HITS Ocala celebrated Mid-Circuit with the $200,000 Ocala Electric Utility Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon, welcoming a field of 35 riders to the Stadium all with their eye on the lion's share of prize money. HITS Post Time Farm continues to host the top riders and horses in the sport, many of whom are preparing for the Seventh Great American $1 Million Grand Prix.
After an unlucky rail in last Sunday's Grand Prix jump-off, Aaron Vale moved up in the standings to secure the win aboard ELUSIVE in a time of 38.547 for Thinkslikeahorse during Week V of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit. "He's [ELUSIVE] won several Grand Prix already this year and jumped one fence of the jump-off just 'this much too low' not to win last week," said Vale, pinching his fingers to show the 2 millimeters that stood between him and the blue last week.
ELUSIVE, now 12, has been part of the Thinkslikeahorse family since he was a 6-year-old. "We bought him as a 6-year-old and the plan was originally for him to be Mallory's (Vale's wife) horse. I competed him as a 6- and 7-year-old and he finished 2nd in the 6-year-old Finals and won the 7-year-old Finals. Mallory started jumping him when he was 8 in the Amateurs and showed him successfully for a couple of years until I started showing him in the Grand Prix last year."
Vale gave us the inside scoop on how ELUSIVE has become one of his top Grand Prix horses. "The real story is that I didn't really have a big string of Grand Prix horses last year, like I do this year, and coming up to HITS the money was tremendous," said Vale. Last year nearly all the Grand Prix at HITS Ocala double and tripled in prize money. "Mallory said 'You know, you should try ELUSIVE in the Grand Prix'," Vale laughed adding that he had always insisted he was too big for the 16-Hand Dutch Warmblood, but the duo seemed to click right away.
"After he won two of the Sunday Grand Prix last year, which was quite valuable, Mallory hasn’t gotten him back,” said Vale. If you're watching the Grand Prix, ELUSIVE is easy to pick out and while he may be smaller than most of the other Grand Prix horses, he certainly holds his own when it comes to being competitive. “He's a great horse for our family and he's got a place in our dining room forever,” Vale said, referencing the paintings of their favorite horses that adorn the walls of their home.
"The Stadium arena is fabulous here - it's a nice big arena - and the footing is good," Vale exclaimed. "It's a rectangle which to me, makes course designers do a better job normally than a square. I appreciate the rectangle because subconsciously it encourages course designers to make good courses and they probably don't even realize that, but it's something my brain sees as a rider who has been to a lot of horse shows."
While there were thirteen that jumped clean in the first round, Vale said that today's course was fair. "The entries that are at HITS Ocala showing are pretty accomplished, so even though there were quite a few in the jump-off, it was all good horses and riders," he said. Speaking of his partnership with ELUSIVE over the past year, Vale continued, "He wasn't so fast last year, but I've had people tell me that he's the fastest horse in Ocala right now. I think that if he leaves the jumps up then he is hard to beat. He can jump a big enough jump to be in these big classes." Following the Grand Prix, ELUSIVE returned home to his paddock which Vale thinks is likely ELUSIVE's favorite part of showing at HITS Ocala. "I want to thank Tom Struzzieri and HITS - we're glad they're here and have been here for years. I hope they stay for a long time!"
2nd Place: Coyle & ARISO [39.183]
3rd Place: Andre Thieme & CRAZY GIRL [39.343]
Featured hunter competition at HITS Ocala continued in Week V of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, which featured the first of three $25,000 USHJA National Hunter Derbies and the $1,500 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix, along with Junior and Amateur Hunter Classics, and more. Weekly Hunter Prix count toward the HITS Championship, which takes place annually at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York.
HITS welcomed a field of 47 riders to compete under the lights in the Main Hunter Ring for the $25,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby Saturday. The twelve highest scoring horse and rider combinations from the first round returned in reverse order for the Handy Hunter round. With a base score of 90 in the first round and challenging all four high options for a score of 94 was David Wilbur and SURFSIDE for Linda Corvari. Wilbur pulled out all the stops in the Handy round with an effortless path for a base score of 88 and again took all the high options to total a 92. Added together, Wilbur's score was a 186 to top the field. With tears of joy, Corvari said that this was only SURFSIDE's second Handy Hunter course and that Wilbur does a great job to keep him focused.
2nd Place: Caroline Willard Briles & NECOFINO [184.5]
3rd Place: Dominique Damico & DSH ABSOLUT 
The winning ride in the $1,500 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix belonged to Madison Ancharski who piloted her own QUINTUS to the blue ribbon. Ancharski scored an 80 in the first round and followed that with a 77 in the second round for a cumulative score of 157.
2nd Place: Katelyn Coveney & MTM FASHION 
3rd Place: Carly Rein & CAIPIRA 
Hunter Classic Winners
$1,000 A-O Hunter Classic - 3'6": Jaime Auletto & IDOLIZE
$1,000 Eastern Hay A-O Hunter Classic - 3'3": Matthew Lowe & DEMARCO
$1,000 Antares Large Junior Hunter Classic - 3'6": Maddie Tosh & CASANOVA
$1,000 CWD Small Junior Hunter Classic - 3'6": Reynolds Cole & E DI LUCA
$1,000 Junior Hunter Classic - 3'3": Coveney & MTM FASHION
$1,000 Perfect Products Pony Hunter Classic:
Samantha Pogorzelski & HILLCREST SONGBIRD
$500 M&S NAL/WIHS SmartPak Adult Hunter Classic: Gabriella Fournier & FLIRT
$500 M&S NAL/WIHS Child Hunter Classic - Horse: Casey Alworth & ON THE DARKSIDE
$500 M&S NAL/WIHS Child Hunter Classic - Pony:
Evana Somareddy & LAFAYETTE PARK
M&S Bit O' Straw Hunter Classic: Susan S. Aselage & PHINEAS
for the full listing of results from the HITS Ocala Winter Festival.
USEF-Rated National/6* competition continues next week with the HITS Ocala Masters, February 23-28. In Week VI, riders can look forward to the Zone IV Handy Hunter Challenge. Don't miss out - the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit continues with more competition and fun at HITS Post Time Farm! For more information or to enter for the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, click here
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