Feb. 8, 2024 — Ocala, FL — The fourth week of the 2024 HITS Ocala Winter Circuit continued on Thursday at HITS Post Time Farm as athletes prepared for feature competition in both the hunter and jumper arenas. The 10-week series is home to a plethora of opportunities for riders from the most beginner to the most advanced levels in hunters, jumpers, and equitation. The hunter ring stole the spotlight for the day as 27 top hunter duos donned shad bellies and shined boots in preparation for the afternoon’s $40,000 Great American USHJA International Hunter Derby. Leading from round one, Brian Feigus expertly navigated the track with Redfield Farm’s nine-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Acodetto 2), Four Aces, to seal the deal and earn the tricolor honors.

Feigus was one of many tried and true contenders for the afternoon’s main event but proved to be a joker in the deck as he sat aboard a newcomer to the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit. The pair stole the spotlight from the get-go in round one as they produced scores of 93 and 96 in the classic round. As the final to return over the class’s handy track, they produced another award-winning effort that earned a 93.5 from panel one and a 94 from panel two for a whopping 376.50 overall total.

“He just arrived on Tuesday night off of the trailer from quarantine,” Feigus laughed. “I got to ride him this morning when we did our first High Performance round and he was amazing so we didn’t finish the class and we just got ready for this.

“For the handy since we don’t know him too well and I had a decent lead we decided to just play it safe,” he continued to explain. “I have to say overall so far the horse has done everything perfectly. I wasn’t sure about the trot jump but in the schooling area he was perfect with it so that was a nice thing to have happened in the schooling area because I felt confident going in the ring.”

For Feigus, Ocala is home base and the addition of multiple top-level derby events throughout the winter circuit has changed the name of the game for his season.

“I think having multiple classes like this with this kind of money brings a lot more people to the show consistently and for me this has been a home of mine for 14 years now and it feels nice to have it at home,” he detailed. “I love this ring. I think it’s the best hunter ring in the country. I love the trees, I love the atmosphere. I think they’ve done a great job with the new updates.”

Young rider Jake Evans and Make a Splash LLC’s 12-year-old Zangersheide stallion (Ponsee V), Oh Hello, rode to the reserve tricolor honors with the second-best overall total of 365 points with all but one score in the 90s from across the two rounds. Kristen Bumpus scored 91 across the board over her two-round effort with Barbara LeStage’s 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Vingino), Diadora, to fall just one point short of Evans with a total of 364 to round out the evening’s award winners. Hunter derby competitions will resume on Friday with the afternoon highlight of the $10,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby

Gin Tonic 158 and Sam Pegg’s Fast Footwork Wins $25,000 Alliant Private Client Grand Prix 

Featured jumper competition on Thursday came in the form of the weekly $25,000 Alliant Private Client Grand Prix and a win from Samuel Pegg. Martin Otto’s first round track dwindled down the 21 entry starting field to just under ten combinations making their return to the jump off. The course asked questions across the board and kept five horse-and-rider pairings from advancing with just a single downed rail. Francois Lamontagne threw down the gauntlet as the first to return and set the pace to beat as he piloted his own Thunderbird VH Scheefkasteel Z, cleanly over the fences and to a good time of 42.41 seconds.

Lamontagne held on to his lead through the remainder of the jump off until David Cameron emerged in the penultimate position aboard the Laura Sloey-owned 16-year-old Warmblood stallion (Quintero), Beijing LS La Silla. The duo were determined to dominate and undercut Lamontagne’s time by close to half a second to clock in at 41.97 seconds which placed them in the lead with only one challenger remaining. Unfortunately for Cameron, Sam Pegg’s fancy-footed mount, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Graftop) named Gin Tonic 158, made determinedly short work  of the task at hand and shaved over a second from the best time to sail smoothly into first in 40.65 seconds.

“He’s pretty full of himself and he doesn’t know he’s a little horse,” Pegg laughed. “He’s normally very relaxed to flat and exercise around the show, but when it comes time to jump he gets pretty excited.”

Besides his passion for clearing the fences, Pegg relied on the gelding’s naturally fast foot speed to bring home the win.

“He’s naturally very fast and I had the benefit of going fast so I got to watch the other horses,” he explained. “I didn’t think I needed to ride too wild or try to leave out a stride in between any of the jumps; I just needed to keep up his pace and get a good one after the combination to let him gallop to the last.

“We just got here last week so this is actually his first class, and I haven’t been to HITS in probably ten years,” Pegg continued. “This is my first time bringing our own horses and it’s just lovely; they certainly seem to be enjoying the Florida sunshine!”

For their fantastic finish, Pegg and his mount also received the VitaFlex Victory Pass award chosen from a top jumper round of the week. Kicking off the week of jumper competition on Wednesday, Jiran R and Morgan Ward repeated their previous week’s win with another top finish in the $2,500 Great American Open Welcome. Show jumping competition will resume Friday, February 9, 2024 and highlight another round of the $15,000 STX Open Speed Series.