INDIO, CA (March 11, 2001)--Carlton Brooks of Atherton, California, riding Penn Square at the Indio Desert Circuit today won the third annual $50,000 East Meets West Hunter Challenge presented by The Chronicle of the Horse. Brooks operates Uphill Farm based in Atherton, and is the first professional rider to win this event. Brooks had five horses competing in the Challenge qualifiers and had three horses make it into the top ten at Indio for the final event. Brooks also rode Storyline for Oak Ridge Farm and finished 10th. Centerstage, a horse Brooks owns, placed 19th with 16-year-old rider Matthew Sereni. Penn Square is a five-year old, 16.1-h, bay Thoroughbred gelding owned by Twinkle Gorman and GW Farms of Sacramento, California.
The $50,000 Hunter Challenge allows the top ten hunter horses in Indio, California, to compete against the top 10 hunter horses in Ocala, Florida, in one class via simulcast satellite transmission. The Challenge is open to hunters showing in Junior, Amateur-Owner, First-Year Green, Second-Year Green, Green Conformation, Regular, and Regular Conformation Hunter. To qualify, the horses competed in a series of events for five weeks at the HITS circuits in Florida and California, earning a numerical score on a scale of one to 100 in each of the preliminary rounds. The riders are allowed to take the best three of four scores to qualify for the Challenge. Penn Square competed in the First-Year Green/Conformation Hunters Division and went into the Challenge today with the high score from Indio of 261.
In the Hunter Challenge final round, riders jumped an identical course set by designers Michael Curtis in Indio and Jerry Dougherty in Ocala. Satellite trucks linked the two sites and a panel of judges at each venue watched every round at both sites on TV monitors. Rounds alternated between the two venues. Spectators watched the opposite coasts on television monitors located in a tent near the competition ring.
This is the first time that Brooks has competed in the Challenge. "I've been retired for two or three years. I just came out of [riding] retirement. I've had horses in it that I've trained every year," said Brooks. "The course was appropriately challenging, encouraged the best horses to rise to the top, and was definitely technical and difficult--which was good." Brooks has been riding Penn Square since July. "He's actually a Monty Roberts reject. He went up to the 'horse whisperer' and they told the owner that he had no aptitude or mentality to do this and that they should dispose of him. He's a non-Thoroughbred Thoroughbred. They couldn't train him. The owners sent him to another trainer and he showed a little potential, so they sent him to me to see if he could be the best. They said if anybody can do it --have at it. He was smarter than most and sensitive. So we just capitalized on that and took his negatives and made them positives." Penn Square had only been shown three times before the Indio Desert Circuit, but he ended his premier at Indio not only with the win today, but also as double circuit champion. "Everything he does is an accomplishment beyond what anybody expected," Brooks said. "We were already ahead of where we thought we'd be before we went into this class. "
The technology that made the bi-coastal competition possible worked flawlessly and Brooks commented on the uniqueness of the Hunter Challenge. "Tom [Struzzieri] has been very generous in giving us a wonderful thing. We all look forward to this the whole circuit. The technology is amazing. They've done a great job."