It has been a picture perfect Thanksgiving here in Florida for the first day of dressage at the inaugural $100,000 Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event, where the #EventingFamily has come together to celebrate the holiday amidst the unveiling of a spectacular new venue for the sport.
Richard Trayford and the Equiventures team have definitely delivered in their promise to transform Erik and Pavla Nygaard’s Thoroughbred racing facility for eventing. The rolling hills create a park-like backdrop for Mike Etherington-Smith and Clayton Fredericks’ cross country courses, and the vendor tents surrounding the main grass stadium provide a definite European feel to the atmosphere.
Twenty-two horses and riders are duking it out for $24,000 in prize money in the CCI2* division, with Hannah Sue Burnett and Cooley Dream are leading the way on 43.9 at the conclusion of dressage. The 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Cooley Dream LLC finished third in the CIC2* at Virginia Horse Trials last month as his final prep run for OJC International.
“David O’Connor has helped me so much with Cooley in the dressage. I feel like we’re finally getting to the point where I can really show him off. He’s lighter up front and really engaged, and he comes into the corners now and backs off. I had a couple mistakes in the test, but he’s so good and understands the arena so well.”
Hannah is familiar with the Ocala Jockey Club, having rented a townhouse here at the facility over the winter for the past few years, and she said it’s been incredible to watch the transformation. “I’ve never seen anything like it in the U.S. other than Rolex,” she said. “It’s cool to have it right in our backyard.”
The venue boasts the second highest point in Marion County, and it’s a rarity to see so many hills in the Ocala area. “I think people are surprised by how hilly it is,” she said. “I just came down from Virginia so my horse has been on the hills there, which is an advantage. The biggest thing with Cooley on cross country is he needs to focus. He’s a fantastic jumper and galloper, and I’m excited to get out on the course.”
Boyd Martin and Kyra were the penultimate pair to go in the CCI2* and couldn’t quite catch Hannah’s leading score, settling for second place on 44.9. A former ride of Michael Pollard, Boyd took over the ride in May on the 9-year-old Canadian Sport Horse mare owned by Christine Turner.
“I was thrilled with Kyra today,” Boyd said. “She definitely has unbelievable movement and real elegance in the ring. I thought she put in as good a test as what we had at Plantation Field,” where they scored 37.8.
Like all the riders and spectators here at the Ocala Jockey Club, Boyd has been very impressed with the quality of the venue. “It’s obviously a big commitment for the owners to bring their horses all the way down from Pennsylvania, but once we got here I knew it was a great decision. The venue is spectacular. I was expecting a flat, pancake course, and it feels like we’re in a parkland.”
There’s no question that Mike Etherington-Smith and Clayton Fredericks have designed serious courses, with Tyson Rementer and Levi Ryckewaert bringing the fences to life as the course builders. The course is beautifully presented, and we’ll be bringing you a full preview shortly.
“These are big, solid fences with plenty of hedge. It’s definitely a proper track across all the levels. We got the horses very fit on the hills of Pennsylvania, and my three are in peak condition. It’s one of those events where if you have a good run here you know you’re ready to step up to the next level next year,” Boyd said.
“The course is a test of accuracy and stamina with big fences. The courses are really questioning the horse’s rideability and the pilot’s adjustability. It was well worth the trip because the footing is good, and there is plenty of electricity and atmosphere in the ring. As a professional rider I am thankful these events are popping up more in the States. The bar is being raised.”
Sara Kozumplik Murphy and L’Alezane round out the top three in the CCI2* on 47.0. Previously ridden by Danny Warrington, Sara got the ride in May on the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Edy Rameika. “Large Marge” and Sara took second place in the Bromont CCI* shortly thereafter in June, and this weekend they are tackling their first CCI2* as a pair.
“She is a fantastic mover and has a great brain. She’s very professional about her job, and Danny did such a wonderful job producing her, so I get to go in the ring and ask for more, which is a very unusual feeling. I’m usually trying to keep the lid on!” Sara said. “There were a couple mistakes, but she really doesn’t have bad days. She’s got a great attitude, and unlike most horses it’s good for her to walk past the cross country on the way to her test.”
Sara has trained with Linda Zang on the flat for many years, and she said taking lessons with Clayton Fredericks in recent weeks has also helped her immensely in dressage. “He really got after me about needing to be a better ring rider, and it really made a huge difference in only three lessons,” she said.
As for the cross country, Sara said she thinks the Ocala Jockey Club is perfectly suited to host an open, galloping course . “I love this style of course. Clayton has done a beautiful job with the CCI2* and CCI* tracks, and I’ve always said that if Mike E-S was a religion I would be a member of it. I think he understands the horses really well. The way the first water on the CIC3* course sets you up for the last water is perfect.”
Sara has watched the venue transform over the last year and said she has been floored by the final product. “Richard drove me over here last year in October, and my first thought was it’s one of the very few places in the world that you see and think it could be a four-star venue. I still thought Richard had his work cut out for him, but I had a lot of faith in him because he was bringing in all the right people to help him. He’s done it. What a feat — and to have prize money! He’s done it all.”
Looking to the rest of the CCI2* leaderboard, Tiffani Loudon-Metze and Hap scored 47.8 for fourth place, and Katie Ruppel and Foreign Affair scored 49.7 for fifth, which gives us five sub-50 scores in the division. Boyd Martin also has a second ride in the top 10 in the division with Santos, who scored 53.1 to tie for equal seventh place with Jessica Schultz and Lock N’ Load.
The first part of the large CCI* division also did their dressage today, and Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z took a commanding early lead as just the second pair out on 36.7, the only score in the 30s thus far in the competition. The 8-year-old KWPN gelding Liz owns won The Fork CIC* earlier this spring and is looking to complete his first CCI* this weekend.
“I was really thrilled with my horse. He tried really hard for me. There weren’t a lot of people around for atmosphere today, but it was more atmosphere than he’s experienced, and it was hot. There were a couple little bits where I could have ridden better, but overall I was really happy with him,” Liz said.
“They’ve done a really great job to make it feel like a big international event, and I think more events should look at this as an example. I know they’ve worked hard on the ground, and it’s tough because it’s been so dry here recently. We’re appreciative to the owners and organizers for putting in the time and effort.”
Allison Springer and Business Ben scored 43.5 to sit in second place in the CCI*, with Jon Holling and Sportsfield Two Doors Down in third place on 45.3. Canadian riders are rounding out the top five, with Dana Cooke and FE Mississippi in fourth on 46.7 and Annick Niemuller and FE Black Jack in fifth on 47.0.
CCI* dressage resumes at 8:30 a.m. EST tomorrow morning. The CIC3* kicks off at 9:30 a.m. EST with dressage, followed by show jumping in the afternoon. You can watch all the action live thanks to EQTV at this link. You can view more photos from today on EN’s Instagram and the OJC International Facebook page. Happy Thanksgiving, and Go Eventing.