The sun shone bright over the Grand Prix arena at HITS Post Time Farm to set a stunning stage for the $75,000 CWD Grand Prix. The event was the premiere feature of the third week of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, which hosts premiere hunter, jumper, and equitation competition across a ten-week span. Fresh off of a mid-week win and well-rested from a week away, hometown hero Aaron Vale (USA) returned to the top of the leaderboard aboard his winning mount from the $25,000 Alliant Private Client Grand Prix, Obi Wan.
The event was stacked with heavy-hitters as riders such as Vale, Sharn Wordley (AUS), Jonathan McCrea (USA), and many more top-level athletes prepared to vie for the day’s ultimate honors. Mark McGowan (GBR) designed a worthy track for the class’s 19 combinations and produced only five clear entries eligible to advance to the short course. Vale brought forward two mounts for the morning’s competition and engaged a sense of déjà vu from the crowd as he sailed swiftly into the pinnacle position again aboard ThinksLikeAHorse’s 12-year-old Warmblood gelding (Centadel).
“It feels good anytime you can win back-to-back like that,” Vale enthused. “This horse did it last year as well; he just really likes that arena and likes the ground in there.”
For Vale, the design was that of a proper grand prix, but he counted on Obi Wan’s foot speed to seal the deal.
“I thought it was plenty of course with a tight enough time allowed to keep you honest,” he continued. “Super course design really. The two before me were a bit faster than I would’ve liked, so to be the winner I knew I’d have to get going a bit. I pretty much got everything I wanted but he is a really quick horse, so the strides aren’t always a perfect indication of if he was faster. Usually if you’re doing the same strides on him, you’re going to be faster because he’s just a faster moving horse.”
It was a one-two punch for Australia as Rowan Willis and Sharn Wordley followed suit into the victory gallop. Willis piloted his own 13-year-old Warmblood mare (Corlensky G), Wellington Grey Goose, into the runner-up position, while Wordley and his long-time partner from Della Wordley, the 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Chacco Blue) Mick Jagger, exerted two fault-free efforts for third place.
On Friday, the $15,000 STX Open Speed Series saw Jonathan McCrea (USA) navigate successfully into the lead aboard Olily van D’Abelendreef which bumped him up the leaderboard in the series standings to tie for second with Sharn Wordley. Young rider Madison Kondracki currently holds the top title sitting four points ahead as the series moves into week four.