We just witnessed one of the most influential cross country days in history, with Pierre Michelet’s technical track totally turning the leaderboard upside down to leave Chris Burton and Santano II in individual gold position and Australia with a narrow margin atop the team standings as we look ahead to tomorrow’s show jumping.
The day started out fairly well in the grand scheme of things, with Jessica Phoenix and A Little Romance completing the course with 40 jumping penalties as the first out, then Astier Nicolas and Piaf de b’Neville jumping clear and inside the time as the second pair out. But things quickly came unraveled from there.
About 70 percent percent of the field completed the course, with just 40 percent jumping clear, which is the lowest clear rate in the short-format era according to EquiRatings. Just three combinations made the time, and they’re all sitting in the top three after cross country. Chris Burton piloted a relatively green Santano II, who has only competed in one CCI3* prior to this, to a foot perfect round, coming home bang on the optimum time to remain on his dressage score of 36.0 and move from second up to first.
There are just five sub-50 scores left, with Chris having the only score in the 30s and four riders still clinging to scores in the 40s. Reigning Olympic champions Michael Jung and Sam came home a whopping 14 seconds inside the time to move from fifth to second place on 40.9, the only German combination to jump clear. (Click over to our quotes report to read comments from Chris, Michael and the rest of the riders at the top of the leaderboard.)
Mark Todd’s speedy round with Leonidas II, which picked up just two time penalties, moved him from 17th to fourth on 46.0. That performance, combined with clear and fast rounds from Clarke Johnstone and Jonelle Price boosted New Zealand’s team from sixth up to silver medal position in the team standings.
Astier and Piaf de b’Neville’s clear inside the time moved them from 11th up to third place on 42.0, which helped keep the French team in medal contention. They dropped from second after dressage down to third place, with all four of their riders completing, though Karim Laghouag and Entebbe picked up a refusal at fence 11, the Pan Am Wall Combination.
Our own Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice are rounding out the top five on 46.8, moving up from 15th after dressage thanks to a clear round and 3.2 time penalties. Phillip pulled off the save of the day at 6a, the first of the tricky brush corners, when “Happy” seemed to misread the corner. Phillip had to pull off an impressive acrobatic maneuver to keep the horse’s front shoulders inside the flag, which he somehow miraculously did.
“It actually surprised me a bit. He must have misread it and didn’t understand it, and I had to hold him in. Then after that it was just trying to catch up to the time. He jumped beautifully after that. He wouldn’t be the fastest horse–he’s not a Thoroughbred–so it was a little harder to catch up, but he fought really hard to the very end and came home nicely,” Phillip said.
“I think everyone is pretty shocked (about how difficult the course was). Most of the Olympics haven’t been; the cross country hasn’t played quite that big a role. It’s probably not my favorite type of course, but it was the same for everybody, and it looks like Australia are way out in front.”
The U.S. Out of Team Competition
While Team USA started cross country day tied for sixth place with New Zealand, the U.S. will sadly not complete a team at the Olympic Games. In addition to Phillip and Mighty’s Nice’s fantastic round, the day started off super for the team, with Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery jumping clear with just 3.2 time penalties, which moved them from 35th up to sixth place on 50.9.
“That was one of the most physically demanding courses — you had to jump a jump, turn, accelerate. It was tiring, it was laboring, it was intense,” Boyd said. “Question after question after question, and you get through one tough jump and you come to another tough jump. I’m so thankful I was on an old racehorse from Kentucky because he kept firing the whole way home. He was definitely on empty coming to the last three and he just tried his heart out and jumped every jumped.”
Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen went out next, and their round was in trouble right from the start when Clark struggled to turn the horse toward the log into the first water jump. They were originally assessed 20 penalties there, though that was later removed from the scoreboard.
They then continued on but picked up a runout at 14A, the first jump at the Narrow Wood Piles, and another runout at 17B, the corner at the Palm Tree Question. That was three refusals and elimination, though the 20 penalties from fence 4A were later removed, changing Clark’s score to an R for retirement.
“He’s definitely not feeling himself. It’s an old problem he used to do a couple years ago that we found out how to fix, and obviously we missed it somewhere in his preparation,” Clark said. “It was an adjustability issue. He’s very difficult to make come back and then to turn to the right especially. We were unable to fix it before we got here. I thought everything really was OK and apparently it wasn’t. We didn’t know we needed to work on it.”
Lauren Kieffer and Veronica were having a beautiful round jumping out of stride and nailing their distances until the very difficult jumps at Malmesbury Cottage at fences 23 and 24. This was a very difficult line where riders had to jump the front corner of the big table at fence 23 and then execute a bending line to an angled gate at fence 24.
While riders like Michael Jung, Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton successfully rode the line, many others chose to take the long route, jumping straight across the table and then circling back to the gate. Lauren got onto an inside line and didn’t quite get the approach she needed to the fence, and Veronica caught her hoof and fell. Veronica is OK, and Lauren’s hand is currently bandaged while she waits on X-rays.
“I think she was being really good, and it seemed stupid not to go the straight way. And then she just kind of hit that with her right front. For a second I thought she might save it, but down we went,” Lauren said. “My job was to get a clean round, first and foremost, and it’s pretty disappointing to let the team down.”
You can read more comments from Team USA in our quotes report. Stay tuned for a full interview with Coach David O’Connor as we break down what went wrong in Team USA’s day.
Rebecca Howard Rises to the Occasion for Canada
Looking to Canada, they completed three of their four team riders and currently sit in 11th place in the team standings, with Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master putting in a super impressive clear round with 12.4 time penalties to move from 41st to 15th. That makes her one of the biggest movers on the leaderboard aside from Stuart Tinney and Pluto Mio, who moved from 58th to 14th with 2.8 time penalties.
“It’s a huge sense of relief coming in just to have jumped around clear,” Rebecca said. “The horse is an experienced horse. He’s so genuine and such a great jumper. He’s a pleasure to be on out there. I felt him being a bit careful out there in places, and I felt like I had to work pretty hard, harder than I’m used to sometimes on him. But even if we were a bit off coming into some combinations, he’s so genuine, and his knowledge and desire to do the job got us out. He tried his guts out to get through the flags.”
Jessica Phoenix completed with two runouts (at 17B and 23) and 35.6 jumping penalties to sit 41st on 127.6. “She was just a little bit shy coming out to this venue. She’s never really seen anything this big, so definitely I really had to get behind her. … Then honestly she dug down and she gave it her all, and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of A Little Romance today.”
Colleen Loach and Qorry Blue d’Argouges completed with two runouts (at 9 and 11B) and 45.2 time penalties to sit in 4th place on 141.7. “After I had my second stop, I was like ‘Colleen, you cannot have another stop; you’ve got to finish for your team.’” And that was my main goal, just finish — put the rest out of my mind and ride like I know I can ride.”
Kathryn Robinson had three refusals (at 8C, 20B and 29A) and was sadly eliminated. “I was a bit too cautious and a bit backwards, and I was a bit worried about people having fallen on the turns, and he’s a big horse. So I rode a bit overprotective, but we came back in one piece and we’ll do another competition. It’s just a bit disappointing for the team and for everyone involved.
Medals Far From Decided
Just 10.7 penalties separate the top three teams, with Australia in first on 150.3, New Zealand in second on 154.8 and France in third on 161.0. Germany sits 11.8 penalties behind in fourth place on 172.8. Just 9.2 penalties separate the top five individually. After a wild day of cross country in Rio, the Olympic medals are far from decided.
Looking to the other teams, Brazil sits well back in fifth place on 222.9 but still completed all four of their riders when Marcio Carvalho Jorge won a nail-biting appeal to the ground jury after originally being assessed as missing a flag at the final water complex. An impressive clear round from Carlos Parro and Summon Up The Blood, a British-bred off-track Thoroughbred, moved them from 33rd up to seventh on 51.3 to also help the team.
The Dutch sit in sixth on 238.6, with Sweden in seventh on 243.1 and Great Britain in eighth on 252.1. After a cross country day plagued with problems, Team GB slipped well down the leaderboard after sitting in fourth following dressage. Overnight leaders William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning were going beautifully before the horse came in too hot at the ski jumps at fence 20.
William tried to quickly take the long route after getting in trouble after A, but he was ultimately assessed with 20 jumping penalties. Gemma Tattersalls and Quicklook V, Pippa Funnell and Billy the Biz, and Kitty King (who unfortunately dropped her whip on a day when she really needed it!) and Ceylor LAN all picked up 20 jumping penalties.
Our California girl Lauren Billys, who is representing Puerto Rico as an individual, completed with two runouts at 11B and 25B and completed with 48.4 time penalties to sit in 46th place on 144.4. “ It was the biggest event we’ve done in our life. and we’ve done it at the biggest venue possible. This is our first four-star, and we decided to do it at the Olympics, so he was awesome. I had so much fun, and I’m really lucky to be riding that horse.”
I interviewed riders in the mixed zone all day (many thanks to Lorraine for transcribing the quotes and to Wylie for compiling them), so be sure to click here to read what many more of the riders had to say, plus more quotes from Team USA, Canada and Lauren Billys. You can relive all the action in EN’s open thread at this link.
Click here for a full break down on scoring. Despite the dramatic leaderboard, no serious injuries have been reported. The final horse inspection is at 8 a.m. local time/7 a.m. EST. There is no live stream, but we will be tweeting on @eventingnation. Click here for a full fence analysis on what happened where on course, plus an interview with U.S. Coach David O’Connor.