Laura Linback certainly picked the right time to win her first Grand Prix of the 2009 HITS Ocala Winter Circuit when she rode Woodrun’s As Di Villagana to the blue in the $100,000 DeLuca Toyota Tundra Grand Prix, presented by Great American Insurance Group to finish the circuit at HITS Post Time Farm, in Ocala, Florida.
Linback had the fastest double-clear effort of the 42 horse-and-rider combinations that challenged course designer Florencio Hernandez’s first-round track and the five that advanced to the jump-off to secure $30,000 in first-place prize money for Woodrun.
Starting off the five-horse jump-off was former Canadian Olympian Beth Underhill and Iron Horse Farm’s Cantero Z. The pair has been in the money in almost every Grand Prix this circuit, including a third-place finish in Thursday’s $25,000 HITS Grand Prix. They looked great on Sunday, coming all the way home clean in 41.733 to set the Great American Time to Beat. When the class was complete, they would finish in second place.
Second to show was Mike McCormick and MTM Farm’s MTM Remington. The Texas native jumped clean in 43.365 and would finish the class in third place. “Any time a 61-year-old-man can have this much fun on a Sunday, it is a great day. It was worth getting up early!”
Another Canadian, Hugh Graham, was third to jump-off, challenging Hernandez’s eight-obstacle jump-off course aboard King Ridge Stables’ Executive Privilege 3E. The pair looked as if they would come home with the third clean round of the jump-off, but had a rail down at the last fence to finish in fourth place.
Kyle King showed fourth in the jump-off aboard Niko Gogette’s Gigolo. King entered the ring with two wins at HITS Ocala under his belt in 2009, but couldn’t make it a third when they dropped two rails to finish in fifth place.
Sitting in the enviable last-to-go spot was Linback and As Di Villagana. They took full advantage of the spot, making the dash for cash in 41.280 to take home the first-place check to conclude an exciting class.
“The jump-off hasn’t been our best friend over the last couple of weeks,” said Linback. “We had a rail in the jump-off the past two Sundays, but today we pulled through and jumped double-clear.”
“He is a real crowd pleaser,” said Linback. “He is very exuberant and flashy and we couldn’t be happier with him. We bought him just over a year ago from Pato Muente and this is his fifth win in just 10 Grand Prix classes.”
“Laura was a very deserving winner,” said Hernandez. “She was fortunate to have the last spot in the class. She knew exactly how fast she had to go and pulled it out in the end.”
Ronnie Mutch Equitation Championship
In other action, Amber Henter, of St. Petersburg, Florida, captured the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Championship on Friday night in the Grand Prix arena.
Henter, who trains under the guidance of Christina Schlusemeyer, captured the highest two-round score of the 14 exhibitors who battled it out for the crown. Henter was in the irons aboard Redfield Farm’s Triumph during this unique class.
The two-round classic was held as part of the new Ocala Celebration at HITS Ocala. In the first round, riders competed over a course of fences which included gymnastics, trot fences, oxers, verticals and combinations. The top-12 riders were called back in reverse order of their score to complete the second round.
Michael Hughes (Morriston, Florida) and Sara Green (Sherborn, Massachusetts) also excelled during the class and finished second and third respectively. Judges for the class were Linda Andrisani, Aaron Vale, Beth Underhill, Chrystine Tauber, Bert Mutch, Sue Pinkney and Jay Hayes.
Throughout the competition, riders were not allowed to communicate with their trainers or any other resources – they had to do it all – from preparation of their horse to course walking – on their own. Scores were given from two sets of judges in the ring, and another set of judges in the schooling area provided a score of plus or minus one or two bonus points, based on the rider’s preparation of their horse.
The Classic is held in honor of accomplished equestrian and life-long artist, R.W. Mutch. An early student of Gordon Wright and Al Homewood, Mutch won the AHSA Medal Finals in 1950 at the age of 15. At 18, he was the youngest rider at the time to ride for the USET. It is a highly sought-after honor to be invited to participate in the class and, as a result, it has become a major goal of junior riders across the country.
Other major winners during the Ocala Winter Celebration include:
$25,000 Team Barber Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper High Classic : Skyland’s Con Chino Z, ridden and owned by Joshton Dolan.
$15,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Low Classic:Tusker, ridden by Taylor Land and owned by Pinetree Ponies.
$5,000 Adult Hunter Classic:Saracen, ridden by Tiffany Hammack and owned by Lisa Williamson.