Welcome to Fair Hill weekend! With 55 horses currently entered in the CCI3* and 110 in the CCI2* (with another few waitlisted), this is certainly one of the busiest weekends North America has seen in a very long time, at least at these levels.
With the best of the best attending WEG, Burghley, Blenheim, Boekelo and Pau, we should get a chance to see some up and comers shine at this event. Fair Hill usually becomes a preview for what we’ll see next year at Rolex, and there’s usually at least one pair who shines at their first attempt at this level.
It’s fairly difficult to compare Fair Hill to any other event in the country. The East Coasters don’t usually see Derek di Grazia courses, except at Fair Hill, Rolex and Bromont. The West Coasters see more of Derek’s courses, but only at CIC3*, not CCI3*, and they certainly don’t see the terrain that Fair Hill offers up. The south sees comparable terrain at Poplar, but completely different course design. And if you add some rain and mud into the mix, it becomes a whole different ballgame.
And Fair Hill always has rain.
The scores are super tight, so I offer no guarantees. In all likelihood, you’ll see these names in a different order. Predicting the actual scores down to the last tenth of a point is not really realistic, and generally I only use the predicted scores to rank the competitors.
Without further ado, I offer you my best guesses for the top 10. You’ll also see a Spoiler, a Dark Horse and a Sleeper, too.
For the CCI3*, the dressage test will be 2009 FEI 3*-B. The course designer is Derek di Grazia, who primarily designs West Coast courses, as well as Rolex and Bromont. The show jumping course designer will be Sally Ike and the three dressage judges will be Sue Baxter, Wayne Quarles, and Christina Klingspor.
1. Kendal Lehari and Totally Frank: I named Kendal as my Sleeper pick for Richland, and I think Fair Hill will be her break-out event. Fair Hill is designed for jumping horses, and many a winner has come from behind to take the whole thing.
For the past three events, this pair has laid down scores in the low to mid-60s, with a high of 65.7 coming at Plantation, a venue known to have an extremely electric atmosphere. The Fair Hill ring, while still atmospheric, is a bit more relaxing for the horses, and Totally Frank has already proven his affinity for it last spring, when he performed the same test for a 53.1 in the Fair Hill CIC3*. I’ve used their average for the test to include both outliers, landing them on a 60.9, which will have them well down the order after the flat.
Cross country is where Kendal and Totally Frank will make up the most ground. While they have yet to go double clear cross country, half of their rounds are less than 10 seconds over optimum time, including a CCI3* over Derek’s Bromont course, where they came home with only 2 time penalties. They’re already qualified for Rolex, so they ought to be looking for a quick, competitive round here since there is no need to play it safe.
Finally, while this will be their first attempt at a Sally Ike show jumping course, Totally Frank is a very careful horse who most often jumps double clear. One caveat though: One of only two rounds in which he has had a rail occurred at Bromont after running a 10-minute cross country round. Since Fair Hill is a similar scenario, there is a chance this careful jumper could have one down.
If these two perform as they have been performing, they could take home the blue on around 62.1, finishing on their dressage score.
2. Mackenna Shea and Landioso: Mackenna and Landioso are already qualified for Rolex as well, and after a disappointing re-route from Boekelo, Mackenna will be out with something to prove.
It’s no secret these two shine on the flat, and with an average of 46.0 for this particular test, they ought to be right up with the leaders after the first phase. They’ll need the cushion that score gives them, as they average around 14.4 time penalties in the second phase. Recently, in the CCI3* at Bromont, they had 13.6 time penalties across Derek’s course, and while they may be out to go quicker this weekend, the terrain at Fair Hill will certainly make it a challenge for them to go much faster.
Mackenna and Landioso will be on or near the lead after cross country. This pair hasn’t yet jumped a Sally Ike course, but they do average clear rounds in the show jumping. However, they also tend to be a touch slow in this phase, and an average of four penalties will be just enough to drop them into second place, on a score of 63.6.
3. Matt Brown and Super Socks BCF: Matt and Super Socks BCF need a CCI3* to qualify Rolex, but they didn’t come all the way across the country to play it safe. Matt’s out to test his horse against one of the toughest courses the U.S. has to offer, and I don’t think we’ll see him dawdling around on cross country day.
Matt and Super Socks BCF are very solid on the flat, averaging a 53.4 on this particular dressage test. Although they have averaged only 1.2 time penalties over Derek di Grazia courses in California, I’ve opted to stick with their overall average of 6.4 time penalties for the level. It will be difficult to replicate their swiftest efforts over a longer course and with much more significant terrain. They will still move up significantly after cross country based on that score.
Another who hasn’t seen Sally’s show jumping courses, they nevertheless average only one rail and rarely have time penalties in the final phase. If they put in their typical performance, they should end up with a score of 63.8, hard on Mackenna’s heels.
4. Maya Black and Doesn’t Play Fair: Maya and Doesn’t Play Fair are hot off a win in a huge and competitive division in the Plantation Field CIC3*, and they have placed fifth or better at all but one of their events at this level. I don’t expect this streak to end here, so look for them in the top five.
Another pair who excels at the first phase, these two average a 47.5 for this test, which will put them in the hunt right off the bat. In their only CCI3* run thus far, they conquered Derek di Grazia’s Bromont course with 12.4 time penalties, which will lose them a bit of the advantage. They may have played it safer there, opting for the Rolex qualifier over a win; if they get closer to their usual average of 8.8 time penalties, they could easily contest for the win here.
This pair does tend to average one rail in show jumping, which occurred both at Bromont after a long cross country course and at Jersey Fresh over their one time jumping Sally Ike’s designs. The horse has jumped clear a couple of times though, which could be another avenue to the win.
If they put in their typical round, look for them in fourth with a 63.9, breathing down Matt’s neck.
5. Kurt Martin and Anna Bella: Kurt Martin and Anna Bella proved their affinity for this venue in the spring, winning the Fair Hill CIC3*. An unlucky minor trailer injury kept them from boarding the plane to Boekelo, and with Rolex qualifications already under their belt, they’ll be out for blood this weekend.
Anna Bella knocked it out of the park last April with a 46.5 on this test in this arena, but hasn’t shown the same brilliance since. There’s a chance she could repeat the performance, but if not, look for her to score closer to their test average of 54.5.
Kurt and Anna Bella very consistently average around 10 time penalties on cross country, but again, clocked around Derek’s course in the spring for their only clear round of the level. It remains to be seen if they can replicate that performance when the course is four minutes longer, so I’ve chosen to use their average here.
Finally, the mare is a very good show jumper, going clean over Sally Ike’s course at the Jersey Fresh CCI3* with only one time penalty. A round like that will let them sneak into fifth on a score of 65.5.
6. Buck Davidson and The Apprentice: Buck and The Apprentice have been together for a few years now, and they are almost always inside the top 10. This weekend should be no exception.
An average of 49.7 for this test for dressage will put this pair in the upper ranks after the flat. They haven’t attempted a Derek di Grazia course yet, but have averaged 16 time penalties overall at this level, which will knock them down the standings a bit. In their one attempt at a Sally Ike course, they jumped double clear, although they normally average a rail and a few time.
A double clear round will land them just outside the top five with a score of 65.7 to put the pressure on Kurt.
7. Boyd Martin and Crackerjack: It’s kind of surprising that with four rides in the CCI3*, the highest I have Boyd ranked is seventh. However, all four of his rides are attempting their first CCI3*, so Boyd will be looking to give them good qualifiers. On the other hand, Boyd is nothing if not competitive, so don’t expect him to take it easy either.
Crackerjack averages a 54.9 on this particular test. Of Boyd’s four mounts, only Crackerjack has experience over a Derek di Grazia course, clocking around with 12 time penalties at the April horse trials at Fair Hill in 2013. On top of that, Crackerjack has only ever had one rail at this level, and I expect to see a double clear from this pair come Sunday.
A 66.9 will leave them tied for seventh, but a slightly quicker round will help these two win the tie.
8. Elinor MacPhail and RF Eloquence: Ellie and RF Eloquence aren’t the most experienced pair in the field, but they have already started racking up a fairly impressive resume.
While they haven’t yet performed this test, they average an impressive 48.3 on the flat, so should be in the upper echelon after Friday. Other than one blip in 2013, they have a completely clear record across the country, averaging a solid 13.6 time penalties.
This will be a big test for the two, as they have almost exclusively ridden courses designed by Tremaine Cooper, so Derek’s course will be a big change. On the other hand, they have a couple shows under their belt at Poplar Place, where the terrain is somewhat similar to Fair Hill’s.
Right now RF Eloquence averages one rail and one time penalty over the colored sticks, although they haven’t tried a Sally Ike course yet. They will tie Boyd with a 66.9, but a slightly slower cross country will move them to eighth.
9. Cody Sturgess and Imperial Melody: This pair has flown well under the radar, and for a pair who has already qualified for Rolex, it’s rather surprising we haven’t heard their names yet. Cody and Imperial Melody aren’t perfect in any phase, but they are very consistently solid in every phase.
The FEI-3* B test is a bit tougher for the pair, and they average only a 64.5 after the dressage. However, they’ve proven they can go double clear cross country and did so over Derek’s Bromont CCI3* course. Generally a one or two rail horse, Imperial Melody had only one rail over their sole Sally Ike course.
If they can replicate those performances, Cody and Imperial Melody could be the surprise of the weekend, finishing on a 68.5 for ninth place.
10. Lisa Barry and F.I.S. Prince Charming: Lisa and F.I.S. Prince Charming are another pair who ought to sneak into the top 10 based on their jumping prowess.They are quite experienced at this level, qualified for Rolex, and this is their first trip to Fair Hill.
Lisa and Prince Charming trend to a bit higher scores, averaging a 63.8 on this test. They did run into some trouble in this phase in the electric ring at Plantation, but I think it’s likely that they’ll settle closer to their average this time.
These two are capable of a double clear cross country round, but ended up with 2.4 time penalties over Derek’s Bromont course last June. If they have only one rail over Sally’s show jumping course, as they did at Jersey Fresh, then they’ll pop into 10th on a score of 70.2.
Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda: I’m sure by now everyone is wondering why I haven’t ranked Jennie in the top 10, and it was strange to me even as I was doing the rankings. Jennie and Cambalda are a model of consistency with dressage scores usually under the 50 mark, mostly clear cross country rounds with less than 30 seconds in time penalties and the capability of going inside the time, and only a couple rails ever on their record.
Unfortunately, only twice in the past two years has Jennie attempted a Derek di Grazia course, and both times she had problems. At Fair Hill last year, she picked up an unfortunate stop in the arena, and at Rolex this year, she famously missed a flag after jumping the widest portion of a corner and earning a technical elimination.
Can Jennie break her CCI luck this year? She’s been undefeated this fall season, going two for two in the Advanceds at Richland and Plantation. These two are poised to do well, and if they break their bad luck streak, they will easily take home the win with room to spare.
THE DARK HORSE
Buck Davidson and Petite Flower: This little mare of Buck’s runs hot or cold, and there doesn’t seem to be much in between. It’s true that she is capable of winning here if she’s on form, and she is just hot off a win in Texas at the AECs. When Buck gets her around cross country with a clear round, she’s close to or under optimum time, and she very rarely has a rail.
Having said all that, the mare has an awful lot of numbers on her record, and they aren’t all 20s. Last year at Fair Hill, she racked up two stops before Buck retired, then re-routed to Galway Downs CCI3* and won the whole thing. She attempted the Jersey Fresh CCI3* after a rough spring campaign and again emerged with two stops.
Is it possible that Buck can bring her home clear here? Sure, it’s Buck after all. I wouldn’t count out a blue for Petite Flower with him in the irons.
Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights: For Morven’s predictions, I noted that Covert Rights was on the upswing and could win the CIC3* if they continued their improvements. They proceeded to do just that, and I think there’s a good chance they will continue to do the same at this show.
Covert Rights appears to be a horse that seems to have all the pieces, with the ability to score in the 40s on a good day and low 50s on a bad day, the carefulness to be a none-or-one rail horse, and the speed to make time on cross country. This pair had a couple of rough spots cross country this summer that began at Richland and tailed off at Plantation, which make their numbers look worse than I really think they are.
Colleen has all the tools she needs to put together a team horse with this one. She was on track before breaking at Morven last year, and I think she’s back on track now. A good performance here in all three phases will show these two are the real deal.