Crowds filled the stands at the HITS Ocala Grand Prix Ring on Sunday afternoon to watch the world’s top athletes compete in the Great American $300,000 Grand Prix. The day concluded with a thrilling five-horse jump-off featuring athletes representing four countries. In the end, it was Lisa Goldman-Smolen (USA) and Ivaro N who produced the only double clear effort of the day, claiming one of the biggest wins of her career. Scott Keach (AUS) and Noble De La Chapelle earned the second-place prize with the fastest 4-fault jump-off, while Aaron Vale (USA) and Obi Wan placed third as the day’s pathfinders.
“I’m still on cloud nine, I still can’t believe it – I’ve used up all my luck for the year,” smiled Goldman-Smolen after her win. “I’ve been knocking on the door a long time in these bigger classes. I am so proud of my horse – he gave every ounce of effort.”
Course designer Marina Azevedo (BRA) built a large and technical track that used the expansive Grand Prix Ring to challenge horse and rider combinations from start to finish over 14 obstacles with a tight time allowed. Rails fell throughout the course, including through the vertical-vertical-oxer triple combination followed shortly by a triple bar, a delicate vertical, and an oxer vertical double combination. Finally, athletes finished over the final line that featured two of the biggest fences of the course, including the last skinny vertical.
“I have been here for a long time and it was a challenge to build in the new ring,” noted Azevedo. “I haven’t seen the riders before, I haven’t seen the horses jumping, so it was very challenging for me today. In the beginning, I was a little stressed, but I was glad to have five clears.”
The jump-off featured a tight rollback, a vertical-oxer double from the original triple combination and a long gallop to the final oxer. Vale was the first to return with Obi Wan as the pathfinders during the first round. In an effort to leave the remaining riders chasing them, the duo lowered the height of the combination, incurring 4 faults in 44.781 seconds, which would hold up for third place.
“Going first in the jump-off and a couple of fast riders behind me, I was trying to put in a good, fast round,” said Vale. “Unfortunately, I had one down. I really kind of got the ride the way I wanted. The horse is a bit inexperienced at this level, but he’s a real trier, so it was unfortunate I couldn’t have left that one up and put a little more pressure on the rest of them. But he had a great season on the new footing here. He loved it, so I can’t complain at all.”
Keach was next with Nobe De La Chapelle and looked to be the first clear, but his luck ran out at the penultimate vertical. Nevertheless, his time of 44.117 seconds was still fast enough to move ahead of Vale, claiming the second-place prize at the end of the day.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here this winter and I am really happy here,” said Keach. “It was a good class today ending with a good feeling and the horses jumping well. It’s never easy and I thought the course was spot on.”
David Cameron and Oaks Come by Chance were next and had the first part of the double combination down, eventually earning fourth with a time of 46.217. Goldman-Smolen knew she could earn a top ribbon if she just left all the rails intact. Taking a more conservative track, the duo was hoof-perfect and never touched a fence, breaking the beam in a faultless 48.028 seconds to take over the lead and eventually lead the lap of honor after Andre Thieme and Candid withdrew following a spook at the combination.
“After watching the first few go in the jump-off my full goal was to go double clear; it wasn’t to go as fast as they went,” explained Goldman-Smolen. “My goal was just to go double clear. I watched Aaron go first and even David in front of me trying to be conservative after the first two had the rails, but I was like, ‘No, I’m not gonna push it. I want to go clear.’ And I am so proud of my horse.”
Ivaro N is a 9-year-old KWPN gelding purchased for Goldman-Smolen by Barbara Disko when he was 7 years old, and he joined the barn just three days before Goldman-Smolen found out she was pregnant. After competing in the 7-Year-Old Young Jumper Finals, Ivaro N had some time off and returned to the ring about a year later, earning several victories at HITS Chicago in 2022 and even winning a grand prix at HITS Ocala earlier this year.
“Ivaro N has been stepping up and getting better and better every year,” expressed Goldman-Smolen. “Every time he goes out there he tries so hard and he’s been consistently double clear this year. He’s just the sweetest animal and he wants to please.”
After some well-deserved time off, Goldman-Smolen and Ivaro N will return to the show ring for HITS Chicago, which kicks off in May at the Lamplight Equestrian Center. She has enjoyed her season at HITS Ocala and is looking forward to what is to come in 2024.
“I’ve always loved coming down here to Ocala,” she noted. “I’ve loved every second of it and I’m so glad that it’s becoming so popular again. I’ve heard nothing but good things this year, so it’s really exciting. I just love this ring with the big tree in it. There’s just something special about this ring.”
Sunday’s Great American $300,000 Grand Prix marked the conclusion of the 2023 HITS Ocala circuit. HITS CCO Joe Norick concluded, “We are so excited about the new HITS, with 2023 as the launch. New footing, many new arenas here, and a lot of our facilities across America are getting a lot of love and new footing. Our partnerships with Worldly Martin and others across America including our footing leader Bart Poles overseeing our operations – it really makes a big difference for us. Today is about Ocala and these three riders sitting next to me who supported us this entire winter. We want to be a proud destination for our exhibitors and our friends. We know we have to provide them a beautiful showplace to work from that’s horseman friendly, and that’s our goal.”
HITS, LLC will resume competition with the HITS Culpeper series at the end of April, followed by HITS Chicago and HITS Saugerties beginning in May. The ever-popular Vermont Summer Festival will get underway in July, along with HITS Del Mar making its debut at the Del Mar Horsepark. To make your spring and summer plans visit www.HITSShows.com for more information.