Feb. 3, 2024 – Ocala, FL – The sun shone bright over the Grand Prix arena at HITS Post Time Farm to set a stunning stage for the $75,000 CWD Grand Prix. The event was the premiere feature of the third week of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, which hosts premiere hunter, jumper, and equitation competition across a ten-week span. Fresh off of a mid-week win and well-rested from a week away, hometown hero Aaron Vale (USA) returned to the top of the leaderboard aboard his winning mount from the $25,000 Alliant Private Client Grand Prix, Obi Wan.

The event was stacked with heavy-hitters as riders such as Vale, Sharn Wordley (AUS), Jonathan McCrea (USA), and many more top-level athletes prepared to vie for the day’s ultimate honors. Mark McGowan (GBR) designed a worthy track for the class’s 19 combinations and produced only five clear entries eligible to advance to the short course. Vale brought forward two mounts for the morning’s competition and engaged a sense of déjà vu from the crowd as he sailed swiftly into the pinnacle position again aboard ThinksLikeAHorse’s 12-year-old Warmblood gelding (Centadel).

“It feels good anytime you can win back-to-back like that,” Vale enthused. “This horse did it last year as well; he just really likes that arena and likes the ground in there.”For Vale, the design was that of a proper grand prix, but he counted on Obi Wan’s foot speed to seal the deal.

“I thought it was plenty of course with a tight enough time allowed to keep you honest,” he continued. “Super course design really. The two before me were a bit faster than I would’ve liked, so to be the winner I knew I’d have to get going a bit. I pretty much got everything I wanted but he is a really quick horse, so the strides aren’t always a perfect indication of if he was faster. Usually if you’re doing the same strides on him, you’re going to be faster because he’s just a faster moving horse.” It was a one-two punch for Australia as Rowan Willis and Sharn Wordley followed suit into the victory gallop. Willis piloted his own 13-year-old Warmblood mare (Corlensky G), Wellington Grey Goose, into the runner-up position, while Wordley and his long-time partner from Della Wordley, the 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Chacco Blue) Mick Jagger, exerted two fault-free efforts for third place.

On Friday, the $15,000 STX Open Speed Series saw Jonathan McCrea (USA) navigate successfully into the lead aboard Olily van D’Abelendreef which bumped him up the leaderboard in the series standings to tie for second with Sharn Wordley. Young rider Madison Kondracki currently holds the top title sitting four points ahead as the series moves into week four.

Comissario Conquers with Morgan Ward in $5,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby

Amongst 18 horse-and-rider combinations, Morgan Ward threw down the gauntlet to earn the highest honors in Friday’s $5,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby. Ward and her longtime partner, the 19-year-old Warmblood gelding (Calido), Comissario, had been knocking on the door of a win since the start of the season and on Friday the pair were determined to make it happen.

The class’s hunt-and-go format provided an efficient and precise way for riders to show off both their horse’s best typical hunter attributes and their handiest moves over a single course. “I do typically prefer the two-round format but I thought today’s class was a very nice hunt-and-go,” Ward stated. “I don’t hesitate at all once we get to the handy portion; it’s all about the inside turns for me.”

For Ward, the strategy paid off as she managed to succeed through a particularly difficult option that cost some other pairs points. “I planned my turns out thoroughly because I wasn’t sure how many high options I would do,” she explained. “Not many people went inside to one particular fence so I  took the chance. It was a risky inside turn where a few had the rail down, but luckily we did not.”

Shachine Belle and Rock Light Inc.’s 10-year-old KWPN mare, Imogen, rode to the red ribbon honors, and rounding out the top three was Timothy Maddrix with Mark Dorfman’s seven-year-old Warmblood gelding, Candy Man.

For the first time of the season, the highlight of hunter competition also featured a $5,000 Junior/Amateur USHJA National Hunter Derby strictly for athletes operating under the junior or amateur status. Madison Ramsay enchanted the judges with MTM Farm’s eight-year-old Warmblood mare, MTM Enchanted, and donned the blue ribbon for the effort. “She was incredible and the course rode great,” Ramsay described. “It was a really nice course for both me and my horse; it was really smooth and I didnt have to worry about numbers too much so it was a great build for us.”

The partnership is new for Ramsay and one she couldn’t be more excited to continue to develop. “This is only my second week of showing her, but I’m always confident going in on this horse because she’s just a winner,” she gushed. “She’s got a great expression and jumps incredible, so my job is really just to stay out of her way.

Hayley Waters Wear and Chuck Waters’ nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Diarado) ,Genuine, sat in the middle of the MTM-horse sandwich as they received second place, followed by Lucy Massucci and her own 12-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Hello Pierville) ,MTM Cocktail, in third. Hunter derby competition resumed on Saturday with Elizabeth Wiley and Ivy League taking top call in the $750 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby. Meredith Caggiano and Jacky Chan delivered the winning performance in the $500 Tiny Bit O’ 2’0” Hunter Derby, presented by Mrs. Pastures Horse Cookies, out of 12 combinations. Pony riders got to strut their stuff in the afternoon’s $1,000 Alorian Pony Hunter Classic where young Colin Shippam and Farewell took the win.

Competition at the 2024 HITS Ocala Winter Circuit will resume Sunday, February 4, 2024 as week three comes to a close. For a full list of results, please visit showmanagementsystem.com.