Ocala to host Nations Cup finals for first time
The HITS Ocala Winter Circuit hasn’t started yet, but it already has made history. For the first time, the Fédération Équestre Internationale Nations Cup will be held in Ocala.
In its 105th year, the worlds most prestigious show jumping competition, the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup CSIO4* is part of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit held at the Post Time Farm.
The Ocala Horse Properties stadium will host top international competitors for the $200,000 cup, slated for Feb. 13, and the $150,000 Grand Prix on Feb. 15. The two competitions round out week five of the circuit, making Ocala the hub of top-notch international equestrian sports.
“Many people already think of Ocala as an equestrian-rich area, but not until now are we part of the Nations Cup discussion,” said Eric L. Straus, senior vice president of equine at HITS. “We are now the epicenter of international competition for that week.”
Named the ‘Ocala Winter Festival’, the week begins Feb. 9 and features several high-performance classes in the FEI Jumper Division, which are all qualifiers and culminate with the Nations Cup and the Grand Prix competitions at the end of the week. Competitors will rally for more than $400,000 in prize money and other worldwide qualifying opportunities.
“This is an opportunity to showcase Ocala/Marion County and HITS Post Time Farm as truly a unique environment for the horseman and top level equestrian sport,” said Straus.
The cup, which began in 1905 in London and San Sebastian, has been held in Wellington the last three years. Under supervision of the FEI since 1921, the cup has been known by many names, as a result of changes in commercial sponsorship. And now, 115 years later, Ocala is part of this rich history.
HITS, the organizer of the circuit, won the bid for the cup earlier this year and since the change in location from Wellington, Florida to Ocala was announced in October, they have been busy making some improvements and adjustments to their Winter Circuit game plan.
“We are very excited for what this means to Ocala’s horse country,” said Chris Desino of Ocala Horse Properties, sponsor of the stadium at the HITS farm. “To have the Nations Cup in our stadium is an honor and the cup will give this great horse town even more worldwide exposure.”
For example, the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium has new footing and stabling areas have been added. And, to accommodate the FEI events, the schedule for the 10-week U.S. Equestrian Federation rated circuit was adjusted.
Straus has also been hitting the road, scheduling visits with local city and county officials to garner support for promoting this high-profile international event to local businesses and the community.
“We are working to build the audience up,” said Straus.
He and his team have met with the City of Ocala Mayor, Marion County commissioners, the Ocala Star Banner, the superintendent of schools, the chamber and economic partnership and the Chief Financial Officer of The Villages. In addition to audience-building efforts, there is a need for a host family program for the influx of international competitors.
There is little doubt that HITS is more than familiar with hosting such high-profile events. In 1982 HITS produced its first circuit in Gainesville, Florida and today is a nationwide company with world-class hunter-jumper circuits in California, Florida, Arizona, New York and Virginia.
HITS produces the ‘Triple Crown of Show Jumping’ with three of the richest grand prix in the world including the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by MortgageCalls in Thermal, California, the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in Ocala, Florida, and the Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Wells Fargo in Saugerties, New York. The HITS Championship also hosts the HITS Saugerties $250,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Prix, as well as the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final and the Platinum Performance $250,000 Hunter Prix Final. More recently HITS created top-notch triathlon and running races throughout the United States.
“We are looking forward to Post Time Farm welcoming the world,” said Straus.