OCALA, FL (March 12, 2012) – Purina Mills was on hand this weekend at HITS Ocala as the title sponsor of the $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health. The weekend was full of Purina Mills sponsored festivities and Purina sponsored rider Aaron Vale, of Morriston, Florida, put the exclamation point on the weekend when he captured the coveted first place prize in the Grand Prix aboard Bonnie Smith’s Tibor. To put the icing on the cake, he also won a ton of Purina Mills feed through the Purina Mills Rider’s Bonus.
Canada’s Danny Foster of Milton, Ontario designed the course, and saw 33 competitors attempt to conquer it.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve won a big Sunday Grand Prix and I was hoping to do it this circuit, so I was pretty thrilled,” said Vale, who showed two mounts on Sunday and finished in tenth place aboard Honeyland’s Douglason, owned by Doug’s Crew. “I think Danny [Foster] did a fantastic job today giving us a big course to jump. The line to the triple combination gave a lot of difficulties today and the six strides made the horses kind of dive at the jump and take a down. I was able to do seven strides with both of my horses and was able to sneak them through it. The jumps came up quick and there was a lot of riding to do in 88 seconds. There were 14 fences and it was about the same time allowed for a 12 jump course, so it kept you busy.”
At the end of the first round, five horse-and-riders were poised to return for the jump-off, which included a well-rounded group of seasoned veterans and talented High-Performance riders, including Tracy Fenney, who has been an unstoppable force this season in the Grand Prix ring.
First to show in the jump-off was Daniel Damen of Ocala, Florida riding for Chuck and Dana Waters aboard All Star. The team set the Great American Time to Beat at 54.094 seconds.
Vale and Tibor were next to show and were determined to take the blue ribbon. Vale has had several impressive outings over the last year aboard Tibor with ribbons at HITS-on-the-Hudson during the 2011 summer season and at HITS Ocala this season. With some quick competition waiting in the wings, Vale knew he needed to post a blistering fast time and did so in 41.076 seconds with no faults.
“I had a good jump-off round a couple of weeks ago,” said Vale. “But Tracy [Fenney] came in, made a few turns and beat me. I can’t turn so tight on this horse. There were a couple of long gallops and I was determined to put some pressure on Tracy. I love Tracy to death and she’s one of the best riders out there and her horses are incredible. She’s been giving us great competition this season, but I really wanted to win this time.”
Laura Linback of Mundelin, Illinois aboard Woodrun’s Whittaker MVNZ showed next and was the last rider to post a double-clear effort in 44.782 seconds, which earned them the second place ribbon.
Thaisa Erwin, originally of Australia and now riding out of Ocala, Florida, and her own Matilda gave a valiant effort to earn the fourth place ribbon with one rail down in 47.868 seconds.
Last to show was the most dominant team of the HITS Ocala season thus far – Tracy Fenney of Flower Mound, Texas and MTM Farm’s MTM Centano. As they sought to capture yet another win, Fenney laid it all the line and galloped around the course. Her luck ran out, however, on the way to the fifth fence when MTM Centano refused and she suffered an unintentional dismount, which eliminated them from the jump-off and set them up to finish in fifth place.
“This horse is a little bit older but he’s a super horse and jumped really well under the weather conditions,” said Vale. “Sometimes you never know what’s going to happen, but he had a great day. I have to thank Bonnie Smith, the owner for letting me ride a super nice and super competitive horse. You need good horses in the barn to win and it’s nice to have the chance to show a nice one.”
Vale, the owner and trainer of Thinkslikeahorse in Morriston, Florida was twice the winner on Sunday. Aside from his $15,000 first place check, Vale also received a ton of free feed courtesy of the class sponsor, Purina Mills, who is also one of Vale’s own sponsors. As Purina Mills strives to help keep horses performing at their finest, the team at Thinkslikeahorse, which includes riders from the Adult and Children’s Jumpers and Hunters to fellow High-Performance rider Taylor McMurtry, will be sure to put that ton of feed to good use as they continue to seek success week after week.
“It was real exciting to win the sponsored class for my sponsor, Purina Mills,” Vale added. “I spoke to one of the representatives there and he said this was the first time he could remember a sponsored rider winning the sponsored class, so that was great. They’ve been a fantastic supporter of mine over the years. I’m proud to be a part of their team and I was just as excited for them as well.”
Purina Mill’s Ty Springer was equally proud. “While everyone at Purina Mills is excited to see such high caliber competition, it is always rewarding to join one of our sponsored riders in the winner’s circle,” said Springer.
As Vale continues to be one of the most winningest Grand Prix riders in the country, he is looking forward to his third consecutive appearance in the upcoming Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.
“I’m always looking forward to being a part of the Pfizer Million again,” said Vale. “I have a couple of younger horses in the barn, particularly Wodka L. that are up and coming and I look forward to seeing which one of them will be ready to show in a class like that. Today certainly helped out with the prize money needed and hopefully I’ll be qualified with a good spot in the order.”
The HITS Ocala Winter Circuit now continues on to the final week of competition at HITS Post Time Farm. As the road to the Pfizer Million prepares to head north for the spring and summer, two more qualifiers await to highlight the season. The $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, will take place on Thursday while the season finale, the $100,000 Sullivan GMC Truck Grand Prix, presented by Great American Insurance Group, will be the final send-off for High-Performance riders in the Sunshine State.
In case $100,000 in prize money isn’t special enough, for the first time ever at HITS Ocala, film crews from A Good Show and HRTV will be on-site this weekend and will capture the excitement of Sunday’s Grand Prix for their Road to the Pfizer Million show jumping special that will air on the network sometime in the next couple of weeks. For those not lucky enough to have a ringside seat in Ocala this weekend to see this excitement unfold first hand, a free live webcast will be available for online viewing starting Sunday afternoon at 2pm EDT. Views can click here to watch and on-demand viewing will be available shortly after the class.