Myakka City, Florida, USA – January 14, 2023 – A beautiful but absolutely brisk sky set the scene for the penultimate day of the 2023 Sarasota Winter Classic. Competition started early as the $5,000 1.15m Open Classic kicked off the Grand Prix Ring at the TerraNova Equestrian Center in order to prepare for the $50,000 Grand Prix of Sarasota. An even twenty top horse-and-rider combinations took to the track, set by Mauricio Garcia (PUR), but the ultimate victory would be awarded to Ocala’s resident speed queen Kristen VanderVeen.
The starting lineup was stacked with heavy-hitting international grand prix riders from across five nations including Olympians Scott Keach (AUS) and Sharn Wordley (NZL). VanderVeen, one of the highest-ranked U.S. riders, trekked from Ocala with three of her top mounts including her beloved Bull Run’s Faustino de Tili and her most promising new mount, Bull Run’s Jireh. The class also hosted a variety of rising grand prix competitors including Haley Gassel (USA), Amy Schafmaster (USA), and last week’s second-place competitor, Brooks Hull (USA). Wednesday’s $10,000 Welcome Stake winners Marylisa Leffler (USA) and ZaZa Z also rejoined the ranks but fell victim to one unfortunate rail that kept them from proceeding to the jump-off.
VanderVeen was the first to enter under the archway aboard Jireh, the Bull Run Jumpers-owned gelding (Uriko x Conella), and put down a flawless first performance with a clean round of 77.278 seconds. One after another, each combination contested the obstacles but only four emerged without a fault to their name.
Scott Keach (AUS) added his name to the shortlist with last week’s winner Wild Thing, while Sharn Wordley (NZL) threw his name in the hat twice with both Mick Jagger and Gatsby. Six pairs were kept out of jump-off contention by a single downed fence, while one suffered a heart-breaking single-time fault.
As the first fault-free rider, VanderVeen was also the first to tackle Garcia’s short course. She and Jireh were going for a ‘medium tempo’ according to the athlete, but it ended up a blazing fast, clear round on a time of 35.702 seconds aboard the 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Uriko x Colman).
With the challenge given, Sharn Wordley (NZL) was next into the arena aboard his longtime partner, Gatsby, but would settle for third on a clean round of 40.853 seconds. Keach and Wild Thing again crossed the timers with no jumping penalties but took home the fourth-place ribbon as the pair landed in 42.104 seconds.
Returning with his final qualified mount, Wordley gave it a good effort with Mick Jagger but the day was destined to be VanderVeen’s as he settled for a second place almost five seconds behind in 40.104 seconds.
“I wasn’t planning on going as fast as I did, but I’m still working out what the middle ground is and it ends up just being fast,” VanderVeen described. “He’s such a freak athlete that it’s quite fun. I have many horses that are very nice but I think that this horse is very special.”
Although VanderVeen has been to the venue before during the Split Rock Jumping Tour, she explained that it was her first time making the trip for the Sarasota Winter Classic.
“I really liked the option of doing the grand prix in the morning today so that we could do some other shows; it’s very nice for us,” she added. “I like the permanent new stabling – it’s a lovely place to be able to come in and have a nice set up. It was a great option for us to be able to add onto our schedule with the horses we have.”
Final Results – $50,000 Sarasota Grand Prix
1) Kristen Vanderveen (USA) & Bull Run’s Jireh – 0 / 0 – 35.702
2) Sharn Wordley (NZL) & Mick Jagger – 0 / 0 – 40.104
3) Sharn Wordley (NZL) & Gatsby – 0 / 0 – 40.853
Source: Press Release by Summer Grace / Flaxen Mane Media for Sarasota Winter Classic
Photos: © West Horse Shows / Eye Was Here Photography