Winning Week for Hunter Holloway! Eastern Jam Tops $75,000 John Deere Grand Prix at HITS Ocala
The sixth week of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit was all about Hunter Holloway. After winning Friday’s $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix with Dana De Kerglenn, she returned on Sunday to top the $75,000 John Deere Grand Prix aboard Eastern Jam. She and her partner of seven years bested New Zealand Olympian Sharn Wordley and Mick Jagger by half a second during the nine-horse jump-off. The only other double-clear performance belonged to Australia’s Rowan Willis and Cornet’s Girlensky for third place.
“Eastern Jam is a seasoned horse of mine – I’ve had him for a really long time,” noted Holloway after her win. “We have a really strong partnership, so I knew I could rely on him to go get it. We have gotten to grow up together and jump some big classes together. He’s just the sweetest horse. I put my grandma on him and he will walk around with her. That just perfectly describes him.”
A field of over 30 competitors gathered at the new Grand Prix ring for Sunday’s main event. The first-round track designed by Oscar Soberon featured thirteen obstacles, including an oxer-vertical-vertical triple combination as the penultimate test. Nine advanced to the tiebreaker, where a tight rollback as the first test and a long gallop to the final delicate vertical separated the field with only three double-clear efforts.
Willis and Cornet’s Girlensky were the first to clear the short course, opting for a quick but slightly conservative effort, aiming to leave all the fences intact while still putting pressure on the remaining riders. They clocked in at 40.336 seconds, which would hold up for third place.
One round later, Wordley and Mick Jagger aimed to hasten the pace, clearing all of the obstacles in a quick time of 38.847 to go to the top of the leaderboard. Two rounds later though, the lead changed hands once again. Leaving a stride out to the combination and a fast gallop down the final line gave Holloway and Eastern Jam a very small margin. They broke the beam in 38.224 seconds, half a second ahead of Wordley, to claim the winning title.
“I did eight strides to the combination, which was pretty bold,” explained Holloway. “Eastern Jam was very smart and got out of the way. Then I was able to keep the hammer down a little bit towards the last couple of jumps, and he was really good.”
Holloway continued, “In general, he is a bigger, slower horse, so it’s hard to find places to make up time. It was a bit of a risk doing the eight, but he’s seasoned and is plenty capable of doing it, and I just trusted him there and he took care of it.”
Holloway has been competing at HITS for many years and credits the new footing for the faster jump-offs this season. “The footing’s great and it allows us to ride fast jump-offs like we did today,” she concluded. “The footing holds up and we’re able to keep going and put in some top rounds that are equal to any other top facility in the United States.”
Jumper action will continue for four more weeks in the new Grand Prix ring at HITS Ocala. The Overlook Club features a perfect view of the ring and is open to all, with a special brunch every Sunday for $45 per person during the weekly grand prix. The season culminates with the Great American $300,000 Grand Prix on Sunday, March 26, with one of the biggest purses in the country. Visit the horse show office or www.hitsshows.com for more information.