Ocala, Florida, USA – March 25, 2022 – On Friday afternoon, athletes gathered at the HITS Ocala Stadium for the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix as they prepared for Sunday’s highlight event, the Great American $500,000 Grand Prix. With seven horses qualifying for the jump-off, speed became the name of the game. Hunter Holloway (USA) galloped away with the victory aboard Liemba, ahead of West Coast athletes Mark Watring (PUR) riding Limbossini RC and Elisa Broz (USA) with Tinkerbell, who rounded out the top three, respectively.
“I went ahead and let loose and let Liemba go for it – she was awesome!” expressed Holloway after her win. “It was the first time she’s had to go that fast, so it was interesting to see how she was going that fast and she was super – I couldn’t be happier.”
Marina Azevedo (BRA) set a 13-obstacle track, which featured a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination at the far end of the ring, an oxer-vertical double combination, and finished with athletes galloping away from the gate to the final oxer. Seven of the original 25 starters advanced to the tiebreaker, where they had to compete over seven obstacles, including the double combination and finish over a new vertical headed directly towards the gate.
Brooke Kemper (USA) and Arpeggi were the pathfinders over the opening course and set the pace to beat during the jump-off with a fault-free effort in 42.771 seconds. Two rounds later, they were bested by Broz (USA) with Tinkerbell, who broke the beam in 41.908 seconds. Broz’ time did not hold up for long as Watring (PUR) and Limbossini RC cleared each fence with a faster gallop that stopped the clock at 40.123 seconds.
Holloway (USA) entered the ring with her second mount of the jump-off, Liemba, and knew she would need to leave it all on the line to capture the win. Leaving out strides and taking a risky turn to the double combination, the duo pulled out all of the stops and tripped the timers in 40.015 seconds to go straight to the top of the leaderboard.
“Liemba has a giant stride, so I was able to stay on the leave-out for her and I risked it a little bit going into that combination,” explained Holloway. “She was really good to back herself off there and jumped it nicely. She was very tidy, and it was a lovely course that rode very well.”
The last athlete to compete was Laura Hite (USA) with Calypso VD Zuuthoeve, who fell just shy of her fellow West Coast riders with a clear time in 41.947 seconds for fourth place, fractions ahead of Kemper. Holloway and Liemba returned to lead the lap of honor, while Watring and Broz (USA) placed second and third, respectively.
Holloway (USA) was thrilled with Liemba’s performance, having just taken over the ride in the fall of 2021. “She’s young, she’s pretty easy, she’s always trying to do her best,” concluded Holloway regarding the 7-year-old Hanoverian mare owned by Hays Investment Corp. “She has all the stride, all the scope, and wants to be really careful. She has been a really fun one to bring along. You couldn’t ask for a better place to bring along a young one coming up that can produce every class and earn money along the way!”
Final Results – $25,000 Smartpak Grand Prix
1) Hunter Holloway (USA) & Liemba – 0 / 0 – 40.015
2) Mark Watring (PUR) & Limbossini RC – 0 / 0 – 40.123
3) Elisa Broz (USA) & Tinkerbell – 0 / 0 – 41.908
Source: Press Release from Hits Horse Show
Photos: © Rebecca Walton