a vertical at 2, an oxer-vertical double at 3, an oxer at 4, and a vertical-oxer double at 5, before turning right. The second half of the course took riders to a vertical at 6, followed by a hairpin right turn to a short line from an oxer at 7 to a vertical at 8 to a liverpool at 9. Riders then turned left to the oxer at 10 followed by another left turn to a vertical-vertical double at 11. A sharp turn right to the straight line home completed the course--an oxer at 12 to a vertical at 13. Time Allowed was set at 88 seconds. One rider retired on course. Nine horses went clean and qualified for the Jump-Off. Sydney Team Member Garson and her Olympic mount Rhythmical and Los Angeles Team Silver Medallist Leone on his Sydney Trials mount Legato did not qualify for the Jump-Off.

For the eight-obstacle Jump-Off, D'Ambrosio required riders to start with a line from the oxer at Fence No. 1 to a new vertical jump, Fence No. 14, turn left to Fence 8, turn right to the double at 5, and continue right to another new jump, an oxer at 15, followed by an S-line to 11A and home to 13. Time Allowed was set at 56 seconds.

Minikus was the first rider on the Jump-Off course with Oh Star. The duo had an uncharacteristic refusal at Fence No. 8 and continued difficulty at the next fence, the double at 5, accumulating 13 jumping and 19 time faults in 74.574, finishing in ninth place. As owner/rider, Minikus took home $3,000. Marilyn Little, 19, of Fredenick, Maryland, on Lassango, a horse she owns with Raylyn Farm, went next and took the lead with a clear in 46.556, but ended up in fourth place, taking home $8,000. Minikus returned to the ring with What Nu and snatched the lead with a clear in 42.988, but had to settle for second place and $20,000 for owner Amy Lefferdink. Patty Stovel of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on Mont Cenis was the next rider on course and also put in a clear round, but her time of 44.220 placed her third. Stovel, who owns Mont Cenis with Lexie Stovel and Karen Murphy, earned $12,000 today. Laura Chapot of Neshanic Station, New Jersey, daughter of Olympians Frank and Mary Chapot, was next in the order of go on Sundance Kid who lowered the final fence for four faults and finished in sixth place, taking home $5,000 for the Sundance Group.

Minikus was back again with his third horse, Gardenio, who had two fences down for eight faults in 42.723, earning eighth place and $3,000 for owner YZ Partners. Howard and Nick of Diamonds went next and had a clear round in 41.642, taking the lead and keeping it for the win. Anna McKnight from Whitehall, Maryland, on Montrachet owned by Higher Ground Farm, rode a careful clear round in 54.331, which put her in fifth place for $6,000. Minikus came back with Conejo, his last ride and a last chance to re-gain the lead. The stallion owned by Blair Cudmore had the last two fences down for eight faults in 42.637, taking the seventh place spot for $4,000. Minikus earned a total of $30,000 for his four rides.

"I thought Anthony did a super job designing this course," said Howard. "Even though it was a $100,000, he had some younger riders and younger horses in the class, so I think he was being cautious not to over-face them with too much height and width. It was a moderate Grand Prix, but he did a super job, especially for a group of young horses." Howard has a group of students with her that will be competing at HITS Catskills IV next week, then she and Nick of Diamonds will depart for a month in Holland and Germany where they will compete in three shows. "He's just been a super horse for me," said Howard. "He's won lots of nice classes for me. He's just a great, great guy."

Minikus said he was not surprised that he qualified all four of his horses for the jump-off. "They're all class horses," he said. He agreed with Howard's assessment that the course was a good one for the mixed field of veteran and green horses. "Anthony did a great job. That's a good size ring and when you have that size ring then you have the luxury of being able to build it a little wide open." Minikus took the blame for Oh Star's problems today. "I took a pretty good slice at that jump and I rode it kind of soft. It was a little bit my mistake. I just don't think he expected it to come up like that," Minikus said. "What Nu was fabulous. He was a little slow after the second-to-the-last jump getting turned back to the last jump. I thought that might be fast enough to win. Then Leslie got a little lucky at the one vertical and it stayed up."

Conejo just returned from competing in Europe and was in quarantine at nearby Newburgh until yesterday. "That's really the first time I've ever ridden that horse," he said. "He belongs to a good friend, Brian Cudmore, and his wife Karen shows him generally. She just came home from showing in Europe where she did the Developing Riders Tour. They asked, 'Would you ride him as long as we're here?' He's a very good horse. It was fun to get the chance to ride him."

Minikus brought 27 horses and a group of clients to HITS Catskills and plans to compete here for two more weeks. He intends to ride the same group of horses in the next two $100,000 Grand Prix classes. Minikus competed at HITS Catskills for the first time in May. "Tom [Struzzieri] certainly runs an organized and efficient show," he said. "It's nice that he has done a good job getting the sponsorships-to be able to hold three $100,000 classes. I don't think there's any other show manager at this point in the country that's offering that kind of money for us. So for sure we appreciate Avis and the other sponsors and Tom's effort in raising that kind of sponsorship. It's about time."

Riders in today's Grand Prix were all given a dark green Romfh Coolmax® polo shirt embroidered with the HITS Catskills and Romfh logos to wear in the class. They were also given navy brushed nylon wind shirts in case the weather turned inclement. The wind shirts were sponsored by Avis and embroidered with HITS Catskills and Avis logos. Minikus acknowledged that the coat and tie were part of the tradition of horse shorts but also shared his thoughts on the changes in riders' attire for competition. "I don't see too many other professional athletes wearing a coat and a tie doing their sport. This is more comfortable. I think we could even make it a little better, a little more colorful for the general public if we stole a little something from the racing industry and we wore racing silks. We all looked the same here today and I think we need to give some individuality to each rider and/or owner. Why not? The owners are a big, big, big part of this and ultimately the owners and the sponsors get the least amount of recognition. Why don't we give the owners the chance to have their recognition? I rode four horses for four different owners. I could have worn four different colored racing silks. Isn't that why people go to Saratoga in the summer time, for the color of racing?"

Course Designer D'Ambrosio summed up today's Grand Prix, "The best riders came to the top. They had to jump enough without really taxing their horses too much. There's two more $100,000 classes coming up, so I'm sure that they appreciate the fact that I didn't take so much out of them today that they couldn't consider doing the two remaining $100,000 classes. We had nine clean which is a pretty large percentage of the starting field but a nice number to make the jump-off interesting and have it develop a little bit and be entertaining."

$100,000 Avis Grand Prix, July 22, 2001
HITS Catskills III, Ellenville, New York
Course Designer: Anthony D'Ambrosio

Pl#/Horse/Rider/Owner/Prize Money/Rd 1 Faults/J-O Faults & Time
Number of horses who competed in this class: 22
Class Prize Money: $100,000
1/Nick of Diamonds/Leslie Howard/S'Blieft Group/$30,000/0/0-41.642
2/What Nu/Todd Minikus/Amy Lefferdink/$20,000/0/0-42.988
3/Mont Cenis/Patricia Stovel/Patty & Lexie Stovel & Karen
4/Lassango/Marilyn Little/Raylyn Farm & Marilyn Little/$8,000/0/0-46.556
5/Montrachet/Anna McKnight/Higher Ground Farm/$6,000/0/0-54.331
6/Sundance Kid/Laura Chapot/Sundance Group/$5,000/0/4-48.087
7/Conejo/Todd Minikus/Blair Cudmore/$4,000/0/8/42.637
8/Gardenio/Todd Minikus/YZ Partners/0/8/42.723
9/Oh Star/Todd Minikus/Todd Minikus Ltd/$3,000/0/32-74.574
10/Hennesey/Judy Garofalo/Higher Ground Farm/$2,000/ ½ /NA
11/Rhythmical/Nona Garson/Kamine Family & Nona Garson/$2,000/4/NA
12/Pico de Gallo/Marilyn Little/Raylyn Farm & Marilyn Little/$2,000/4/NA
13/Brave Ally/Ian Silitch/November Hill Farm/$1,500/4/NA
14/Concerto/Molly Ashe/Jane F. Clark/$1,500/4/NA

HITS Catskills I, May 23-27
HITS Catskills II, May 30-June 3
HITS Catskills III, July 18-22
HITS Catskills IV, July 25-29
HITS Catskills V, August 1-5
HITS Catskills VI, August 29-September 2
May 27 $100,000 EMO Grand Prix 1pm
June 3 $100,000 Nevele Grande Grand Prix 1pm
July 22 $100,000 Avis Grand Prix 1pm
July 29 $100,000 Cosequin® Grand Prix 1pm
August 5 $100,000 Nevele Grande Grand Prix 1pm
September 2 $100,000 Rio Vista Grand Prix 1pm
July 22 Taste of the Hudson Valley For Exhibitors Only 2pm-4pm
July 29 Kids Day 11am-1pm

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