MARION COUNTY, FL— Marion County community leaders announced the completion of phase II of the Walk of Champions experience, which provides locals and visitors the opportunity to discover the history behind Ocala/Marion County’s most famous horses and equestrians. Twenty-four bronze plaques now adorn two sidewalk blocks adjacent to Ocala’s Historic Downtown Square, each honoring a nationally recognized equine champion connected to the county. The community celebrated the installation of the plaques at public ribbon cutting at the sidewalk in front of Mark’s Prime Steakhouse in Downtown Ocala on March 7.

The project to create and install the plaques emerged from a partnership with the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership, the city of Ocala and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.

Each plaque, which the city of Ocala installed at the beginning of February, includes the name of a nationally famous horse with local connections, key career highlights, and honors and awards achieved.

Thoroughbred horses are honored on the sidewalk along South Magnolia Avenue, adjacent to Mark’s Prime Steakhouse. Champions from a variety of other esteemed breeds are recognized along the sidewalk by Southeast Broadway Street, adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Just like Hollywood, Calif. has its stars celebrating celebrities, Ocala/Marion County, aka the Horse Capital of the World®, has a walk filled with horse celebrities.

The Walk of Champions is a two-part interactive experience. In addition to the physical plaques, the OcalaMarion Travel Guide phone app  features a Walk of Champions digital experience that launched early last summer. The Walk can be accessed from the Horse Capital of the World® section of the app. The app features a Walk of Champions map of Ocala’s Downtown Square with map dots representing the location of each plaque. When users click on a map dot, they are connected to the backstory of that specific horse or equestrian, see photos and, in some cases, be able to watch video snippets.

“Our goal with this initiative is not just to create a great experience for residents and visitors, but also to highlight our equestrian community and its history, creating a cohesive sense of place we can all be proud to be part of,” Marion County Commission Chair Michelle Stone said. “We are thrilled to see this collaborative vision come to life with the plaques in the downtown square and the launch of our tourism app. We encourage tourists and locals alike to visit the area and experience the Walk of Champions.”

“What is most exciting about this project is the partnerships which have brought it to reality. Starting with the dream that began between the CEP and the city of Ocala to then partner with Marion County and the Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau. We recognize the historical contributions of Ocala/Marion’s thoroughbred industry, highlighted by equine partners like FTBOA, to make this amazing Walk even sweeter. We appreciate each partner and what they contributed to getting us to this point,” Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership President and CEO Kevin T. Sheilley said.

“Thoroughbreds have a long and rich tradition in Marion County, and they are a large part of why we are the Horse Capital of the World® today. To see our champion Thoroughbreds featured on the walk, ensures visitors and the next generation in our community gain a sense of the caliber of horses and horsemanship here,” Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association president and FTBOA’s Thoroughbred walk selection committee chair George Isaacs said.

“The FTBOA has championed this project for many years, and I am thrilled it has come to fruition,” Isaacs added. “I thank the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, VCB, and the CEP, for their foresight in adding an equine element to our city sidewalks.”

Return to the March 6 issue of Wire to Wire