Marylisa Leffler and Zaza Z Reign Supreme at Sarasota Winter Classic

Summer Grace / Flaxen Mane Media
For the Sarasota Winter Classic 

Jan. 5, 2024 — Myakka City, FL — The fifth year of the Sarasota Winter Classic debuted the first week of January as exhibitors and spectators flocked to TerraNova Equestrian Center for two weeks of competition featuring a variety of hunter, jumper, and equitation classes. Since its inception, the Sarasota Winter Classic has sought to provide those attending with a boutique experience not commonly found at large-scale events. That vision has since grown as the series has evolved and found its new home at the spectacular TerraNova Equestrian Center, well known as Florida’s newest equestrian oasis. The $20,000 Grand Prix of Sarasota took center stage Friday afternoon in the picturesque Lakeside Arena and, true to form, Wednesday’s $5,000 1.40m Welcome Stake winners, Marylisa Leffler (USA) and Zaza Z, produced a repeat victory. 

Samuel Parot (CHI) set the challenge for the remaining field as the second to enter the arena and the first to produce a clean effort across Marina Azevedo’s (BRA) technical track with Buga Z. Shortly after, Leffler and her multi-time winner Zaza Z set out to continue their successful streak as the second to navigate without fault. Of the original 13 horse-and-rider combinations, only two more would join Parot and Leffler for the jump off as Jens Filippusson (BEL) cleared the timers aboard Igor and Vicente Guillen (VEN) challenged aboard Evolene de Carles. 

Parot suffered an unfortunate rail as the first to return for the short track, which left the door open for the remaining three contenders. Still in incredible form from their earlier win, Leffler and the Rolling Acres’ 14-year-old warmblood mare (Zandor Z) wasted no time around the track as they once again shot through the timers, at a slower pace than Parot, but without fault in 35.846 seconds. Under pressure, the pair proved to be the only duo to put forward a second top effort and shot straight to the top of the leaderboard for the second time of the week. 

“Marina’s courses always seem to suit Zaza because she usually has an inside turn there that you don’t necessarily see at first but it’s there,” detailed Leffler. “From fences one to two I thought I was just a little wide, so I decided after the black oxer that I wasn’t going to do the inside turn. Since this was her first grand prix back I just aimed to go double clean after Samuel had the rail down.

“This gives me a lot of confidence going into the rest of our season,” she admitted. “She just feels on her game and happy. She lives a pretty good life; as long as you have her Nickerdoodles ready before and after her class she’s a happy girl.”

Parot and his own 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Chester Z) earned the reserve honors as the fastest four-falter of the remaining combinations on a finishing time of 32.846 seconds.. Guillen’s time of 34.559 seconds with a single rail qualified him and the Tranquillity Farms’ 10-year-old Selle Francais mare (Kannan) for the final position of the podium trio. 

All photos by Eye Was Here Photography