It’s unbelievable that we’re already at Fair Hill again, with a chill in the air and the leaves beginning to fall. There’s a palpable level of excitement in the air every year for this event, perhaps because it generally marks the end of upper-level eventing for the year on the East Coast, perhaps because the horses who finish here are often the horses we see at Rolex next year. Whatever it is, it’s Fair Hill fever.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the horses in this field are fairly experienced. Many have already attempted a CCI3* before and if they haven’t, they’ve likely competed at several CIC3* and Advanced events. We’ve got quite a healthy contingent from the West Coast who are ready to be challengers if they can conquer the terrain, and surprisingly the weather looks golden this year.
The dressage test will be 2015 FEI 3*-B. Derek di Grazia, who designs several West Coast courses as well as Rolex and Bromont, will be the course designer again this year, while Sally Ike returns for the stadium fences.
1. Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border: This striking gelding is difficult to bet against these days, although he has had an occasional blip at this level. Still, a mostly consistent cross country record combined with supremely strong dressage and show jumping phases means this horse may better his second place finish at this event last year.
An average of 44.5 on the B test is a hair over their typical average, but laying that down would put these two right near the top from the get-go. Across the country, these two average only 6.0 time penalties when putting in clear rounds, but finished Derek’s course here last fall only two seconds over the optimum time. In eight rounds of stadium Cooley Cross Border has accumulated a grand total of zero rails, so don’t look for him to have a mistake in the stadium phase. A final score right around 50 would give this horse yet another win in his young career.
2. Hannah Sue Burnett and Under Suspection: Hannah Sue and this mare have looked incredibly promising together in the time they’ve been paired up, and despite a blip and retirement in the slop at Morven Park two weeks ago, they are likely to make a splash this weekend. Another horse with the ability to do very well in all three phases, Hannah Sue and Under Suspection will be a pair to watch over the coming years.
This pair averages 47.7 on this test, which is almost bang on their overall average. Although they accumulated 13.2 time penalties over Derek’s CIC3* course at Bromont, their overall average across the country is only 4.8 time penalties. A strong tendency to jump double clear will serve them well on the final day, and second place would be their reward for a final score in the low 50s.
3. Amber Levine and Carry On: New this year to the Advanced level, Carry On has built himself quite a strong record out on the West Coast, most recently winning the Copper Meadows CIC3* by finishing on his dressage score. Although he has yet to test the terrain out east, a similar performance to his usual efforts would put this horse up inside the top three this weekend.
Carry On does not favor this particular test; his average of 50.6 on it nearly four points higher than his overall average. He could make it up on the cross country, as long as he can match his overall average of 2.8 time penalties while contending with the Fair Hill terrain. Overall this pair does tend to put in clear show jumping rounds, and in particular has yet to have a rail when it’s the final phase. A final score less than a point behind Under Suspection would put Amber and Carry On in third.
4. Heather Morris and Charlie Tango: This pair is that has built up a strong West Coast record in the horse’s first year at Advanced and come East to try their mettle against the best in the country. While the terrain of Fair Hill will be new to Charlie Tango, his strengths in the other two phases will likely make up for it.
Strong on the flat, this pair’s average of 46.3 on this test is just a touch below their overall average. Although they accumulated 23.6 time penalties over their only Derek di Grazia course, they typically move much faster across the country, averaging 8.4 time penalties overall. Don’t look for this pair to have a rail or a time penalty come Sunday; they have yet to have any type of fault in the stadium phase.
5. Phillip Dutton and Mr. Candyman: Mr. Candyman has had a fantastic fall, putting in almost two identical shows in all three phases to top the Plantation Field CIC3* and finish in third in the Advanced at Stable View. This weekend he’ll be looking for his second CCI3* qualification to gain additional experience at the level.
An average of 49.0 on this test is pretty par for the course for this pair. Although this will be the first time Mr. Candyman has seen either course designer, he does average only 5.6 time penalties across the country. He is also a careful jumper, trending towards clear rounds with only the possibility of one time penalty. A final score in the mid-50s would put this horse inside the top five.
6. Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready: Phillip only stepped back into the irons with I’m Sew Ready last month, but they’ve already had a quality fall season with top ten finishes at Plantation and Stable View. Although they haven’t quite yet matched their cross country pace of a year ago during the last time they were partnered together, now would be the time to press the pace.
I’m Sew Ready favors this test, averaging a 46.0 on it, which is more than two points better than his typical average with Phillip. This pair put in only 4.0 time penalties over Derek’s Pine Top course in 2015 but tend to average closer to 6.0 time penalties. I’m Sew Ready does average one rail in stadium, which would drop him down outside the top five this weekend with a final score less than half a point behind his stablemate.
7. Will Faudree and Pfun: Pfun stormed back from a disappointing performance at Blenheim to take a top finish at the wet and muddy Morven Park event. With a strong run under his belt, he’s ready to take another crack at a CCI3*.
Pfun averages a 50.0 on this test, which will leave him stalking the leaders after the first phase. This horse averages 7.2 time penalties over Derek di Grazia courses, which is on par with his overall average pace. Will and Pfun are very good show jumpers and haven’t had a rail since early in this horse’s career. Look for them in seventh with a final score in the mid-to-high 50s.
8. Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo: Hawley and Jollybo are making just their second start at this level together, having finished an impressive third at the Rebecca CCI3* in their first go at the level as a pair. Of course, Hawley and Jollybo are both very experienced at this level, and it shows as their partnership has meshed in lightning-fast time.
Hawley and Jollybo scored a 53.9 in this test at Rebecca Farm. They finished inside the time there and added only one rail to their dressage score. Neither horse nor rider is stranger to the terrain out east, so if they can match their last performance in all three phases, they should be flying home with a top 10 finish here with a score less than a point behind Pfun.
9. Buck Davidson and Park Trader: Park Trader had a bit of a rough spring but bounced back after Rolex to run well at three Advanced events this summer. Although he and Buck took a tumble on cross country at Plantation Field, they are still one of the most experienced pairs in the division, so don’t count them out.
Park Trader averages a 49.0 on this test, significantly lower than his overall dressage average. Similarly, he also tends to run Derek di Grazia courses much faster than his typical pace, averaging only 8.4 time penalties when completing the courses clear. To top it off, he also averages a clear round with only one time penalty over Sally Ike’s show jumping designs, while overall he trends towards having one rail. Three strong phases from him would put this pair in ninth with a final score in the high 50s.
10. Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo: Landmark’s Monte Carlo has had a light season since putting in a tremendous cross country performance at his first four-star at Rolex, running at Aachen CICO3* and the American Eventing Championships, winning the Plantation Field CIC2* and doing the combined test at Morven. He should be full of running for Lauren come Saturday.
Landmark’s Monte Carlo has been chipping away at the dressage and currently averaged a 28.4 on this test. A fairly quick horse, he averages only 6.4 time penalties overall, although he did clock in only 2.8 over Derek’s Rolex course earlier this year. Although he has jumped clear over his only Sally Ike course, this horse tends to average one rail down on the final day. Look for this pair to round out the top tend with a final score just under 60.
Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous: After a hiatus of more than a year from this level, RF Scandalous has returned to the scene, most recently winning the Intermediate division at the AEC. With only one three-star completion under her belt from the 2015 Plantation Field CIC3*, it’s difficult to predict with any certainty how this mare will perform.
However, if she comes anywhere close to her past performances, she could absolutely dominate this weekend. Her dressage average over three tests is in the low-40s, she’s had less than 30 seconds of time in the two runs she completed, and is quite an excellent show jumper to boot. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see this pair finish at the top this weekend.
THE DARK HORSE
Marilyn Little and RF Demeter: RF Demeter has been very strategically competed this year, with Fair Hill being only her fourth start at this level for 2016. After a disappointing fall at Rolex, Marilyn proved that RF Demeter still has what it takes by placing a strong second at the Great Meadow CICO3* against the best the U.S. had to offer.
Despite this pair’s incredibly dominant CIC3* and Advanced record, they have struggled at the CCI3* and CCI4* levels in recent years, finishing clear across the country at two of six attempts since 2014. If they regain their CCI mojo this weekend, they’ll be right up inside the top three.
Ryan Wood and Powell: It’s difficult to really call Powell a sleeper with two high profile wins this year, but the reality is that Powell is still in his first year of competing at this level, and there’s a lot more to come from this pair.
The dressage chops are there and are only going to get better. Powell has proven he is a one-or-none horse in the stadium, and as time goes on he is likely to get more and more consistent about putting in a double clear. Thus far, Ryan has been very strategic about where he has pushed the pace on cross country, saving the speed for the shows that are important. If Ryan decides to push the pace this weekend, we’ll be seeing Powell finish near the top.