As we sat in the HITS Ocala VIP Tent, Course Designer Leopoldo Palacios of Caracas, Venezuela was tapping me gently on the arm. "It's just like this," he remarked, "If I tap you thirteen times on the arm, like this, it is nothing, but if I hit you once hard, you notice for sure. That's how I prefer to design my courses; I'd rather ask twelve or thirteen little questions, one at each effort, than ask one big one." "Still," I asked, "if you had to pick out the hardest 'question' today, what would it be?" "I think that the triple will prove to be a harder effort," he answered, "and the last one" [jump 13]. In the end, the Palacios lesson plan was executed as he hoped, with only the rails at Jump #1 failing to fall at least once during the first round. Palacios said many times this week how please he was to be returning to Ocala, where he designed for the first time (in 1989) in the United States. Since those early days his career has blossomed, culminating in his being named the Show Jumping Course Designer for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games.
Round one of today's $50,000 Rio Vista Grand Prix saw 37 horse-and-rider pairs try to best the Palacios course. Only five were clear over the course that included the challenging triple at fences 6A, B, & C and the double at 8. The Palacios prediction proved accurate with the most faults coming just as he said at the triple and the final vertical at fence 13.
The first to return for the jump-off round was Bruce Chovnick's Graf Rossini S with Mary-Lisa Leffler of Brookville, Maryland in the irons. The pair was well under the 57 seconds allowed, but had 4 rails down at 6A with a fast time of 46.164 seconds. Next in was Quiet Winter Farm's Ears to You and Callan Solem of Colts Neck, New Jersey. The beautiful Belgian-bred chestnut gelding went around the fastest of the afternoon, a time 45.083 seconds that would prove to be enough to take home the blue ribbon and the top prize purse of $15,000. "I love him because he has taught me so much this year," said Solem. "He is a great teacher and I learn something new every time I ride him," the young rider noted after her win.
Asked what strategy she used entering the ring as the second of five clear and with one ahead of her with four faults she responded, "I just did what Frank [Chapot] always says 'Go as fast as you can and still go clean'." Solem almost followed Chapot's advice perfectly with her winning time of 45.083 but she had one rail down. That left three more horse-and rider pairs including Canadian veterans Ian Millar and Mario Deslauriers as well as U.S. rider Christine Fallon ready to turn in the clear round that would unseat Solem. However, in the end all three failed to meet her challenge and the New Jersey rider took home the blue ribbon, trophy and cooler in this Kings Shaving U.S. Grand Prix League event. "I love to ride in Tom Struzzieri's new Grand Prix Ring here in Ocala," said today's winner, summing up the feeling that many have been expressing all week at the new 352-acre HITS Ocala Winter Circuit show site.
RESULTS SUMMARY (top 5 placings):
PLACE HORSE OWNER RIDER RIDER CITY/ST FAULTS/TIME PRIZE$
1 Ears To You Quiet
Winter Farm Callan Solem Colts Neck, NJ 0/4//45.083 $15,000