The 2013 Jacksonville Winter Series has drawn to a close for 2013. The three week long circuit was marked by sunshine, beautiful weather, hospitality and a relaxed atmosphere. Each week featured a $2,500 Welcome Jumper Class, and the first two weeks offered a $10,000 Mini Prix, which lead up to Week Three’s finale, the $25,000 Green Cove Springs Grand Prix. Hugh Graham, aboard Kingridge Stables owned Distant Star 3E, bested the exciting class where many well-known riders, such as Aaron Vale, Hayley Waters and David Jennings, competed for top honors over a Tim Hott designed course.
Hunter riders had plenty of opportunity to shine as well. Weekly Jerry Parks Insurance Group sponsored $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Classics proved very popular on Friday afternoons, where Professionals, Juniors and Amateur riders navigated the handy course reminiscent of the hunt field.
Week 2 featured World Champion Hunter Rider Week. This USHJA sponsored program allows Professionals, Developing Professionals, Amateur Owners, Adult Amateurs, Juniors, Children and Pony riders to accrue points at member events held all over the Country. “We are a smaller circuit, so I was a bit surprised when Jacksonville was chosen to host a WCHR Member Event, but we were thrilled and honored to be able to offer a WCHR week for our Exhibitors,” said Alexis Newman, Executive Secretary of NFHJA. The crowning glory of Hunter offerings at Jacksonville was the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. Twenty-six horse & rider combinations strived for brilliance under the lights in the covered Grand Prix ring. There were many familiar faces: Liza Towell & Brunello, Jennifer Alfano and Miss Lucy, and Kelley Farmer and On Q, along with some newer combinations like Megan Wexler and Julian. Jennifer Alfano guided Jersey Boy, no stranger to the big blue ribbon, to top honors. Spectators enjoyed dinner and drinks in the heated VIP tent, situated at the end of the ring for the best view in the house, while the class went on.
Jacksonville, once a much larger circuit, has been redefining itself amongst much larger competition, like HITS and WEF, over the past few years. Many northern exhibitors choose to stop in Green Cove Springs before heading farther south to Ocala or Wellington. Sandra Lobel of Ravenswood Farm said they leave New Jersey and make this circuit their first stop because “Jacksonville is just a great start to our season. The riders can get confidence without being over faced, the show is very exhibitor friendly and everyone just seems happy to be here.” Dana Hart-Callanan of Hart Farm, also in New Jersey, had similar sentiments: “Jacksonville is a great start to the Winter Show Season. This is a laid back show at a great facility with all the classes you need.” Several other trainers, like Stacey Schaefer, have already headed south to Ocala, but forgo the HITS pre-circuit in favor of the Jacksonville Winter Series because Jacksonville offers things like Pony Models where kids can get invaluable practice and experience in preparation for mega circuits like Gulfport, HITS and WEF. Phil Gibson, Executive Board Member of NFHJA, said that “It is becoming increasingly harder to compete with the major Winter Circuits, but we are able to offer some things that the larger circuits cant, due to their size, and I think people recognize that and that is what brings them back year after year.”
Jacksonville has proved to be a Circuit that is here to stay. “Be on the lookout for some changes to the structure of the shows, the schedule and our offerings. We plan to re-focus on the Hunters and mid-level Jumpers, like Children’s/Adult. Those groups are our major exhibitor base, and we want to cater to those that are here year after year supporting our shows,” said Alexis Newman. There are certainly some exciting things in store for NFHJA’s Jacksonville Winter Circuit. This sunshine laden Circuit should definitely be in your plans for 2014!