(C) ESI PHOTOGRAPHY. Aaron Vale and Dress Balou.
Ocala, FL (March 29, 2016): Riders vied for the top spot and a slice of the prize purse in the 2016 Ocala Winter Circuit’s last qualifying opportunities for the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix and the $250,000 Platinum Performance Hunter Finals at the HITS Championship in September in Saugerties, New York.
Aaron Vale and Dress Balou score another big win in the $25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix
Devoucoux has sponsored a Hunter Prix nearly every week of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit and Week X’s Devoucoux Hunter Prix featured a $25,000 prize purse held in the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium. Aaron Vale of Williston, Florida scored a trifecta by collecting first, second and third place finishes, adding to his already impressive resume. He earned the win on Don Stewart’s Dress Balou, a two time winner of the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final at HITS Saugerties, for which the Devoucoux Hunter Prix are qualifiers.
Thirty-nine competitors had the opportunity to compete over the first round course of twelve fences designed by Tim Hott from Cumming, Iowa.
“The course was a traditional hunter course in a big ring, where the jumps were spread out with some long bending lines, and just a few lines with related distances,” said Vale in regard to the course. “There was a lot of additional greenery, which was nice to impress the horses a bit this late in the circuit.”
The top twelve riders returned for a second round with scores ranging from 80.5 to 89 from their first rounds carrying over to their second.
Vale and Dress Balou, owned by Don Stewart, had the high score of 89 from the first round and returned as the final competitor in the second round. They improved upon their first round, scoring a 92 for a total of 181 for the win.
“Dress Balou is seven this year, and he has shown a few times this season,” said Vale of his winning horse. “He won the [$10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix in Week IV] and I don’t think we’ve shown him since then. He really suits these big arenas where he can just pick up a rhythm and he jumps really well.”
Vale also had the second highest score in round one aboard Madewell, owned by the Aberdeen Ventures. His score of 87 in the first round and 89 in the second round, combined for a total of 176 to take second place.
“My assistant showed Madewell last year in the pre-greens, and I took over the ride this season and have been doing him in the Hunter Prix,” said Vale. “He has had a couple weeks where he was really good in the first round then had an unlucky rail or something in the second, so this is a really impressive ribbon to be just behind Dress Balou, the two time Finals winner.”
Vale garnered the third place prize with Spalding, owned by Don Stewart and Brooke Ventos.
“I’ve never sat on him before this class, Don just threw me up on him,” said Vale of Spalding. In a testament to Vale’s skill, his first round score with his new mount of 84.5 combined with a second round score of 86 gave him a total of 170.5 to take third place.
Harold Chopping from Southern Pines, North Carolina, riding Caramo, owned by Caroline Russell Howe, scored an 86 in round one, but Caramo uncharacteristically spooked in round 2 and his score of 81.5 dropped him to sixth place overall with a total score of 167.5.
Cassandre Kahle of Langley, British Columbia, riding Diario for Redfield Farm, improved upon her first round score of 82.5 with an 87 in the second round to move into fourth place overall with a 169.5.
Skyler Fields and Echo win the $5,000 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix
Skyler Fields of Wellesly, Massachusetts put in two consistent rounds with her horse Echo to win the $5,000 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix over courses designed by Manuel Esparza of Mexico. Twelve returned for the second round with scores ranging from 75 to 88, but the second round proved to be the deciding factor as placings shuffled based on second round scores.
Fields returned for the second round in the temporary fourth position with an 84.5, but her consistency in the second round earned her an 85.5 for an overall total of 170 for the win. Fields also qualified her second horse, earning seventh place with Cornet’s Finale with a two round total of 158.
“I left out a stride with my other horse in the second round so I wanted to be sure I didn’t do that with Echo. We are trying to qualify for the Finals in Saugerties and have been placing in the top three consistently, but today was the last week and I really wanted to win.”
Raegan Landrum from Winter Park, Florida, riding Contano, returned in fifth position with an 84, improving to an 85 in the second round to earn second place with an overall total of 169, just a point behind Fields.
Allison Joyce from Medway, Massachusetts, riding Chestnut Hill, owned by Marissa Dolan, came back in third place with an 85 and scored an 83 for in the second round to stay third overall with a 168 total score.