(C) ESI PHOTOGRAPHY. Cian O’Connor and Seringat.
Ocala, FL (February 20, 2017): The curtain on the CSIO4* week at HITS Post Time Farm in Ocala, Florida, came to a thrilling close on Sunday with a jump-off battle in the $100,000 FEI City of Ocala Grand Prix. Hot off the win with Team Ireland in Friday’s FEI Nations Cup™, Cian O’Connor prevailed aboard Seringat, owned by Ronnoco Jump LTD., with another top title in the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium in Sunday’s Grand Prix.
“After winning the Nations Cup with the team and then coming back today to win again, it’s a great feeling. The course designer [Marina Azevedo] designed both courses that I won on, so I love her courses,” laughed O’Connor in the post-victory press conference. “I like the arena [in the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium]; the ground is perfect. The jumps are different and impressive. Plus, there’s lots of room to work your horses in Ocala – it was no doubt a great week of competition.”
With a little luck, and a lot of skill, O’Connor returned as the final contender in the three-horse jump-off to once again take the victory under pressure. Olympic gold-medalist and Team USA rider Beezie Madden took home the second-place prize and young talent Ali Wolff, Team USA’s alternate rider in the Nations Cup, raked in third place.
Interestingly, both O’Connor and Madden were the only riders to garner double clear rounds for their respective countries in Friday’s FEI Nations Cup™.
“Having a great week of sport like this is pretty special, so my hats off to the HITS Team and to the riders sitting to my right [Cian and Beezie], two of the very best,” said HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri. “We’re lucky to have super sponsors, like The City of Ocala and Longines, and of course the support from Marion County.”
Forty-four decorated riders, including the likes of McLain Ward, Ian Millar, and Kevin Babington, tested the course of 13 jumping efforts set at 1.60m by Marina Azevedo of Sao Paulo, Brazil, but time would prove a factor early on in the class and the top three would prove themselves to advance to the jump-off.
The jump-off was speedy, with O’Connor, Madden and Wolff all claiming clear rounds but separated by only tenths of a second.
First to tour the abbreviated course was Madden riding Breitling LS, owned by Abigail Wexner. The pair had the first clear trip in the first round, slating them as the first trip into the jump-off.
“Going in first can be a difficult spot especially when there are only three in the jump-off, there needs to be a little strategy. If there’s 12 in the jump-off, you just go for it and go fast,” said Madden with a grin. “I wanted to set my trip up taking a few risks to be fast so it would be hard to catch us. In hindsight, I could have done the seven [strides] from the wall to the oxer safely, that might have cost me those four-tenths of a second.”
They finished their jump-off trip fault-free in 41.43, to the sound of the crowd’s cheers, to set the tone for Wolff to follow and then O’Connor.
Wolff entered next with Casall, owned by Blacklick Bend Farm. They powered toward the finish as the clock wound down, the crowd on the edge of their seats. They would stop the clock with all of the rails up but their time of 41.86 would ultimately settle them in a well-fought third place.
O’Connor was last to challenge, and just like his exhilarating anchor ride for the Irish on Friday, he and Seringat were back to perform under the pressure. There was one shot, and O’Connor laid it all on the line with his chestnut gelding. They opted for the seven strides from the wall to the oxer, the same track that Madden opted to play it safe in eight strides, shaving crucial time off the clock. They passed the timers in a cool, clear 41.22 to secure the win.
The crowd roared to life and a terrific week of FEI competition at HITS Post Time Farm had gone out with sparks in the air.
Fourth place went to Isabelle Lapierre [CAN] aboard Cesha M. They nearly passed into the jump-off with a single first-round time fault. Emanuel Andrade [VEN] would too be foiled by a single time penalty with his bay Holsteiner, Ricore Courcelle, settling them into fifth place.
Up next for the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit is an FEI CSI2* week, February 22-26. Then, the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix culminates the exciting circuit on Sunday, March 26. For more information on the Great American Million, please visit HitsShows.com.