The dull thud of wood hitting sand could be heard throughout the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium at HITS Post Time Farm on Sunday.
Rails fell at nearly every fence on Marina Azevedo’s challenging course in the $100,000 City of Ocala Grand Prix. But none proved as heartbreaking as fence number 13.
The last fence on course, the 1.60m vertical caught out no fewer than 13 riders. In the cases of Pablo Barrios (VEN), Alison Robitaille (USA), and McLain Ward (USA), it put paid to what would have been clear rounds.
What was it about the airy vertical with four yellow rails and a honeycomb standards that proved so challenging?
For starters, the line.
Set kitty corner to the in-gate on the quarter line, the vertical was the last fence in a series of wide oxers that began with a five-stride triple bar to oxer line. A roll back to a double oxer two-stride combination followed. From there it was four forward strides to another wide oxer, finishing on a seven or eight stride option to the vertical.
“When I built the course yesterday, I had to flip it because we had the water jump—it was supposed to be put out,” said Azevedo.
“My exact line was on this side of the ring [next to the sponsor tent], straight. When I decided I had to flip the course, I decided that I would like to change this line. I put it on a little bit [of an angle], so we had the triple bar and the four big oxers on the end and one skinny 1.60m vertical.”
A tight time allowed further complicated the challenge.
“The time allowed was a little tight,” she continued. “That [last] line it was in seven or eight. Eight it was more safe, but seven would help them get the time. So every time you put the skinny vertical and a tight time on a long distance, they can have it down. There were many things that could go wrong.”
After 41 rounds, only three managed to jump clear over the course—Beezie Madden (USA), Ali Wolff (USA), and Cian O’Connor (IRL). All of them left the fences in the cups for the jump off. But none completed the course faster than O’Connor.
It was the second victory of the week for the Irish rider.
Said O’Connor: “I don’t remember the last time I jumped double clear in the Nations Cup and won the Grand Prix, so she’s now my new favorite course designer!”