Tampa, FL -April 1, 2009 - The sun was shining brightly over the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds for the exciting $35,000 Grand Prix of Florida, the last qualifier for the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational. It hot and humid in the Covered Arena, but that did not stop the 37 riders that competed in today's class. Eight riders were able to complete a clear first round effort and advance to the short course, but it was Rebecca Johanson Hofmann and Corona, owned by Blue Hill Farm LLC, that lead the victory gallop after their stunning clear jump-off ride.
"I feel really happy," smiled Hofmann. "I was really hesitant about staying today and doing the class. I kind of made a last minute decision to stay and I'm really happy, my horse jumped great. This is only my second grand prix win."
Michael Vaillancourt designed today's course that became a true test of time. There did not seem to be one fence that the riders found faults at, but the biggest faults were found on the clock. Six riders completed clear rounds but did not advance to the jump-off due to time faults. The most difficult part of the course was a triple combination that began with a triple bar, followed by a liverpool to a vertical, and after the triple combination the riders continued to a very large oxer.
Christine McCrea and Vegas, owned by Candy Tribble and Windsor Show Stables, were the first horse and rider combination to complete the first round without any jumping faults or time faults. The pair also left all the rails in the cups during the jump-off but they crossed the finished line in 47.79 seconds, just a fraction over the time allowed to take one time fault and earn the third place ribbon. Margie Engle and Hidden Creek's Coraya Z entered the ring next and stepped up the competition by also completing a clear round. Their time of 45.73 seconds was well within the time allowed and they took home the second place award.
McLain Ward knew he was going to have to be fast and clear to win the class with Sagamore Farms' Phillipa so he chose to take a tight inside turn to fence four, a tall vertical, but their risk would bring down the rail. Their time of 39.68 seconds set the pace and they were awarded the sixth place prize. James Billington tried to catch Ward's time with Midnight Lady, owned by Deeridge Farm, but they also had the rail at fence four and they stopped the clock at 40.18 seconds, just over Ward's time to earn the seventh place ribbon.
Leslie Howard and Lennox Lewis II entered the ring next and also took the tight inside turn. The crowd breathed a sigh of relief as they left the fence standing but the pair unfortunately took the first rail of the double combination for a four fault score. Howard and Lennox Lewis II did beat Ward to the finish line in 39.67 seconds to take home the pink ribbon.
Hofmann and Corona stepped into the ring after Howard. Hofmann knew that to win the class she would have to be clear and beat Engle's time, and that is just what she did. Hofmann and Corona took the inside turn and left all the fences standing, to race through the finish line in 42.02 seconds and take over the lead.
"A lot of the riders were doing five strides from the first fence to the second fence, but I held her back for the six," noted Hofmann. "Doing the six that allowed my turn back to fence four to be just little bit nicer and I still had her on her hind-end so I didn't have to worry too much about her hitting it in front. After that there were a few places you could gallop and I wanted to gallop where I could gallop and make my turn-backs smooth. There was an option where you could do a real forward seven or a regular eight to the last fence and I chose to do the eight to be a little bit careful there but it really paid off in the end."
Hofmann's jump-off plan proved to be the best of the day despite having two more horses following her in the jump-off. Kent Farrington and Uckeo, owned by RCG Farm LLC, had unfortunate rails at the second fence and the last fence to earn eight faults and take home the eighth place award. Ali Wolff and Lanoo, owned by Blacklick Bend Farm, came the closest to catching Hofmann as they sped through the course. The crowd cried out when the pair caught the rail at the very last fence, despite having the fastest time of the class, tripping the timers in 38.52 seconds to garner the forth place ribbon.
"Corona is a superstar; I've come a long way with her from when I first got her. that I know her 100% and she knows me 100%," Hofmann said. "When I make mistakes she covers up my mistakes and when she makes mistakes, which isn't very often, I try to help her out. I just think her and I make a really good team, and I think what she lacks in scope, she makes up in heart."
Hofmann had a wonderful stay in Tampa saying, "It has been really, really nice here. There are lots of places to ride and Corona loves the indoor ring. Everyone is very nice and it's very laid back. It's just very nice to be here and nice to end with this win."
The Tampa Equestrian Festival will conclude it's third week of competition, the Tournament of Champions, on Saturday, April 4, with the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational. This year's event is being held at Raymond James Stadium and will begin at 7 p.m. The $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational is the crown jewel of show jumping and will feature the world's premiere equestrian athletes competing for one of the sport's richest purses.
For more information please visit http://www.stadiumjumping.com
Photo Credit: Rebecca Johanson-Hofmann and Corona had the quickest clear jump-off round to win today's $35,000 Grand Prix of Florida at the Tampa Equestrian Festival. Photo © Rebecca Walton/PMG. Photograph may be used only in relation to this PMG press release.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/rebecca-johanson-hofman-florida-04-09.html">Rebecca Johanson Hofmann and Corona Claim $35,000 Grand Prix of Florida Victory</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com