With the dust settled at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International, the top three in the CCI3* and CCI2* gathered for a press conference to share their thoughts on a cross country day that certainly took no prisoners.
Boyd Martin, who holds the overnight lead in the CCI3* with Master Frisky, thought this year’s course was particularly tough — maybe even too tough — saying “it makes Boekelo look like a two-star.”
“It’s the most prestigious three day event in America. I would hold winning this event as important as anything else I’ve accomplished,” Boyd said. “From the rider’s point of view, this is the Hawaiian Ironman. That’s why great horses and great riders come here and go on to do wonderful things later in their careers.”
But he’ll likely need to leave all the rails in the cups tomorrow to win, as second-placed Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda are notoriously strong in show jumping. Unfortunately, it’s not Master Frisky’s best phase.
“When I was in France (for WEG), Michael Walton came over and jumped him for me and gave me a couple pointers with him,” Boyd said. “He’s a got a good jump; he jumps really big behind and sometimes jumps over himself. We’ll just do the best we can.”
Redemption proved sweet for Jennie today, as she conquered the double corner combination that caught out Cambalda last year to put herself less than a rail out of the lead. “It was nice to feel like I pulled the trigger on the day,” she said.
Jennie has been very stoic about the struggles she and Cambalda have faced in the past year. After Fair Hill and her technical elimination Rolex, she said in an emotional moment during yesterday’s press conference that she felt like she’d been “kicked in the teeth” after those events.
She’s been exercising racehorses for Michael Matz at Fair Hill’s training track — as well as galloping Cambalda and Henry on the track as part of their fitness regime — and she said her track family and routine have ultimately proved to be her saving grace.
“It’s hard when you’re up and coming and you’re supposed to be a star and you let everyone down, and you beat yourself up, and it’s been this thing to make me realize I just love horses. I love riding good horses,” Jennie said.
Caitlin Silliman also came into cross country day with demons to conquer, as she fell from Remington XXV last year in the two-star and has battled runouts with Catch A Star this year. So when it came to how she prepared mentally, she said she simply knew what she needed to do.
“She’s a very good cross country horse. If I ride her well, she goes well. If you give her confidence in the first five fences, she builds the whole way around,” Caitlin said, and that’s what happened today, with “Hoku” skipping around to move them from 15th up to third.
Though Boyd made it clear winning Fair Hill would mean a lot to him, you can’t help but get the impression he wouldn’t mind seeing a blue ribbon pinned to Cambalda or Catch A Star’s bridle tomorrow.
“It’s a very heartbreaking sport, this sport,” Boyd said. “These girls have had so many reasons to wander off and quit. They’ve worked very, very hard and gone beyond what normal people would do to get here.”
Victoria Jessop, who leads the Fair Hill CCI2*, has had an equally long road to get here with Desert Mystery, an off-track Thoroughbred who raced over fences and came to her as a 3 year old.
“We have a great partnership now, but it took a long time because he needed it mentally, but it was a real reward to put it all together,” she said. “He gave me a great ride. Cross country is his forte; he loves it.”
Show jumping is not the horse’s strong phase, as he’s not the most careful jumper, Victoria said. “We’re working on it, but it would definitely be our crux. It’s getting better, and we’ll give it out best shot. I’m riding the wave right now and enjoying it.”
Julie Richards is also enjoying the ride with Urlanmore Beauty, who did Young Riders with Sarah Kamensky in 2011 and has since been sold to Asa Cooper. When Asa decided to focus on college, the horse went to Julie to compete.
She only started riding him in July, and when he finished cross country at the American Eventing Championships with 5 time penalties on a 6 1/2-minute course, Julie knew she needed to step up her fitness game. The hard work paid off with a double clear today to put her in second place in the two-star.
“He’s Irish, and that’s why I lot of us like to ride those horses, because they just keep galloping,” Julie said. “That’s why I drove 17 hours to get here. You never know when they’re going to step up, and I’m thrilled he did.”
Cooley Cross Border also stepped up today with Kim Severson in his first CCI2* to jump double clear to move to third place, which is particularly noticeable since he’s battled blips on cross country this season.
“I just had to get it right today. That was pretty much my thing,” Kim said. “He is usually very straightforward, but I’ve made some mistakes that was just me not riding well, so I needed to ride well, and I did that, and he was very good.”
The final horse inspection starts bright and early at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, so be sure to tune back in first thing in the morning for live tweets during the jog. There’s still much more to come from Fair Hill. Thanks for following along today.