Ocala, Florida – Francois Lamontagne dominated the first week of the Ocala Jumping Classic, winning both the $10,000 Blue Gate Farm Open Welcome on Friday, April 1, and, for the second year in a row, the $25,000 Ocala Horse Properties, LLC Grand Prix on Sunday, April 3. The Sixth Annual Ocala Jumping Classic is being held over two weeks, March 31 to April 3 and April 6 to 9, at Sharn Wordley Equestrian in Ocala, Florida.
In Friday’s $10,000 Blue Gate Farm Open Welcome, a total of 10 horse and rider combinations jumped clear over the track set by course designer Michel Vaillancourt to advance to the jump-off. As the fourth rider back, Lamontagne was clear in a time of 38.63 seconds that would prove to be unbeatable. The closest challenger was Laura Linback riding Whittaker, who stopped the clock in 40.33 seconds followed by Sarah Johnstone and Leonidas who were also clear in a time of 40.99 seconds to place third.
Sunday’s featured event, the $25,000 Ocala Horse Properties, LLC Grand Prix, attracted 26 entries with only five advancing to the jump-off. The first challenger, Linback riding As di Villagana, had a rail down at the second fence to eventually finish fifth.
Young Canadian rider Sarah Johnstone, 19, of Toronto, ON, was next up with Leonidas, the first of two horses she qualified for the jump-off. A clear round in a time of 36.40 seconds moved the pair into the lead before the defending champions, Lamontagne and Anton, then posted a clear effort in a time of 36.15 seconds to take over top spot on the leader board.
Colombian Olympian Manuel Torres rolled the dice with Chambacunero and while he had the time of 36.10 seconds, a rail two from home would leave him in third place. Johnstone returned to the arena with Starlet, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by North Ridge, but one rail down left the pair in fourth position.
For the second time in a three-day span, Lamontagne stood in the winner’s circle, collecting $7,500 in prize money for his victory in the $25,000 Ocala Horse Properties, LLC Grand Prix.
“He won the two classes I did with him this week, so I cannot ask for more!” said Lamontagne of Anton, his 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Lux Z. “I am very pleased with the results. He had a nice winter, he had two good placings in Grand Prix events at HITS Ocala, and he is getting better and better. He is at the top, ready to win.”
Of his jump-off strategy, Lamontagne noted, “I was third to go in the jump-off, and Sarah had already been fast and clear, so I had to go faster than her. It was a jump-off with a lot of options, and the course was by Michel Vaillancourt, who I really, really like as a course designer. I tried to be faster in some places. I didn’t go crazy, but I was fast. After me came Manuel and Sarah, and they had no choice but to take a big risk. Manuel did everything he could, but he turned too tight to the skinny. Sarah tried too, but had one down. I put enough pressure on that they made mistakes coming after me.”
Lamontagne, 27, hails from Saint-Eustache, Quebec, just north of Montreal. Based in Florida for the winter to compete at the HITS Ocala circuit, Lamontagne delays his return trip to Canada in order to compete at the Ocala Jumping Classic.
“Even if I wasn’t winning, it is still one of my favourite shows to go to,” said Lamontagne. “I always stay longer and wait to come to this show before I go back home. It is a really friendly show, and the organizers really take care of the competitors.”
Competition continues with the Ocala International running April 6 to 9 and features the $10,000 1.40m Blue Gate Farm Open Welcome on Thursday, April 7, and the $25,000 1.45m Ocala Horse Properties, LLC Grand Prix on Saturday, April 9. Catsy Cruz of Mexico will act as course designer for the second week, which offers 1m, 1.10m, 1.15m, 1.25m, 1.35m, 1.40m and 1.45m Grand Prix divisions, all held in a jumping arena with world-class Wordley Martin footing.
The Ocala Jumping Classic and Ocala International are co-produced by Hayes Co. and Sharn Wordley Equestrian and take place at Sharn Wordley Equestrian, home of New Zealand Olympian Sharn Wordley, located at 8040 Highway 326 in Ocala, FL.
$25,000 Ocala Horse Properties LLC Grand Prix – Final Results
1. Francois Lamontagne Anton 0:0 36.15
2. Sarah Johnstone Leonidas 0:0 36.40
3. Manuel Torres Chambacunero 0:4 36.10
4. Sarah Johnstone Starlet 0:4 37.62
5. Laura Linback As di Villagana 0:4 42.62
6. Alex Granato Gangsta 4
7. Taylor McMurty Just An Illusion 4
8. Aaron Vale Smartie 4
9. Jordan Coyne Corino 4
10. Aaron Vale Texola 4
Photo Credit: Canada’s Francois Lamontagne riding Anton won the $25,000 Ocala Horse Properties LLC Grand Prix for the second year in a row at the 2011 Ocala Jumping Classic. Chris and Rob Desino of Ocala Horse Properties, LLC, made the presentation to Lamontagne. Photo credit – ESI Photography