Edited Press Release
Aaron Vale rock and rolled his way to the win in Friday’s $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix at HITS Ocala aboard Elvis De Wijnendaele Z. With speedy turns and one less stride to the final oxer, the pair was able to shave a second off their time to best the 10-horse-jump-off. Hunter Holloway was one of the last to go and came the closest to catching Vale with Dana De Kerglenn for second place, while pathfinders Callan Solem and Horion de Libersart scored the third place award.
Vale recently purchased Elvis De Wijnendaele Z for himself after campaigning him as a sales horse last year. “I’ve had him at home working on the turns and such, so just that little extra relationship helped,” he explained. “He’s a pretty calm horse. He could be a little more agreeable about some things. He’s not a villain, but he will have a slight argument with you. He’s got a little bit of an opinion here and there, but it wasn’t a fight today, so we were able to get the job done.”
Canada’s Peter Holmes set a long track for Friday’s highlight event, which included a triple bar as fence six and a triple combination as the 11th question. Ten advanced to the jump-off, where tight turns and a fast gallop were the only way to land at the top of the leaderboard. Solem and Horion de Libersart produced the first double clear effort, setting the Great American time to beat at 38.932 seconds, leaving much of the field scrambling to catch them.
As the fourth to return, Vale had the opportunity to watch a few before him. He was hoping that the leave-out to the final oxer would show up for him as one of the only options to make up time.
“The eight was not steady, but I thought if I caught that second to last fence well, I could maybe get there in seven because he’s kind of a big horse with a long stride,” explained Vale. “That’s what I was hoping would present itself, and it did!”
The cards landed correctly and Vale dashed through the timers in a fault-free 36.828 seconds. Each rider following was several seconds slower. Holloway and Dana De Kerglenn were the penultimate pair, and while they were quick and clear, their time of 37.355 seconds was just fractions off of Vale, who returned to lead the lap of honor.
“I was pretty quick from start to finish,” he noted. “Nobody could leave out to the oxer after the combination, but I got a really nice turn. Those 270-degree turns don’t always work out super, but I was able to stay in pretty tight and still keep a kind of a forward jump. Normally those turns will stop your momentum, but I caught that jump with a little bit of pace. I was able to kick up and leave out and do the seven to the last.”
Vale was happy to be back in the winner’s circle at HITS concluding, “It’s amazing. The arena is very pretty to look at, and the footing is super. Even with the amount of rain we’ve had today, the footing was perfect—great conditions for show jumping!”
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