Fair Hill isn’t known as a three-and-a-half star for nothing, and every year pairs come to test their mettle over the toughest three-star track in the country before trying for a four-star. Riders without funds to go overseas keep their four-star partners sharp by running this course and time penalties can quickly make the different between a top finish and one that merely qualifies.
Although the 2014 and 2015 runnings featured cross country times on average around 30 seconds over optimum, 2016 broke from the trend with a field average of only 1.94 seconds over optimum. A whopping 31.1% of cross-country starters finished inside the time last year, a sign of unusual dry conditions and firmer ground. Ground conditions firmly dictate how difficult it is to make the time over this course.
The CCI3* completion rate at Fair Hill has hovered around 71.68% over the past three years, with a large percentage of competitors retiring after having trouble. Last year every single pair who completed did so without jump penalties, but the completion rate itself dropped to 68.9%.
DAY TWO CONTENDERS
Kelecyn Cognac and Waylon Roberts are not generally the fastest pair on the circuit but there’s evidence to suggest this pair will be one of the fastest across the finish line this weekend. In their two previous CCI3* runs, both at Bromont, they finished an average of four seconds under optimum time. Additionally, they’ve finished inside the time in two of their last three runs, including Great Meadow CICO3* when they represented Canada on the Nations Cup team. When Waylon wants to go fast, these two go fast.
Fernhill Fortitude and Jenny Caras are a very experienced pair who save their fastest runs for the CCI levels. Despite averaging 10.4 time penalties overall when running clear over the last two years at the 3* and Advanced levels, these two have averaged only five seconds over optimum at their four career CCI3* runs. They’re also two-for-two on clear rounds inside the time at Fair Hill CCI3*, adding nothing to their dressage score after phase two for two consecutive years.
You can’t mention speed without mentioning Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. This pair has been speeding through every CIC3* they’ve run over the past two years, averaging only three seconds over optimum when you discount Morven, where they ran slow over the hard ground. Despite a long career at this level, Covert Rights hasn’t properly been able to showcase his speed at a CCI yet, having only tackled his first CCI3*, first CCI4*, and first Burghley. This will be his first time as an experienced horse at the CCI3/4* level, so don’t look for him to be hanging around. Colleen will be keen to stay on her dressage score heading into stadium day.
Timothy Bourke and Luckaun Quality have often used the horse’s massive stride to climb the leaderboard on cross country day. Their CCI3/4* average pace is two seconds under optimum time, discarding the Burghley where they lost a stirrup leather and incurred about a minute’s worth of time penalties fixing it. Having said that, these two have only actually made the optimum at two of their seven CCI3/4* attempts and average eight seconds over the time at the A/3* levels over the past 24 months.
Another that should be mentioned as a possible speedy round are Whitney Mahloch with Military Mind. This pair is attempting their first CCI3* for both horse and rider. They’ve had some cross country trouble in their short Advanced/CIC3* career, but when they jump clear, they jump fast. Whitney and Military Mind have accumulated only 1.6 total time penalties in four clear Advanced and CIC3* rounds, with all four seconds over optimum coming at Red Hills, a notoriously difficult venue at which to make the time.This pair has capacity to have a quick, clear run in their rookie attempt, as long as they jump through all the flags clear.