Tremaine Cooper was kind enough to take me around his CIC3* course at The Fork to talk a bit about his philosophy on building a key prep track for Rolex in a WEG year. It’s his second year on the job as course designer, having taken over for the 2013 event from previous designer Mark Phillips. Last year’s course caught out quite a few riders, particularly at the coffin complex. The coffin ran in the opposite direction last year, starting with the same log to ditch but including a skinny brush as the final element. You can see video of how it rode here.
This year, Tremaine has the coffin running in reverse, starting with a log to a ditch to two angled brushed separated by one stride. As he’s done in several places on course this year, he’s added an option at the D element, so riders can choose to ride “out into the next county” to take a skinny brush at D. But while it might save them from a runout at the direct D route, it’s going to be incredibly costly when it comes to time, so it will be interesting to see who chooses the direct route and who plays it safe. The angled brushes are designed to be an inviting question, and horses should lock on well if riders commit to their line coming off the ditch.
But that’s half the battle of being a course designer — when it comes to introducing new courses and questions, you’re either the hero or the villain at the end of the day depending on how those new elements ride, Tremaine said. This course in particular carries quite a bit of burden in the design, as it’s meant to prep riders for Rolex and — with its reputation as one of the more difficult spring CIC tracks and this being a WEG year — there’s also an added expectation of seeing prep questions for Normandy.
Luckily, Tremaine doesn’t disappoint there. The brand new mound complex at fence 21 toward the end of the course is designed to mirror a Pierre Michelet question — as mounds frequently appear on his courses — while delighting spectators and keeping riders kicking all the way to the very end of the course. The mound complex is the last major question on the track, and it’s built to be inviting but appropriately challenging for this point in the season. Riders will tackle a big table before going up the mound to a wide owl hole. Then they’ll descend the ramp in three quick strides to an angled skinny brush.
I chatted briefly with Sinead Halpin after her first walk around the course, and she said she thinks the mound is a good question — if riders can even get to it. She’s right in that there’s really a lot to do around the course. Both water complexes look equally tough, and Tremaine really keeps both riders and horses on their toes until the very end. Sunday will be a very exciting day indeed! Also, Tremaine’s delightful lurcher Bounce joined us on the course tour, and this is the part where I apologize in advance for missing a photo of fence 15 — a big brush table — because I may or may not have been taking selfies with my new canine friend. #sorryimnotsorry