Shannon Hicks Steals Spotlight in $10,000 1.40m Welcome Stake

Summer Grace / Flaxen Mane Media 

For the Sarasota Winter Classic

Jan. 10, 2024 – Myakka City, FL – The sun shone high in the sky on Wednesday morning as the Sarasota Winter Classic launched into its second week of competition at the stunning TerraNova Equestrian Center. Held throughout the first two weeks of January, the event features elite hunter, jumper, and equitation competition that includes a weekly welcome stake, grand prix, national hunter derby, and various junior/amateur and child/adult classics in both the hunter and jumper rings. The series is currently celebrating its fifth anniversary as it promises to continue to offer exhibitors and spectators a boutique horse show experience. The $10,000 1.40m Welcome Stake sat as the premiere event on Wednesday’s calendar where Shannon Hicks and Al Pachini displayed incredible form to capture the win. 

Shannon Hicks stands for presentation with show manager Bill Worthington. Photo by Eye Was Here Photography
David Jennings and Presley Degli Assi. Photo by Eye Was Here Photography

Mauricio Garcia (PUR) put forth a track worthy of its 16 horse-and-rider combinations which featured top athletes including David Jennings, Morgan Ashby, Allen Nabors, and, last week’s welcome stake winner, Marylisa Leffler. While the course challenged its entries in several areas, the tight time-allowed appeared to pose the biggest risk for the riders. Two pairings went fault-free over the fences but suffered a single penalty on the clock, and several other duos earned an unfortunate rail in their effort to race home. As the second combination on course, Marylisa Leffler and Rolling Acres LLC’s 14-year-old Warmblood mare (Zandor Z), Za Za Z, once again laid down the gauntlet by producing the first double-clear effort in the immediate jump-off. Hicks sat towards the bottom of the starting order with her second mount, Helen Gilbert’s 15-year-old Warmblood gelding (Cheers Cassini) Al Pachini, but she shot straight to the top of the leaderboard as they clocked in at a blazing 36.105 seconds across the short track. 

“I really loved today’s courses, and I loved the tight time allowed because my horses are fast,” Hicks explained. “Obviously doing five strides in the six-stride line is probably what sealed the deal on our win today, but he is always pretty fast too.” 

The win is a testament to the long-standing partnership Hicks has built with the gelding, and to her fitness program for him.

“He [Al Pachini] does a lot of flat work and only jumps classes I think he can win,” she stated. “I have had him since he was a five-year-old and I’m the only one who has ever shown him. He is like my best friend.” 

Marylisa Leffler and Za Za Z. Photo by Eye Was Here Photography

As the penultimate rider on course, with his final of four entries, professional David Jennings made his final bid for the winners circle aboard The Presley Partners’ 11-year-old Italian Sport Horse (Presley Boy), Presley Degli Assi. Jennings’ efforts were enough to overtakeLeffler’s time of 36.984 seconds with a time of 36.158 seconds to finish the afternoon’s class in second place. Leffler and Za Za Z rounded out the top three. 

Alfano and Worthington Win Big in $1,000 USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Classes

Jennifer Alfano and Gunmetal. Photo by Eye Was Here Photography

In TerraNova Equestrian Center’s Magnolia Ring, green hunter and green conformation horses took center stage at various heights. Throughout the division classes, the day also featured a $1,000 USHJA Green Hunter Incentive for the 3’6/3’9” division as well as for the 3’0/3’3” competitors. With a winning score of 86.00, professional hunter rider Jennifer Alfano took the top call in the 3’6/3’9” height group aboard Sharon O’Niell and Kathy Chiaf’s eight-year-old KWPN gelding (Dallas VDL), Gunmetal. 

Ashley Worthington and Jennifer Melhako’s eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Bisquet Balou C), Lestienne GPH, earned a leading score of 85.00 to carry the title in the 3’0/3’3” height group. 

Ashley Worthington and Lestienne GPH. Photo by Eye Was Here Photography

“When we bought him [Lestienne] he was a jumper, but looking at him now you would never know,” commented Worthington. “He is the kindest and most level-headed horse; you can always count on him. I’m grateful his owner has trusted me with him, and that we have been able to bring him along from the baby greens all the way up into the Green Hunter 3’3” division.” 

Competition will resume Thursday, January 10, 2024 at TerraNova Equestrian Center with a variety of A-rated, as well as Outreach, hunter and jumper classes. For a full schedule, please visit