The $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, was the first grand prix held under the lights in the new Ocala Horse Properties Stadium at HITS Ocala. Not only were the lights on Thursday evening, but with the air crisp and the moon full, the horses were on as well. A large field of forty-two talented horses and riders came for an opportunity to qualify for the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix, being offered for the first time this year in the new stadium on March 24.
Aaron Vale of Williston, Florida and Spirit of Alena, owned by Campos and Miranda Investments jumped to their second win in a row at HITS Ocala with Thursday’s victory.
Grand prix Course Designer Martin Otto of Muenster, Germany set the course with 12 obstacles and 16 jumping efforts and a time allowed of 71 seconds for the first round. The course was technical and tight with little time to think, making instant decision paramount. After the first several horses jumped with no rails down but received time faults, the time allowed was adjusted to 73 seconds. “I felt the time allowed for this course was a little short. It was causing riders to be too cautious and causing time faults and rails down,” stated Vale “It worked out better when it was adjusted to 73 seconds.”
Built at heights of up to 1.50m, some tricky turns and lines caused some challenges for the riders. The triple combination at 11, a vertical-oxer-vertical one stride to two-stride, proved to be difficult with the b element causing the most problems and standing between many hopefuls and the jump-off.
The jump-off course was seven fences, including 11b-c at the third effort, with a time allowed of 44 seconds. The first part of the course invited riders to gallop, going up the center of the ring, turning back to the two-stride, and then all the way across the ring to a wide oxer. The trick was then to balance for the last two verticals to finish the course. Three riders had the second to last fence down to end their hopes of appearing in the winner’s circle.
First to challenge the jump-off course with his first of two rides was Andre Thieme of Plau Am See, Germany, aboard his own Conthendrix, with a strong field of seven to follow. Thieme started the jump-off with an efficient round and quick time of 35.63 seconds, but a rail at the third fence, the original b element of the triple, meant a four-fault score.
My Weber of Ocala, Florida went next aboard AvailableJumpers.com’s Available Vogue and appeared to be on her way to a clean round with no faults until a rail came down at the second to the last vertical. She finished with a score of four faults in a time of 36.49 seconds.
Hunter Holloway of Topeka, Kansas, was third to go and posted the Great American Time to Beat with a clean round in 33.46 seconds aboard the Hays Investment Corp. owned Yolo. Thieme then returned with his second horse Contanga 3, and while his time was almost good enough to catch Holloway, coming in at 33.85 seconds, a rail at the pesky second-to-last vertical resulted in a four-fault score.
David Beisel, Goshen, Ohio on the speedster Ammeretto, for Equine Holdings LLC, gave a great effort, finishing in a blistering time of 31.43 seconds with four faults.
Tracy Fenny of Flower Mound, Texas, with two grand prix wins on the circuit this year, entered the ring next and had the crowd on her side as she zipped around the course clean in 31.28 seconds to take what appeared to be a commanding lead in the irons of MTM Farm’s MTM Timon.
Vale, winner of last Sunday’s $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, was looking for a repeat performance when he entered the stadium aboard the impressive chestnut stallion, Spirit of Alena. Vale executed his plan on the early part of the course perfectly, with a tidy turn from fence two to three that set a winning path. “My horse is a big horse and quick on his feet, but I wasn’t going to try for the win until I noticed we were way inside the tracks of the other horses. When I realized that, I figured with a good line to the last fence I’d go for it. It was a really last minute decision that paid off,” he said.
Vale shaved eight-tenths of a second off Fenney’s time to snatch the lead with a time of 30.43 seconds.
Charlie Jayne of Wellington, Florida in the saddle of Top Top for Alex Jayne, was last to go, and galloped all-out over the first five fences, looking like he could be on the way to the win. Unfortunately, the second to last fence was again unlucky, as Top Top had a rail for four faults, finishing in a time of 31.90 seconds.
“It was a fun night and a great jump-off,” said Vale. “I am happy to be the first to win a grand prix under the lights in the new Ocala Horse Properties Stadium.”
Behind the three double clears, Beisel landed in fourth and Jayne in fifth. Thieme took sixth and seventh with Contanga 3 and Conthendrix, respectively, and Webar capped the jump-off crowd in eighth.
Grand prix competition continues at HITS Ocala this Sunday with the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis. The class will again take place in the all-new Ocala Horse Properties Stadium. Throughout the circuit, the Stadium will host select special classes, including the premiere of the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in March.