Ocala Jockey Club International 3-Day Event
After just two runs of the Ocala Jockey Club International 3-Day Event in November of 2016 and 2017, this “equine triathlon” competition showcasing dressage, show jumping and cross-country segments ridden by the same horse-rider combination teams over the course of multiple days has already become a popular destination. It won the 2017 Florida Sports Foundation’s Small Market Event of the Year award. The prepared galloping tracks are already gaining reputation among riders as having some of the best footing in the country, if not in the world. As a result, FEI-level eventing riders supporting this event come not just from the East Coast, but from across the West Coast,
Canada and beyond. As a 4* perennial top eventing rider Joe Meyer says: “The venue is world class. The weather is pretty much guaranteed. Even without rain the footing and going is fantastic. The courses are well suited to all levels. The one star is encouraging. The two star is educational and three star is a champions’ track. It’s fantastic for trainers to bring students who can hone their skill without the worry of poor footing, wind and rain.” The sprawling 900-acre Ocala Jockey Club’s picturesque setting provides a premier yet authentic experience for riders and spectators alike.
In the last two years, the event ran three FEI divisions (CCI1*, CCI2* and CIC3*). The 2017 CIC3* division was won by Phillip Dutton and Z, one of the five horse-rider combination chosen to represent the USA in the 2018 World Equestrian Games held at Tryon, NC. Lynn Symansky and her off-track Thoroughbred Donner, another of the five US Team members to WEG, won the 2016 Ocala Jockey Club International 3-Day Event’s CIC3* Thoroughbred Eventing Champion award. The 2017 Event grew to 178 entries from 115 entries in 2016, and qualified 6 high performance competitors from 4 countries to the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Due to the early popularity of the event and venue, the sanctioning bodies awarded the Ocala Jockey Club to add the CCI3* division as a new level for the 2018 event, to be run November 15-18. The main difference between the existing CIC3* and the added CCI3* is the additional length of the cross country course and the number of efforts required to be cleared by the horse and rider combination. While any of the jumping effort sizes appear challenging to most humans and horses with a strong self-preservation instinct, the CCI3* level requires an additional level of stamina, training and courage to get through the test. The Ocala Jockey Club CCI3* will be only the 5th of such levels in the USA, reflecting both the added prestige to the event as well as the need for high performance riders to prepare for international competitions such as 4* events across the world and the 2020 Olympic Games. Joe Meyer says, “The CCI3* is a great addition to the program. It is really needed on the East Coast.”
Top courses around the world need to include a track and jumping efforts that are challenging physically and mentally to the horse and rider combinations, but footing is of paramount importance to allow the test to be as safe and predictable as possible. The naturally sandy loam ground of the Ocala Jockey Club along with well-rooted natural “100-year” bahia grass forms a great foundation to do just that. It certainly helps that Ocala’s typical sunny and balmy November weather is in sharp contrast to weather almost anywhere else in the world. A top venue should also be pleasant to spectators and a VIP experience alike, which the 900-acre facility does as well. The live oak-dotted rolling hills are more like the English countryside than the mostly flat land of Florida, and provide both the rider-appreciated long gallops between jumps and magnificent scenery loved by the spectators. The quality of the course design is another important element that needs to balance safety with sufficient challenges to properly prepare for international competitions. Mike Etherington-Smith, the former head of British Eventing and cross country for the Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, has designed the Ocala Jockey Club CIC3* cross country course since the event’s inception. This year, he has a timing conflict that has him in Australia at the Adelaide CCI4* the same weekend as this year’s Ocala Jockey Club Event. As a result, Etherington-Smith will collaborate on the CIC3* and CCI3* courses with Clayton Fredericks, a Silver Olympic medalist and former Canadian eventing team coach, who has been designing the CCI1* and CCI2* courses at the Ocala Jockey Club Event in the first two years and will do so again for 2018.
Marion County has earned its’ designation as the “Horse Capital of the World” due to the number of horses of various breeds residing within the county. There are certainly plenty of horse events of all shapes and sizes in Marion County, yet the Ocala Jockey Club International 3-Day Event is one of the few international-caliber equestrian competitions in the area capable of drawing top talent along with a festival experience that makes it a fun weekend outing for the entire family. This potential has already been recognized with the support of the Marion County Visitors and Conventions Bureau and sponsor partners such as Sky Fine Dining that will cater the popular competitors’ party on the Saturday of the Event. The 2017 event added experiences such as an inspirational Ladies’ Luncheon talk by Olympian Karen O’Connor, the “Hip, Hoakey and Handsome Hat Contest”, Saturday night competitors’ party with a band, and the Kid Zone with fun activities such as horse stick races, inflatable jump and
face painting. The OJC Event, despite its recent creation, has already been compared to European 3-day events such as the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials each September in England, with rich history and immense popularity by spectators attending both to observe top level competition, bravery in horses and riders, visually stunning scenery, one-in-a-kind shopping experience, tailgating and picnicking out in the country. The 2018 event will build on similar interactive experiences along with a vendor village for opportunities to get unique equestrian-themed items and a head start on holiday gift shopping. With involvement by world-class organizing team and advisory members that include Shelley Page, the eventing organizer of this year’s World Equestrian Games, and Alec Lochore with rich organizing experience in multiple Olympic games and other world-class eventing competitions around the world, the Ocala Jockey Club International 3-Day Event is well positioned to grow into a strong destination event for riders and spectators alike.