The penultimate day of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit’s fourth week of competition featured a slew of elite hunter, jumper, and equitation classes across all rings at the HITS Post Time Farm. Top-tier grand prix riders put an extra shine to their boots as they made their final preparations for the featured event in the form of the $75,000 Farmvet Grand Prix. As he has done many times before, Australia’s Sharn Wordley flew across his Wordley-Martin footing to find his way to the top of the podium with North Face Farm’s 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Stolzenberg),Hagelin.

Two dozen combinations contested over Martin Otto’s (GER) first round course but only six of those duos found their way to a fault-free finish to advance to the jump off. Wordley brought forward a total of three mounts for the class and cleared the first round with both Hagelin and Brin D’or de Haute Melen Z, giving himself a good shot at the victory.

“Hagelin is extremely fast so I did one less stride than everyone else from fences two to three on the rollback,” detailed Wordley. “He’s very efficient in the air and quick off the ground, but this was his first grand prix.”

While the result placed Hagelin up there with the best of the best, Wordley wasn’t entirely sure of the outcome at the class’s beginning phases.

“He was a little cheeky there when we started,” he laughed. “We went through the flags five seconds after the timer had started, so I had to jump the first round like a Table A just to squeak into the time allowed. I was really lucky.

“I’ve got the best string of horses I’ve ever had in my life,” he continued. “Better late than never!”

André Thieme (GER) ticked just over a second onto Wordley’s winning time of 43.43 seconds as he piloted his own 12-year-old Warmblood gelding (Cellestial), Candid 14, into the reserve placing. Wordley’s fellow countryman Scott Keach and the Kandor Farm, LLC’s 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Centadel), Cencorinue PS, rounded out the podium on a double-clean effort in 46.37 seconds.

Earlier in the week, young athlete Madison Kondracki continued her winning ways as she once again took the top call in the $15,000 STX Open Speed class aboard her own homebred, E Storm Cat. Kondracki now sits in first on the overall leaderboard by a whopping 21 points. Jumper competition concludes on Sunday, February 11, 2024 with a series of junior and amateur classics as well as the highly anticipated $24,500 Horseflight Open Jumper Classic.

Pendleton Pins First with Jennifer Alfano in $10,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby

Premier hunter competition continued into the weekend following the fantastic showing of the $40,000 Great American USHJA International Hunter Derby on Thursday evening. Friday competition highlighted the $10,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby where an impressive field of 21 entries lined up to contest the first round course across HITS Post Time Farm’s immaculate Hunter One. As the pair have done in so many derby events prior, Jennifer Alfano and Pendleton navigated to the top of the podium for the lion’s share of the prize money.

Alfano closed the door on the competition as she and Kathy Chiaf’s nine-year-old Warmblood gelding (Thunder VD)  produced a whopping first round score of 93.00 points and positioned themselves as the final to return for the handy round. Morgan Ward and her 19-year-old Warmblood gelding (Calido) Comissario, previous winners of derbies at HITS Ocala, chased hot on Alfano’s heels with a first round score of 90.00 but with Ward’s favorite phase, the handy, still to come. Ward posed a double threat as she remounted and piloted Morlynn Farm’s 13-year-old Warmblood gelding, Cashmero, confidently into the third highest position and produced the only other first round score above 90.00 with a trip worthy of 91.00 points from the judge.

As the top 12 combinations returned for the final phase, Alfano knew her lead could be overthrown, but another flawless effort aboard her flawless partner produced a score better than her last with a 94.00, and their overall result of 187.00 points safely secured them the lead.

“I was leading after the first round but not by a lot,” Alfano explained. “Morgan [Ward] is always super handy and Ashleen [Lee]’s horse went amazing in the first round, so the top group was pretty tough. Luckily he’s a really good handy horse, and he’s a horse I can always rely on, so I just stuck to my plan and he was awesome as usual.”

Alfano only acquires the ride on the gelding when his owner is unable to make it to the shows, but with HITS’ expanded list of featured hunter classes, the pair will have additional opportunities to shine.

“I love what they’re doing here at HITS this year,” she added. “I love that they’re offering these classes now. It makes it extra special for us and like I said I got lucky this week to ride him since Kathy couldn’t be here.”

Ward completed her derby day with a healthy amount of the overall honors as Comissario stepped into the second place position with an overall score of 183.00 points, and Cashmero chased hot on his heels to land in third by finishing on a score of 182.00.

Hunter derby competitors kicked into gear once again on Saturday as junior and amateur riders prepared for a full day. The $1,500 Tiny Bit O’ Hunter Derby, sponsored by Mrs. Pastures Cookies, kicked off the morning in the Stadium at HITS Post Time Farm where Maurita Zuraitis and Inferno took the top call. Just under a dozen athletes then geared up for the $2,500 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby, but it was Clare Friedlander and her own 14-year-old Welsh Pony Cross gelding, Earl Grey, that led the way in the penultimate class’s victory gallop.

The stage was then set for the $10,000 USHJA Jr/Am National Hunter Derby as the final event in the Stadium. Fifteen pairings faced the course for round one and the top twelve duos made their way back for the handy round. Hayley Waters Wear rode to two phenomenal rounds with Chuck Water‘s nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Diarado),Genuine, which earned the pair the winning title.

“I thought the course rode very nice,” she stated. “It was the first time Genuine has shown in the stadium, so my plan was mostly to make sure I didn’t end up on too big of a stride since the ring is so big.

“My first horse, Chin Chilli, just started doing the hunters so I was a little more conservative on her,” she continued. “Jamie [Auletto] scored a 90.00 going into the second round, so I knew I needed to do both turns on Genuine if I wanted to try to catch up.”

Second place went to the pairing of Jamie Auletto and Suzanne Auletto’s six-year-old Holsteiner gelding, Blue Avenue, while the top three was rounded out by Wear on her second mount, Dana Water’s 11-year-old Holsteiner mare (Chin Champ), Chin Chilli.

The hunter sport’s rising stars concluded competition in Hunter One on Saturday as 18 upcoming riders vied for the final hunter derby ribbon in the $1,500 Pony Hunter Derby. Amongst intense competition, Avery Craven produced two stellar rounds on Crocodile Rock to earn the win.