Ocala, Florida, USA – March 27, 2022 – Crowds filled the stands at the Hits Ocala Stadium on Sunday afternoon to watch the world’s top athletes compete in the $500,000 Great American Grand Prix, featuring the biggest show jumping purse in the United States. The day concluded with a thrilling 10-horse jump-off featuring athletes from representing six countries. In the end, it was Ireland’s Daniel Coyle (IRL) and Legacy who out raced the other riders, claiming the biggest check in the country. Kristen Vanderveen (USA) and Bull Run’s Risen earned the second-place prize, while Rowan Willis (AUS) and Billy Guilder placed third.
“I did my first ever five-star Nations Cup here many years ago, so I always have a good feeling about [HITS Ocala],” expressed Coyle. “Today I showed that. It’s an amazing big arena, with nice jumps, prize money and people come. It’s as good as [anywhere in the world]. My other horses weren’t going to plan [in Wellington] so I decided not to use Legacy. Jordan [Coyle] said there’s a very good class in Ocala, so I decided perfect, I’ll go there, and luckily I won!”
Course designer Marina Azevedo (BRA) built a large and technical track that used the expansive Hits Stadium to challenge horse and rider combinations from start to finish. Rails fell throughout the course, including through a yellow and white oxer-vertical-oxer triple combination with a bending ling to a triple bar and a delicate vertical. Athletes finished over the final line that featured two of the biggest oxers of the course before they galloped to the tall vertical towards the gate.
“It was a very good group,” noted Azevedo. “I was expecting eight clear, but the footing was so good and the horses were jumping so well. This ring is very nice because it’s very level, so we don’t have to go up and down, which is very good for everybody.”
The field of 46 starters was whittled down to just 10 to return for the tiebreaker. The jump-off featured two tight rollbacks, a vertical-oxer double from the original triple combination and a long gallop to the final oxer. Jordan Coyle (IRL) was the second to return and set the Great American time to beat with Ariso, after leaving all the rails intact and breaking the beam in 39.998 seconds.
Jordan’s brother Daniel Coyle (IRL) was next in the ring with Legacy, and after watching his brother’s round he knew exactly what he needed to do to win. Leaving out a stride in the first line and taking a tight roll back to the next vertical, he then headed home, slicing the Great American vertical before racing to the final oxer on the course. He never touched a rail and crossed the finish line in a speedy 38.526 seconds to go straight to the top of the leaderboard.
“I would say I had a big advantage today,” said Daniel. “I was third in the jump-off, but already Jordan had as good around as you probably could have, so that put pressure on me to go as fast as I could. Thankfully that paid off because if he hadn’t done that, I maybe wouldn’t have put as much pressure on myself!”
Kristen Vanderveen (USA) produced the next clear round with Bull Run’s Risen, attempting to catch Daniel’s time with a very direct approach to the Great American vertical, but she was less than a second shy of top spot, stopping the clock at 39.148 seconds for the second-place position.
“I didn’t get to see [Daniel] go, but I did see his time,” said Vanderveen. “The jump off was really nice with the amount of open running, which works for the big horse that I have, and also a nice left turn and right turn. It’s great to have it on both sides, so I tried to use it to my advantage, and it worked out.”
Rowan Willis (AUS) stepped into the Hits Stadium with Billy Guilder and also had his eye on the top of the leaderboard. He made a smooth and tight rollback after the second fence and galloped quickly to the oxer after the double combination, but his time was not quite good enough to catch the leaders. He left all the rails in their cups, but his time of 39.520 would rank third, just ahead of Jordan. The remaining riders were unable to top the four leaders, and it was Daniel who returned to the ring to lead the lap of honor.
“Going behind [Daniel and Kristen] there wasn’t much left to do, just pray and hope,” admitted Willis. “I managed to beat one Coyle brother, but not the other! I was really happy with my horse. He tried his heart out and went as fast as he possibly could today. It was a great course, always a good competition here, great jumping and I am looking forward to the next one.”
Daniel and Legacy, a 12-year-old Zangersheide mare owned by Ariel Grange, are already looking ahead for 2022, aiming to represent Ireland at the 2022 World Equestrian Games.
“Legacy has been an amazing horse for me and has done all of the divisions,” he noted. “I did European Championships last year with a top ten finish. I’ve only jumped three, maybe four, bigger classes this year. I haven’t been saving her, but I’m trying not to use everything in the start of the year. I’m hoping that she goes to the World Equestrian Games and hopefully she does something there.”
Final Results – $500,000 Great American Grand Prix
1) Daniel Coyle (IRL) & Legacy – 0 / 0 – 38.526
2) Kristen Vanderveen (USA) & Bull Run’s Risen – 0 / 0 – 39.148
3) Rowan Willis (AUS) & Billy Guilder – 0 / 0 – 39.520
Source: Press Release by Rebecca Walton for Hits Horse Shows
Photos: © Hits Horse Shows / Rebecca Walton