Week I of the 2013 HITS Ocala Winter Circuit is in the history books with Aaron Vale leading the way. After a win last Thursday in the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, aboard Palm Sunday, owned by Amen Corner Farm, LLC, the duo kept the momentum by clinching the biggest purse of the week in the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health.
Vale, of Morriston, Florida showed three horses in Sunday’s class that featured 24 in the order. The time was tight on Jack Robson’s course, who allowed 84 seconds to complete the 17-effort first round. Vale was one of nine competitors to feel the pressure of the clock after suffering one time fault on his first mount. He and Palm Sunday, however, were able to barely squeak by in 83.50 seconds.
“The time was pretty tight today,” Vale said. “I was just barely over the time on my first horse who is pretty fast. A lot of people had trouble with it today - it wasn’t easy and I think trying to make it under the time allowed caused a lot of rails. It was certainly difficult enough for this early in the season.”
At the end of the first round, Vale was joined in the jump-off by Jared Petersen of Archer, Florida aboard Derek Petersen’s Titus 2:11 and Karina Aziz of Hamilton, Ontario with Iron Horse Farm’s Cordia de Laubry. Emily Short of Cheswick, Pennsylvania and her own Grande Finale 3E made it a four-horse battle.
Petersen, the son of grand prix rider and Pfizer Million veteran Derek Petersen, returned first in the jump-off. A wrong turn after fence nine led them off course with no score and a fourth place finish. Vale returned next with Palm Sunday and despite a stumble after fence six and a rail at eight, Vale recovered and finished with four faults in 40.72 seconds to set the Great American Time to Beat.
“It wasn’t the best way to get there, but we finished exactly where we wanted to,” said Vale. “The jump-off had enough tricks in it. The second fence was really tall and after we slipped he just felt a little dead going down the five stride and had the rail. You never really know for certain if that’s what caused the rail or not, but it may have. Luckily this horse is really competitive and we were able to finish in a good time.” With two left to show, the win was still up for grabs. Aziz attempted first, but the rollback to fence seven resulted in a rail. They finished with a time of 44.15 seconds.
Last to show was amateur rider Short, who trains under the tutelage of David Jennings. Short and Grand Finale 3E earned several ribbons last season at HITS Ocala and this weekend’s performance kicked off what is sure to be a great circuit. An early rail down at the second effort caused Short to act conservatively, but she still put up a strong finish in 41.00 seconds, just fractions shy of Vale’s time for second.
“I thought it was a good class,” commented Robson, the course designer from Coronado, California. “The tight time was the biggest challenge today, but I thought it was fair and it worked. After the first three went, Aaron [Vale] was one second over and Jared [Petersen] was under, so it seemed fine. The triple combination gave some trouble as well as the last line. The weather was great and I think we finished the week right.”
Vale watched from the in-gate as the excitement unfolded and a wave of relief sparked a smile on his face as he secured the win. Back-to-back victories are a great way to start the circuit and Vale is confident that the rest of the season will be very successful “This horse is 13-years-old and I got him last April. He’s jumped some World Cup classes and has a lot of talent. I think I know him pretty well now and it’s always good when we start the season competitively. I showed three horses today and I’m really excited about some of the prospects I have in the barn. There’s still a long season ahead with big classes and I’m always on the road to the Pfizer Million, so we’ll see how we get there. The important thing is keeping the horses fresh and healthy each week.”
Another week of show jumping is set to get underway this week at HITS Ocala with the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, on Thursday and another edition of the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, on Sunday. All grand prix at HITS Ocala are qualifiers for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix during HITS Championship Weekend September 7-8, 2013 in Saugerties, New York.
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