Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti leapt back into the lead at Great Meadow International presented by Adequan thanks to jumping one of seven clear show jumping rounds inside the time to remain on their dressage score of 44.0.
Pavarotti, a 15-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Don Good, stayed relaxed in the buzzing atmosphere, which Jessica said allowed her to pilot him to their third clear show jumping round at CIC3* level this year.
“I thought it was a super technical course,” Jessica said. “It asked a lot of questions of the riders and the horses. I was thrilled with the way he handled it today.”
A slew of spectactors in The Plains, Virginia braved the afternoon heat to watch the 30-horse field take on Marc Donovan’s show jumping track, and they certainly weren’t disappointed as poles fell all throughout the course.
Phillip Dutton and John and Kristine Norton’s I’m Sew Ready, who led after dressage on a personal best of 42.0, pulled one rail when the 13-year-old KWPN gelding got a bit strong coming to a jump off a tight left-hand turn.
“I thought it was a great course,” Phillip said. “I’m guessing Marc didn’t think people would make the tight turn after fence 3, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure on with the time … The faults were spread around pretty evenly, so I think Marc should be pleased.”
Adding four faults dropped Phillip and I’m Sew Ready one spot on the leaderboard to second on 46.0, but Team USA remained in the lead in the Nations Cup standings. The other U.S. team members — Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda, Lynn Symansky and Donner, and Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie — all jumped clear rounds inside the time.
Jan Byyny and Inmidair, an 18-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred gelding she owns with her parents Dick and Jo, also jumped one of the seven clear rounds inside the time to remain in third place on 46.6, continuing their cracking comeback to the highest level of the sport.
Jennie and Cambalda, a 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Tim and Nina Gardner, moved up two spots on the leaderboard to fourth place on 48.2. Nicky Roncoroni and Watts Burn also moved up two spots on the leaderboard to sit in fifth place on 48.6 as the highest-placed British combination.
“He has a slightly unorthodox style, but he just has a heart of gold and he really wants to try and do it for you,” Nicky said of the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Lorna McWilliam and Janey Barclay Roncoroni. Nicky produced “Watty” from an unbroken 3-year-old, and they already have a strong Nations Cup finish on their record this season, having finished fifth at Tattersalls in June.
“I have two horses that run along the same level, and one is a very fancy grey horse who generally gets all the attention in the barn,” Nicky said. “Watty sulks along in the background, but actually he’s really risen to the fore in the last six months or so.”
Looking to the Nations Cup standings, Team USA leads after dressage and show jumping on 143.1, with Team GB in second on 155.6 and Canada in third on 156.2. With just 12.5 penalties separating the teams, time will prove all important as horses and riders take on Mike Etherington-Smith’s course tomorrow.
Only four combinations caught the optimum time last year, and Jessica said she expects the clock to play a key role tomorrow as well. “I think it’s going to take a lot of smart riding and using the gallop lanes when you can, and making sure you take time for the combinations when they come up.”
As for how she thinks Pavarotti will handle the course in his first run since Kentucky: “I think he’s going to be really ready to run tomorrow … He’ll probably be thinking these jumps are smaller, but I think the technicality of it is right up there alongside Rolex.”
Phillip said he thought the course is a good one for this time of year, when many horses are running for the first time since a spring CCI and gearing up for a major fall event. “It’s not over the top but it’s a challenging course. The footing should be good. There are a lot of ups and downs in the undulations and small turns, so the time won’t be easy to get.”
Nicky gave huge praise to the course builders, Travers and Graham Schick of Cross Country Hardware, and Bobby Hilton, who has meticulously cared for the turf at Great Meadow for the past three decades.
“It’s just exquisite course building so all credit to them,” Nicky said. “You should be able to let (the horses) run where you can. It is twisty in places, and mine is very strong, so I know I’m going to have to be on my guard.”
The stage is set for a thrilling finale starting tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. EST. You can watch live on USEF Network and FEI TV, and EN will also be running live cross country updates. Click here to catch up on all of our #GMI2017 coverage so far.
As always, check Instagram for bonus photos! We once again have to send a huge shout out to the entire organizing team behind Great Meadow, plus all of the volunteers who set the jumps and drive the shuttles and empty the trash. The event couldn’t happen without you! Go Eventing.