Nick Haness and McQueen are Crowned Champions in $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular
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.
“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.”
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.
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 and McQueen are Crowned Champions in $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular – Desert International Horse Park (deserthorsepark.com)