The Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event, a new competition to be held Nov. 24-27 in Reddick, Fla., will now boast the most prize money awarded to an eventing competition below the CCI**** level.
Equiventures CEO Richard Trayford, who runs four horse trials at the Ocala Horse Park each year, helped bring the new FEI-level competition to fruition, along with event director Alec Lochore, course designer Mike Etherington-Smith, and Ocala Jockey Club owners Erik and Pavla Nygaard.
The Nygaards were first introduced to the idea of hosting an event when four-star rider Jennie Brannigan rented a townhouse on the property two years ago.
“It was an alignment of the stars really,” said Trayford. “Erik contacted me and said, ‘Would you be interested in this property?’ Mike Etherington-Smith was over here to design Red Hills [Fla.], and I [asked him] to come down to the Jockey Club in Ocala and tell me what he thought. When he did, he dug his heel in the ground and said, ‘My God, this is a four-star venue.’ So we made our intentions known to USEF that we wanted to run a major event in Ocala. I contacted the mayor, and he said he would happily join the committee.”
The 950-acre property has put aside 400 acres to build a cross-country course and grass arenas for the November event.
Tyson Rementer and Levi Ryckewaert are hard at work building the cross-country courses, and Richard Jeffery, who developed the facility’s site plan, will design the stadium course.
Trayford said site work is about 2/3 complete.
“A lot of people assume that Florida is entirely flat, but there’s a band of land in my area two miles from the Jockey Club that all the farmers seem to know about,” said Trayford. “There’s a belt of land that stretches from Micanopy through Reddick called The Ridge, and it’s hilly and full of good quality soil, and it’s the perfect terrain for eventing.”
Trayford, who’s originally from England, said he’s also been inspired to host 6- and 7-year-old classes like Le Lion d’Angers in France. For the inaugural event, he hopes to offer special prizes for the top 6- and 7-year-olds in the CCI* and CCI**s.
The Nygaards, who are top Thoroughbred race horse owners and breeders, put up the $100,000 in prize money and plan to set aside some of it to be awarded to top Thoroughbred competitors.
“In a lot of sports, $100,000 is great, but it’s hardly a record breaker,” said Trayford. “HITS put on a $1 million grand prix. Eventing has always relied on an amateur ethos, to put it crudely. Our demographic is pretty wealthy, and they’re well funded by wealthy patrons, the horse owners. But like any sport, it’s got to grow up. I’ve felt for years that we’ve really got to step up to the plate, because you don’t want a sport that’s too elite and turns people off, and you don’t want athletes that are only in it because they can afford to do it. You lose a lot of talent.
“I’ve always been passionate about raising the prize money,” he continued. “You can only really do that at three-star and up because really, the public and the sponsors only want to get involved in the higher-level competition. Here we have for the first time in Ocala a very high-level competition, so it was only right that we throw out there that we would give a high level [of] prize money.”
Trayford confirmed that the event has put in a bid to host a CCI**** event. If awarded, Ocala would join the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** as the only other four-star in North America.
“I’ve often felt the rivalry between Lexington, Ky., and Ocala, Fla., is essentially a positive one—horse capital of the world, et cetera, and it’s something that could generate a lot of excitement,” he said. “We thought, if there’s one in Lexington, if we can get the other one in North America, let’s throw our hat in the ring and put our best foot forward and try to bring the other one to Florida.”