The rider to beat would be Andy Kocher of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, riding USA Today, owned by MKO Equestrian. Kocher won the $10,000 Open Prix the day prior to Sunday’s class, as well as the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix in the first week of the series, along with several other top-five prizes.
"I really like the Holiday Series, it's a great few weeks to practice and get the horses out there, and the prize money is great for even the smaller weeks," said Kocher. "I thought Ken Krome did a good job all week in designing the courses. He put the jumps in the right spots and utilized the ring well to challenge some rails here and there, but he had a nice number clean in the jump-offs."
Eight horses and riders would advance over the first round course, designed by Ken Krome of Westminster, Maryland, to vie for the win in the jump-off— where half of the lot would gain clear rounds again.
"This was my first show with USA Today, he's a really great horse and is a seasoned competitor," said Kocher. "He's very experienced and has shown all over the world. I had just sold what was my best horse in the last year or so, so last week I was bumbed out, but we brought out our new horses and had a great week, so I've changed my outlook for the upcoming winter."
The first to compete over the shortened course was Christina Kelly of Aiken, South Carolina, and The Kingdom, owned by Andrea O’Brien. They flew through the course, laying down a solid, clear round in 37.266 to set the tone for the remaining field. When the class was finished, they would take home the second-place prize.
Next to garner a clear round as the third trip in the jump-off were the victors, Kocher and USA Today. They shaved a full two seconds off of Kelly’s time to move up the leaderboard with a time of 35.070, where the lead would remain.
"The jump-off was fast, and not knowing this horse as well, I just sent him quick to really see what he had in him," said Kocher. "After seeing Christina go, and she rode really well, I saw her horse had more jump ability then mine but I thought I could be quicker across the ground, so I went for it from the wire to the first jump."
Ontario equestrian Kim Farlinger entered fifth in the jump-off order to give the crowd another clean round. She piloted Charming Force B, owned by Kim Farlinger Stables Ltd., through the timers in 38.563, a round that would settle them into third place.
Matthias Hollberg, riding out of Middleburg, Virginia, was the final rider in the jump-off and the last to snag a clear round. Hollberg rode Aletta, owned by Hollberg Equestrian, to the finish clocking in at 39.363, just a second shy of Farlinger for fourth place.
The final five rounded out with Margie Engle and Indigo, owned by Gladewinds Farm, Inc. Coming off a victory in Friday’s $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, the two were prepped for success, but a heart-breaking rail at the final fence of the jump-off settled them in fifth in 35.797.
For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit www.HitsShows.com