The leaves are changing, there’s (almost) a chill in the air, and this bizarre Indian summer can’t keep us from marking the advent of Fair Hill. Without a doubt this is one of the hallmarks of the fall season and the warm temperatures could help keep things interesting.
Despite the defection of several prominent horses due to overseas competitions, rider injuries, or just general bad luck, the field remaining features quite a strong proclivity for dressage. Over the past three runnings, the dressage average of the CCI3* field has varied from 55.86 (2016) to 57.00 (2014). The expected average of this year’s field is 52.18 which indicates a higher percentage of strong dressage contenders.
The past two runnings have been won by the pair who was first after the dressage phase, but with scores clustered tightly together at the top, it may be a more difficult feat to achieve this year. A full 18 of the 38 starters are expected to score sub-50, a full 47.3% of the field. In comparison, in the past three years the highest percentage of the field scoring sub-fifty was in 2016, when 11 of 48 starters (22.9%) scored in the 40s or below.
DAY ONE CCI3* CONTENDERS
Colleen Rutledge has really stepped it up a level with Covert Rights this fall, with a dressage average from their last three outings that has plummeted almost 10 points from a 3* career average of 49.57 down to 40.1. This fall, these two absolutely obliterated their prior personal best of a 42.3 (scored at Rolex Kentucky in 2015) by nine full points, scoring a 33.3 at the Richland Park CIC3*. At Morven Park, they again cracked into the 30s with a 39.7, but in between floated up to a more typical score for them of 47.3 at Plantation Field.
Consistency is the big question mark with these two; they will either perform well or knock it out of the park. One disadvantage they’ll have to overcome is an early order of go as the seventh out, something they also dealt with at Plantation Field. If the judges feel there’s room for more, they may leave some wiggle room in their scoring for the horses coming later in the order.
Heather Morris and Charlie Tango have always been proficient in this phase but like Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights, they’ve come out swinging for the fall season. Although their career 3* average sits at a 46.15, their last two outings (both in Advanced divisions) have plummeted into the FEI equivalent of the 30s, with a personal best at this level of 33.6 (FEI) clocked in at the Copper Meadows Advanced. These two shows put their three-show average at a 42.5. Charlie Tango will also have to overcome an early draw in the order, going right after Covert Rights.
Silver Night Lady completes the trio of horses who have vastly improved this fall. With Emily Beshear, this gray mare has dropped from a low-to-mid 50s horse to a low-to-mid 40s horse seemingly overnight. Their last three outings have averaged a 43.3 and their score of 42.8 (FEI equivalent) at Millbrook was a personal best at this level until they broke it at Richland with a 41.0. This pair will go midway through the order, which should be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.
Carlevo has shown flashes of brilliance in his career with Buck Davidson, with a tendency to rise to the occasion and lay down scores in the 30s at big moments. They did so at both Ocala Jockey Club CIC3* last fall and again at the Tattersall CCI3* this spring, but have been inconsistent in their brilliance.
This pair had strong tests at both Richland Park and Plantation Field CIC3* putting down consecutive scores in the low 40s, but bookended these performances with a set of high-40s scores at Millbrook and Morven. Carlevo will get a boost from going in as the last horse of the day on Friday, a position he also held at Plantation Field.
Ryan Wood and Powell are the epitome of consistency, with their scores over the past 12 months all within a three point range of each other. Despite having yet to hit the 30s at a 3*, this pair is consistently up with the leaders at every show. Their last three outings have netted an average of 44.8, almost bang on their two year dressage average at this level. These two do their test in the first third of the class, and should be a good indicator of whether the judges are feeling generous or not. Expect a solid mid-40s score from this pair.
Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti are the another incredibly consistent pair, hovering around the same scoring region as Powell. They’ve mustered solid mid-40s scores in their last 10 consecutive outings although they vary a touch more than Powell, ranging from 43.1 up to 47.2 in 2017. Pavarotti has only barely broken into the 30s on two occasions in his long career, but going as the next-to-last ride of the day won’t hurt any.
Although the remainder of the field is expected to score 45 and above, there are a couple of horses who could absolutely knock it out of the park on a good day. Clayton Fredericks and FE Ophelia have dropped their dressage score in each of their three successive outings, going from a 51.9 at Great Meadow CICO3* to a 39.5 (FEI equivalent) at Stable View Advanced. Another horse who has potential to lay down a big score is Wembley with Tamie Smith in the irons, who recently scored a 39.0 (FEI equivalent) at Advanced at Stable View as well. Finally, Buck Davidson and Park Trader can run the gamut on the range of scores from low-40s to 50s, but did throw down a 39.9 at the Rocking Horse Advanced in the beginning of the year.