Summer Grace / Flaxen Mane Media
For the Sarasota Winter Classic
On the first day of competition at the 2024 Sarasota Winter Classic, the $5,000 1.40m Welcome Stake set the stage for Friday’s contenders. Luck struck a third time for Rolling Acres’ Marylisa Leffler at TerraNova Equestrian Center as Leffler won her third Welcome Stake since the event’s arrival at the venue. As one of only four to return to contest Azevedo’s short course, Leffler’s longtime partner Zaza Z showed no signs of breaking stride as the pair cleared the timers with over two seconds to spare from the closest challenger.
“I didn’t want to go fast, but she really only has one speed,” Leffler laughed, referring to the 14-year-old warmblood mare’s (Zandor Z) time of 33.74 seconds. “Anything at a special venue brings out the best in her. The flags and the atmosphere gets her adrenaline going.”
With Zaza Z having enjoyed several months off at the end of the year, Leffler felt the track was well-suited for her return performance.
“I thought it was a great first course back for her,” she explained. “We are only in the first week of January so you don’t want to overbuild, and I think it was just the right level of challenging.”
Allen Nabors and Dutch Valley Sporthorses’ 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Clinton), Master Clinton DVE, put forth the next best ever and earned the runner-up ribbon with a fault-free finish in 35.13 seconds. Nabors’ student, Morgan Ashby sealed the deal for the third place finish as the only other double-clear rider aboard Eliza Derstine’s 15-year-old KWPN gelding (Kilkenny Jasco), Kilkenny Ecco.
Photo by Eye Was Here Photography