It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the final three-star of the season. This year seemed to absolutely fly by for me, and while I love doing these predictions, it is definitely a bit of a relief to put down my pen (keyboard?) and take a deep breath.
Galway is a very important event, particularly this year. As a pre-Olympic year, many horses are taking their last shot at obtaining that all important CCI3* here. Without that, they can’t go to a four-star next spring and will need to rely on stellar results at the three-star level to impress the selectors if they have hopes of making a team.
Galway is also a qualifier itself for the Olympics. A qualifying MER result here will allow the horse and rider pair to be eligible for selection for the U.S. team next summer. No matter what the category of rider, horses and riders must qualify for selection as a pair. Galway is the final Olympic qualifier for 2015, but there are eight more next spring.
The dressage test at Galway Downs is 2015 FEI 3*-A. The cross country course designer is Ian Stark, who also designs at Richland Park and Rebecca Farm. The show jumping course designer is Marc Donovan, who is currently the most popular designer for Advanced and three-star show jumping courses in the country.
1. Lauren Kieffer and Meadowbrook’s Scarlett: There’s been a distinct lack of Lauren’s name at the top of the U.S. leaderboards for the fall, but she has just returned home from her months abroad in England. She will return to U.S. competition with a bang, taking the win with her Pan American partner Meadowbrook’s Scarlett.
This mare scores quite well on the flat, averaging a 42.0 on this particular test. While she hasn’t seen an Ian Stark course yet, Lauren averages only 1.6 time penalties across the country with her. She does have the possibility of one rail over a Marc Donovan course, but should be able to maintain her placing with some breathing room. Look for these ladies to take home the win with a score in the mid-to-high 40s.
2. Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect: Sound Prospect has been consistently improving all year and is starting to look like a very good bet. Allie is re-routing to Galway after a fall from The Dark Mark on cross country at Fair Hill forced her to withdraw Sound Prospect.
This pair averages 49.5 on this test, which should be good enough to stalk the leaders. Another speedy pair, they average only 1.6 time penalties when running clear over Ian’s courses. Sound Prospect is a careful jumper who favors Marc Donovan courses, averaging a double clear round when attempting them. Allie and Sound Prospect should slot into second with a score just over 50.
3. Marilyn Little and RF Demeter: Marilyn has brought her longtime partner out west to tackle a new course, and as experienced as this mare is, it’s her first time over an Ian Stark course with Marilyn in the irons. This pair is very competitive everywhere they go and have won the last three events they’ve entered.
RF Demeter is extremely consistent on the flat, and her average of 48.8 on this test will serve her well here. Overall, this mare is extremely quick across the country and averages only 0.4 time penalties. While Marilyn has helped this mare improve to quite a good show jumper, she does average one rail over Marc Donovan courses. Look for this pair in third, with a score in the low 50s.
4. James Alliston and Tivoli: Our California-based British rider is back this weekend with his old favorite Tivoli. Tivoli is one of the top horses on the West Coast and will crack the top five for James.
Tivoli can score quite well on the flat, but tends to average a 51.6 on this test. However, this horse does average a double clear round over Ian Stark courses, which is no mean feat. A careful jumper, Tivoli jumped clear but with 4 time penalties in his only attempt over a Marc Donovan course. James will end up in fourth on a score in the mid-50s.
5. Phillip Dutton and Mr. Candyman: Phillip has a flown a pair of his horses out west, the more experienced Fernhill Fugitive and the greener but talented Mr. Candyman. With only three previous full runs under his belt, Phillip is asking Mr. Candyman to step up to the plate this weekend.
Mr. Candyman averages 47.5 on the flat thus far, but hasn’t done this particular test yet. This will be his first go at an Ian Stark course, but he has averaged 8 time penalties when running clear across the country, which would likely drop him down the order a bit. He has only had one rail in three Marc Donovan courses he’s jumped, so is a good bet to jump clear but perhaps with a couple time penalties. Phillip will round out the top five with a score in the mid-to-high 50s.
THE DARK HORSE
Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive: Fernhill Fugitive hasn’t had a cross country run since the Pan American Games after his plans for running at Morven Park were scuppered by heavy rainfall. With a proclivity for scoring sub-50 on the flat and a propensity to pull no more than one rail, this horse’s placing fully depends on how quickly Phillip chooses to push him. His record indicates that either he makes time or is very close to it, or goes along a bit slower, racking up double digit time penalties. If Phillip chooses to push for time, he’ll easily pop into the top five.
Mary Burke and Prince William: This pair tackled their first Advanced at Aspen last month and followed it up with a solid finish in their first CIC3*. Their dressage appears to be in the low 50s range, and they’ve accumulated a grand total of 1 time penalty across the country. While the horse appears to be a good jumper, the big question is show jumping time. In two rounds, this pair has acquired 18 time penalties in this phase. If Mary can quicken their show jumping pace, these two could be contenders.
Jacob Fletcher and Atlantic Domino: This pair had cross country blips on and off since the middle of 2014, but a year into their partnership, they appear to have ironed out the kinks. Their past two runs have been quick and clear, resulting in a top 10 placing at Richland Park CIC3* and, of course, a big win in the USEA Adequan Gold Cup Final at the American Eventing Championships.
Meanwhile, their dressage has dropped from consistent 50s to consistent high 40s — to the equivalent of a 41.4 at the Texas Rose Horse Park. This gray horse is also a snappy jumper that you can generally rely on to deliver a double clear show jumping round. This pair could be right up near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.