A record prize pool of $100,000 is on offer at the inaugural Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event, with the venue aiming for four-star status in 2018.
If approved, the CCI4* would be the second event at that level in North America and the seventh in the world, joining Rolex Kentucky, Badminton, Luhmühlen, Burghley, Pau and Adelaide.
The purse for the inaugural Thanksgiving event (Nov. 24-27) is the highest amount offered by any recognized event below the four-star level in North America.
Organized by Equiventures and featuring 2012 London Olympics Eventing Manager Alec Lochore as Event Director, the OJC will host a CIC3*, CCI2* and CCI*, which will unveil new cross-country courses from world-renowned designer Mike Etherington-Smith and Olympian Clayton Fredericks.
Ocala Jockey Club owners Erik and Pavla Nygaard said they were excited to be bringing top-level eventing to Ocala.
“This level of prize money fits with our desire to attract top eventing riders and will position the competition as one of the sport’s premier destination events for years to come,” Erik Nygaard said.
As Thoroughbred racehorse owners and breeders, the Nygaards have also earmarked a portion of the $100,000 in prize money to reward the top-placing Thoroughbreds competing in the Thanksgiving event.
About 200 acres of the 950-acre Ocala Jockey Club property serve as a Thoroughbred training farm, and 400 acres have been set aside to build a cross country course and arenas to host a competition of this magnitude. The facility also includes a 9,700 square-foot clubhouse and rental townhouses.
Equiventures CEO Richard Trayford said that while Florida was notoriously flat, the jockey club’s grounds were not. “We’ve got beautiful, hilly country at this facility. The turf and terrain is suitable, and the climate is always great. We have a chance to create competitions that won’t conflict with the rest of the international calendar and will entice foreign riders to come here. We want to make the U.S. the place to come.”
It was when four-star event rider Jennie Brannigan rented one of the townhouses during the winter season two years ago that the Nygaards were first introduced to the idea of developing part of the property to host a prestigious eventing competition.
Construction is well under way on the new eventing facility, with Tyson Rementer and Levi Ryckewaert building the cross-country courses. Four-star show jumping designer Richard Jeffery is designing the stadium courses and also developed the facility’s site plan. CIC3* cross country course designer Mike Etherington-Smith is also consulting with the overall event planning.
Trayford believed professional event riders should be afforded the same opportunity to compete for a substantial amount of prize money like athletes in any other top sport.
“Event riders need the opportunity to earn enough at a competition to make a living out of being a competitor,” Trayford said. “We want to contribute to the goal of having professional riders be focused on competing.”
He said the event’s timing around Thanksgiving was to “capture that Black Friday urge to rush out and do Christmas shopping and be together as a family”.
“You have your Thanksgiving dinner, and then then you’re looking for something active to do. We’ll offer fabulous shopping and entertainment with the goal of getting a good crowd for the final event of the season.”
Ticket sales for the 2016 Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event will open June 1, 2016.