March 29, 2016 - Spectators filed into HITS Post Time Farm to witness a world-class line-up of national and international riders battle for the blue in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix on Sunday, March 27. Just one week after the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix in Thermal, California, top-dollar competition returned to the Horse Capitol of the World in Ocala, Florida for the Great American Million.
With a teeming crowd of children hunting for colored Easter eggs in the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium prior to the class, two sold out VIP tents, a bustling grandstand and the grass berm surrounding the stadium filled to capacity, it was a day packed with family-friendly fun and elite show jumping competition. Colombian equestrian Roberto Teran and his mare Woklahoma, co-owned with ARK Partners, topped the leaderboard and 39 other show jumping stars, to take home the day’s top honor by a three-second margin over second place finisher Cian O’Connor and Good Luck.
“This is a top class with world-class riders and is on the same level as many FEI five-star events that we have competed in around the world,” said Teran. “With top level of prize money and the level of riders and horses competing. This was a tremendous result and I could not be happier to have the win here.”
Forty riders, including World Cup champions, Olympic Gold Medalists and Grand Prix stars tested a course of 14 fences set at up to 1.60 meters. The meticulously decorated course, designed by Alan Wade of Tipperary, Ireland, would yield nine clear rounds ensuring an exciting jump-off.
“I thought the course was fair for everyone,” said Wade. “I was surprised that we had so many [clear] early on, but in respect to the feat, and the skill the course required, we had a great winner and great competition; it worked out over the field of forty starters.”
First to return to the ring for the jump-off was freshman Harvard student and New York, New York, equestrian Lillie Keenan aboard Super Sox, owned by Chansonette Farm, LLC. Although young, Keenan has international experience competing at the highest levels of showjumping. She set the tone for the jump-off, giving the crowd a clear round in 49.410 seconds, crossing the timers with cheers emanating from the stands. The skillful round for the talented equestrian would ultimately land her the third-place prize.
“I wanted to stick to my plan coming into the jump-off which was to be quick, but not wild. It was nice to go first so we didn’t feel that extreme pressure,” said Keenan. “I am thrilled to have this result in an event of this caliber with this level of prize money offered.”
Lauren Hough of Wellington, Florida, followed Keenan, returning to the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium after competing at HITS Ocala in February for Team USA, the winning team in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup CSIO 4*, presented by Edge Brewing Barcelona. Hough and OhLaLa, owned by the OhLaLa Group, and one of the smallest horses in the class, put down the fastest jump-off trip in 44.082, but an unfortunate rail at the second to last fence earned them four faults; they would eventually finish fourth.
Teran and Woklahoma entered next to contend the shortened course. They took to the course in an all-out gallop, zipping through the turns. The excitement from the crowd grew throughout the round and cheers erupted as they crossed the timers in a blazing fast 45.629, setting the Great American Time to Beat and topping the rankings, where they would remain for the eventual win.
“(Woklahoma) is a great mare, she always tries her best. Lately, she has shown more scope than ever," Teran said of his winning mount. “She went to WEG (World Equestrian Games), she went to the Pan American Games, and hopefully, we’ll make it to Rio (Olympics),” he continued. “I feel more optimistic than ever. She’s at the top of her career and she's super sound, super happy and super competitive.”
Cian O’Connor, of Tara, Meath, Ireland, followed Teran with his eyes on the prize. He piloted Good Luck, owned by Adena Springs and Ronnoco Jump LTD, through the jump-off course, galloping rapidly at every opportunity to shave time off the clock. The talented Good Luck crossed the timers clean, but O’Connor and Good Luck were unable to catch Teran’s time as they finished in 48.435, ultimately landing them in second place.
“It was great competition today. Tom and the team at HITS do a super job,” said O’Connor. “We aimed to compete here a few months back not only for the prize money, but the great ground and facilities helped make the decision to bring our horses here too. The course was tough, I was surprised at the number of clears in the first round, but that shows you the standard of horse and rider that compete [at the Great American Million]. My horse jumped nicely, and I knew in the jump-off he might get too fast at the bigger [fences] but I’m happy with the result.”
Several big contenders followed in the jump-off including Team USA representative at Nations Cup Ocala and defending AIG $1 Million Grand Prix in Thermal, California, champions McLain Ward and his faithful mount Rothchild. The crowd was silent as Ward approached the first fence and made a neat, tight turn to the second and galloped to the third. The crowd let out a collective sigh when the rail fell at the B element of the mid-course combination. Four faults and a time of 46.919 would ultimately earn them the sixth-place prize. Todd Minikus, also a returning representative of this year’s Nations Cup Ocala, and Quality Girl, returned as part of the jump-off field, but two rails would keep them out of the top five.
Andre Thieme of Germany, a two-time HITS $1 Million class winner, and his own Conthendrix were the final trip to test the course. With a quick trip on the horizon, it was all down to Thieme to steal away the lead, but a rail at a mid-course vertical thwarted that chance, giving him fifth-place, leaving Teran as the winner, O’Conner in second, Keenan in third, and Hough in fourth.
It was unanimous amongst the top finishers that the prize purses offered by HITS are remarkable and HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri gave full credit to the event’s title sponsor.
“We’re fortunate to have one of the best sponsors in the world, Great American, and lucky to have them again for the third consecutive year,” said Struzzieri. “They gave us the nod that they want to come back next year and we’re thankful for that; the fact that we can host two $1 Million classes back to back speaks volumes as to what HITS does, and that caliber of competition will certainly carry into the future.”
As ten weeks of show jumping competition at HITS Ocala came to a close with a $1 Million Grand Prix to remember, riders are already looking ahead to the HITS Championship in Saugerties, New York, later this year. Boasting the richest weekend in show jumping and with the Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix returning as an FEI CSI-5* class, riders from around the globe await another opportunity for their chance at international bragging rights and the quintessential prize purse.