Ocala, Florida, USA – March 17, 2023 – Savannah Unger (USA) had more than luck on her side for St. Patrick’s Day, leading her second $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix victory gallop of the season aboard Fabio on Friday at Hits Ocala. The quick and careful duo showcased their winning partnership by setting an unbeatable pace during the nine-horse jump-off. Paul Halpern (CAN) was one second behind them with Esra for second place, while Tricia O’Conner (USA) and KT Adonis followed in third place.
“I’m super proud of Fabio,” smiled Unger after her win. “He is jumping really well here and he’s jumping super consistently. I’m very proud of him. He’s one of my favorite horses because he is such a calm, level-headed horse. I can put him in any situation and I know that he will always take care of me.”
Riders gathered at the new Grand Prix ring to compete over Catsy Cruz’s (MEX) welcoming track on Friday afternoon. The first round included an oxer-vertical double combination on a bending line to wide oxer before riders turned again to the vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination. The course eventually yielded nine clear rounds for the tiebreaker, where they had to make two tight turns over delicate verticals and eventually gallop home over two wide oxers after once again clearing the double combination.
Tricia O’Connor (USA) was the first to return with KT Adonis and quickly turned in another fault-free effort but wore a target on her back after setting the Great American time to beat at 34.180 seconds.
Unger was next and knew she could utilize Fabio’s naturally quick pace and large stride to make up time. With one less stride in the first line and the final line, they dashed through the timers in 32.632 seconds to take over the leader.
Only Paul Halpern (CAN) and Esra were able to come close to catching her, sliding into second place after stopping the clock in 33.882 seconds.
“I definitely got a good pace going to jump number on,” explained Unger. “I took off a little longer to jump one, which actually ended up paying off for me in the long run because I could leave out in the first line. I just kept rolling the whole time and turned back really tightly to the SmartPak vertical, which is a bit of a careful jump – I had to trust him there. I had a little bit of faith and just kept kicking to the last jump and it ended up working!”
Now Unger will be looking ahead to the Great American $300,000 Grand Prix during the final week of HITS Ocala, where they hope to stay cool under pressure. “We try to stay calm and then when we go in. We just hope we make everyone proud,” she concluded. “I love that everyone’s friendly [at HITS] and is rooting for each other.”
Riders will return to the Grand Prix ring on Saturday for the $10,000 Post Time Classic and Sunday for the $100,000 Alliant Private Client Grand Prix. On Sunday, Joe Norick and Alliant Private Client would like to thank all of our clients and exhibitors for a fantastic 2023 show season at HITS Ocala with a delicious continental breakfast at the Overlook Club. The season at HITS Ocala will culminate with the Great American $300,000 Grand Prix on Sunday, March 26, with one of the biggest purses in the country. Make sure to visit the horse show office or http://www.hitsshows.com for more information.
Final Results – $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix
1) Savannah Unger (USA) & Fabio – 0 / 0 – 32.632
2) Paul Halpern (CAN) and Esra – 0 / 0 –33.884
3) Tricia O’Connor (USA) & KT Adonis – 0 / 0 – 34.180
Source: Press Release from Hits Horse Shows
Photos: © Hits Shows / ESI Photography