Myakka City, Florida, USA – January 05, 2023 – Although competing in an entirely different venue, Rolling Acres’ successful pairing of Marylisa Leffler (USA) and Zaza Z would still prove impossible to beat in Thursday’s $10,000 Welcome Stake. Running its first year of operations at the brand new TerraNova Equestrian Center, the newly-renamed Sarasota Winter Classic kicked off competition this week and the show’s most competitive jumper riders readied their mounts for the inaugural Welcome on Stake Thursday afternoon.
With 11 entries set to compete, the main event kicked off at 2pm sharp and was followed by an elegant reception party, complete with live music. Top grand prix competitors from across the country completed the entry list, but defending champion Marylisa Leffler (USA) left no room for error and ultimately claimed victory.
The 11 entries contested across the first-round track, set by designer Bill Worthington, but seven entries moved on to the immediate jump-off course. Stephanie Gallucci produced the first double-clear ride of the competition, but top young competitor Hailey Royce (USA) set the early lead aboard her veteran partner Sonic Boom (Seacoast Wonderful x Toulouse Van De Distelhoeve) after clocking in a little over a second faster than Gallucci 34.388 seconds.
Several horses following, 15-year-old Brooks Hull (USA) and Derek Petersen’s Zechariah 3:9 (Zirocco Blue x Karina) blazed ahead of the crowd, slipping in with a jump-off time of 33.897 seconds. Hull’s time seemed unbeatable, but with Leffler still left to contest, the opportunity was there. Having won both Welcome Stakes during last year’s event, she and the 12-year-old Warmblood mare (Zandor Z x Cocaine Z) were determined to produce yet another victory.
“I came here in March for the two Spring grand prixs, and I have begged everyone in our barn to come since,” Leffler commented of the facility. “This is her first class back after six weeks off, but she only has one speed which is forward.”
Leffler slid less than one-one hundreths of a second below Hull’s time to which she commented, “I tried to be as fast as I could from fences one to two, knowing I would do the eight strides instead of the seven to make a better turn. Then I just went direct on the way home hoping I could beat the gray horse.”
The focus of the 2023 Sarasota Winter Classic will shift to the hunter ring tomorrow as top combinations set to contest for the honors in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby. Upper-level jumper competition will return on Saturday, January 7, in the $50,000 Sarasota Grand Prix.
Final Results – $10,000 Welcome Stake
1) Marylisa Leffler (USA) & Zaza Z – 0 / 0 – 33.752
2) Brooks Hull (USA) & Zechariah 3:9 – 0 / 0 – 33.897
3) Hailey Royce (USA) & Sonic Boom – 0 / 0 – 34.388
Source: Press Release by Summer Grace / Flaxen Mane Media for Sarasota Winter Classic
Photos: © West Horse Shows / Eye Was Here Photography