We’re Back! EN’s Form Guide to the 2024 Defender Kentucky CCI5*

Bring on that beautiful chaos, because it is finally time to sit back and read up on the horses and riders of the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event! I’m sure, like us, many of you have been waiting all year for this pivotal weekend, and we can’t wait to see who emerges victorious come Sunday — but first, let’s take a peek at what each pair is bringing to the Kentucky table!

Our new format for form guides features some special trading cards on each horse and rider combination, where you will see some stats on each horse in the running at each 5* going forward, courtesy of our friends at EquiRatings. You’ll note that each card lists not only each pairing’s Top 3 Placing probability score (which can be found in the EquiRatings Prediction Centre), but also displays their average finishing score over the past 12 months. For horses without enough runs to average over the last year, their average final score at the level since 2008 has been used instead.

The EN team will be on the ground this weekend at the #BestWeekendAllYear, so stay tuned for much more, and be sure you’re following @kentuckythreedayevent and @goeventing on Instagram to keep in touch with all that this weekend will bring!

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Tickets] [Scoring] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

[Click here to download the Form Guide in PDF format]

Want to jump straight to your favorite horse and rider? Click the links below to jump to their section (the combinations are listed below in alphabetical order by last name; entries categorized by draw order):

James Alliston and Karma (USA)
Susannah Berry and Clever Trick (IRL)
Calvin Böckmann and The Phantom of the Opera (GER)
Rebecca Braitling and Caravaggio II (AUS)
Zachary Brandt and Direct Advance (USA)
Jennie Brannigan and FE LIfestyle (USA)
Jennie Brannigan and Twilightslastgleam (USA)
Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI (GBR)
Bruce Davidson Jr. and Sorocaima (USA)
Phillip Dutton and Azure (USA)
Phillip Dutton and Quasi Cool (USA)
Mia Farley and Phelps (USA)
Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way (USA)
Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me (CAN)
Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan (USA)
Matthew Grayling and Trudeau (NZL)
Elisabeth Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker (USA)
Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K (GER)
Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby (USA)
Hannah Sue Hollberg and Capitol H I M (USA)
Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir (GBR)
Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach (AUS)
Sara Kozumplik and Rock Phantom (USA)
Boyd Martin and On Cue (USA)
Andrew McConnon and Ferrie’s Cello (USA)
Andrew McConnon and Wakita 54 (USA)
Tom McEwen and JL Dublin (GBR)
Joe Meyer and Harbin (NZL)
Bobby Meyerhoff and Lumumba (USA)
Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus (USA)
Doug Payne and Camarillo (USA)
Doug Payne and Quantum Leap (USA)
Monica Spencer and Artist (NZL)
Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent (GBR)
Christoph Wahler and D’Accord FRH (GER)
Sharon White and Claus 63 (USA)


2: Sara Kozumplik and Rock Phantom (USA)

Sara Kozumplik has jumped straight out of the frying pan and into the fire with this year’s drawn order. After Philip Dutton and Denim withdrew from the event, Sara has found herself as the field’s new trailblazer with 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse Rock Phantom. There’s nothing quite like contesting your horse’s first CCI5* track and being the first out the start box. Having recently retired her previous 5* horse, Rubens D’Ysieux, from the upper levels of competition, all the pressure goes onto “Rocky” to perform at the top of the sport. It seems Sara is feeling hopeful that Rocky will step up to the level well. According to a statement she made on Instagram, “He tries so hard and feels so great!”

After taking over Rocky’s reins from Brazil’s Nilson Moreira Da Silva in 2022, Sara and Rocky have pulled off some great performances, including winning the 4*-S at Chattahoochee Hills, now called Bouckaert Farm. Despite the abnormal cross country penalty, Rocky has a pretty clean cross country record in terms of obstacle faults. So far, Sara has run him on the slower side with a few time faults being their norm. With show jumping being their toughest phase, the last day of competition will prove extremely influential for this pair.


3: Hannah Sue Hollberg and Capitol H I M (USA)

Best pal of Hannah’s long-time partner Harbour Pilot, her individual silver and team gold 2011 Pan-American Games ride, ‘Chito’ comes to Kentucky for his third CCI5* start. He’s relatively low mileage for his age, having only begun his international career in 2019, making his top-level debut at Kentucky in 2022, when an unfortunate rider fall ended his competition early. He returned to contest the 4*-S last year, finishing just outside the top-10, going on to really show his class at the 5* level later in the season with a 4th place at Maryland. He’s come out in great form this year with a win in the 4*-S at Bouckaert Farm a few weeks ago.

We can expect a low-30s score in the first phase — he put down a 32.4 at Maryland and a 30.8 in the 4*-S at Kentucky last year. Since 2020, he’s incurred cross country jumping penalties only twice in sixteen runs, both in the 2022 season. That year, Chito was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, but with the appropriate treatment there’s been a marked improvement in the gelding’s athleticism. In terms of cross country time, he’s likely to pick up a handful of penalties, but certainly not too many to put him out of the running. The final phase really highlights what a careful jumper this guy is — in 24 FEI competitions he’s had 15 clear rounds. It’s possible we’ll see this combination up there when all’s said and done at Kentucky.


4: Jennie Brannigan and Twilightslastgleam (USA)

Jennie Brannigan will be third in the order across the Kentucky bluegrass with her longtime partner “Comic.” His other nickname, “Grandpa,” belies his age — he’s just 14 — but instead speaks to his lovable, laid-back attitude in the barn. He’s been partnered with Jennie since he was four, climbing the ranks from the USEA Young Event Horse Program to his CCI5* debut at Maryland in 2022.

This will be his fourth start at the level. We expect him to land low-to-mid-30s after the first phase. He’s got a very strong cross country record, but unfortunately activated a frangible pin here last year, so this pair – who had to sit out Maryland cross country due to Jennie falling from another horse – are on a redemption arc to set the record straight on Derek di Grazia’s course.

Comic’s owners Nina and Tim Gardner have believed in him every step of the way, beginning in utero. He’s a full-blooded Thoroughbred, sired by Nina’s National Anthem, who boasted a nine-year racing career before retiring sound, and out of a mare called Royal Child, whose bloodlines trace back to the beginning of the Gardner’s breeding program in the 1980s. Comic was bred to race, and though he did train at Fair Hill as a two-year-old it was quickly evident that the racetrack wasn’t his destiny, and Nina serendipitously redirected him toward eventing.


6: Susannah Berry and Clever Trick (IRL)

It’ll be a Kentucky debut for British-based Northern Irish rider Susie, who’s previously ridden around Luhmühlen, Badminton, and Burghley –- and a five-star debut altogether for cross-country machine ‘Owl’, who was exceptional in very tough conditions at last summer’s European Championships. 28-year-old Susie was part of 2022’s Irish World Championships team, and became a professional rider after taking a ‘gap year’ after school, deferring a university place studying physiotherapy in favor of a season spent with Piggy March. She stayed five years, producing and competing horses such as Morswood, who became her Young Rider Europeans mount before heading to the US, along the way, and set up on her own just before the pandemic.

Owl is a relatively new addition to Susie’s string, having been produced to four-star, and to the end of the 2021 season, by fellow Irish rider Alex Donohoe, who competed the mare under the name Kilcandra Bonnie Reward. Since pairing up with Susie, who’s throwing down the gauntlet for a super 2024 season after losing the back end of 2023 to a serious injury sustained on another horse, she’s jumped classy clears around Bramham’s CCI4*-L, arguably the toughest course of the level in the world; Boekelo’s Nations’ Cup finale CCI4*-L, where she finished in the top ten; and, of course, that famously tricky Europeans. She’s game as they come, quick, and incredibly blood, and Kentucky’s track should be well within her wheelhouse – even if the first phase sets her off the pace a bit as the week unfolds. They’ll be hoping for a major effort from Derek to allow them to play a masterful game of catch-up and give Irish selectors plenty to think about — not least because Susie has five horses in contention for this summer’s Games alone.


7: Andrew McConnon and Wakita 54 (USA)

It’s always exciting to see a horse in their 5* debut, and even more exciting when their rider has brought them through the levels. While this will be Wakita 54’s first 5* competition, Andrew and “Kiki” have loads of experience together, as we have seen Andrew develop her from her first FEI event in 2020 up the levels. Kiki had a successful finish to her 2023 season, finishing in the top ten in the last three 4* competitions she’s competed in. Recently, we’ve seen her finish in the top 5 in the Intermediate at Pine Top.

This duo normally scores in the upper 30s in dressage. While this might not put them at the top of the leaderboard on day one, outside of one uncommon elimination on cross country in 2022, Kiki and Andrew have a clean cross country jump record, typically going clear with a handful of time. However, a rail or two on show jumping day is not out of the question. We’ll be excited to see how Andrew and Kiki compete in their first attempt at the level, and if their normally clear cross country will continue serving them well. 2024 looks to be an exciting year for Andrew — he received the Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant this year, and is looking to take a horse or two to Europe.


9: Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach (AUS)

Ema Klugman and girlfriend/sometimes groom Meg Gooddale are my favorite eventing power couple. Back at Kentucky after a few years spent producing some promising young horses, this is Ema’s first CCI5* since her 2021 run with the much-beloved Bendigo, who sadly passed away earlier this year. I like to think that Bronte Beach will be galloping through the Kentucky Horse Park with Bendigo on her shoulder, whispering tips in her ear.

“Bronte” (Bron-tee, not Bron–tay like the author — remember this bay mare is Australian, not British) has a squeaky clean record at the FEI level, with just one elimination due to a rider fall back in 2022. Other than that, Bronte typically crosses the finish line with some time faults. With dressage scores in the low to mid-30s and a tendency to add a few rails in the show jumping phase, Bronte tends to land in the top ten, or just outside, at the 4* level. With this being her first crack at a 5*, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the cards will fall. I’d be willing to bet Ema’s goal is simply to cross the finish line happy and healthy with a newly minted 5* horse.


11: Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan (USA)

Found as a five-year-old in Ireland and bought by Annie Eldridge of Setters’ Run Farm, ‘Simon’ is impressively expressive with tons of energy and it’s a credit to Ariel’s relationship with him that she takes his natural exuberance in her stride. Their 5* debut came at Kentucky in 2019, where they finished 12th, following this up with a trip across the pond for Burghley later in the season where their top-10 finish made them highest placed first-timers. They returned after the Covid hiatus to claim third place at Luhmuhlen in 2021, then went to Badminton a year later and came 15th.

This is surely a pairing with oodles of potential; as well as their solid 5* form, they have an 11th individual place at the World Championships in Pratoni on their record, where they were one of just five combinations to finish on their dressage score. They’ve generally scored low to mid-30s in the first phase at 5*, but with just one cross country jumping penalty in 18 FEI runs since stepping up to 4* in 2019, they’re unlikely to add much on the second day, just a handful of time faults, and with just two show jumping rails in their last nine internationals, their practice in the 1.40 ring obviously pays off in the final phase. We didn’t see them at 5* last season, so this is an exciting opportunity to see whether all that form will come together for another great placing.


12: Calvin Böckmann and The Phantom of the Opera (GER)

Fans of the EquiRatings Eventing Podcast will feel a spark of familiarity when they see Calvin’s name — he’s the young upstart that Diarm Byrne once dubbed ‘the young Jung’. At just 23 years old — he’ll turn 24 on Kentucky cross-country day, so make sure to tell him ‘Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!’ if you spot him out and about — he’s already accomplished plenty to help him live up to that lofty moniker. He’s competed on nine German European Championships teams — four times at the Pony level, plus once as a jumper, once as a Junior eventer and once as a Junior jumper, and once at the Young Rider level for eventing, too. And across those appearances? He’s picked up an impressive nine medals, and became the Pony European Champion in 2015.

These days, he’s kept busy as part of the German Equestrian Federation’s Warendorf training program for rising stars of the sport, which is helmed by one Julia Krajewski, the reigning Olympic eventing champion. She’s not a bad person to have on side as Calvin heads into his five-star debut, because she, too, is a five-star winner. And in The Phantom of the Opera, who’s so often heralded into dressage arenas around Europe to exactly that song, Calvin’s got the ideal partner: since the splashy-faced chestnut and the cut-glass jawlined rider teamed up in early 2022, they’ve logged 15 FEI starts, completing every single one of them and finishing in the top ten 12 times. In fact, they’ve never finished lower than 25th, and that was in a huge Blenheim field where they jumped a quick clear.

We could see this pair tip the right side of 30 in the first phase, which they’ve done a couple of times at four-star, and they look set to impress on Saturday. Sunday tends to be a one-rail sort of affair for them, but perhaps the atmosphere of the Rolex Arena will inspire a change of fortunes.


15: Doug Payne and Quantum Leap (USA)

It’s been many years since anyone called this horse “Baby Quantum” but that’s exactly what he was when he landed in Doug Payne’s barn as a yearling. Fast forward about 12 years and he’s every bit the polished professional. He’s got six CCI5* completions to his name, and of those he’s only finished outside the top ten once — not to mention he was the Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Champion in 2022.

Quantum has proven his incredible staying power at the top of the sport with only one cross country penalty on his International record, and we expect to see him once again landing in the top ten — or even better, knocking at the door of a top five result. His results have varied on the flat, but on his best day he can go sub-30, and a clear show jumping on Sunday is very achievable for this pair.


17: Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI (GBR)

This’ll be a seventh five-star start for Kirsty and her oil painting of a horse, Classic, who has previously contested Pau, Badminton, Luhmühlen, and, of course, Kentucky last year, finishing 21st after a runout on course. We’d love to call that runout ‘uncharacteristic’, but it’s not quite the right word — ‘Betty’ is a mercurial sort of horse, capable of extraordinary greatness (second place at Luhmühlen and sixth place at Pau are just two examples of this talent), but also capable of being a wee bit complicated.

On her day, she’ll throw down a beautiful sub-30 test and follow it up with two speedy clears; but it’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll see her fizz up like a glass of Berocca, plunge her way into the 30s, add a jumping penalty across the country, or have two down on the final day. It’s this will-she-or-won’t-she that makes her a rather exciting horse to follow and cheer for, although there’s a touch of emotional whiplash involved.

In any case, you can’t fault this pair for the strength of their partnership, forged in the wilderness of England’s New Forest, where the mare — who really does look like she’s stepped out of a Munnings canvas — spends most of her time hacking, because she’s not fond of the pressures of the school. If they have a week here like they had at Pau in October, you’ll be daydreaming of these gutsy gals for the rest of the year.


18: Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir (GBR)

What a stroke of luck for us –- we get to welcome the reigning World Champions back to Lexington, and in an Olympic year, no less, which means that Yas and Banzai will leave no stone unturned on their quest to prove a point to the selectors. And that’s a point that does need proving: while the duo have an extraordinary roster of results behind them, including second place at Kentucky in 2022, they did also spend part of the 2023 season undergoing some tough learning moments. They picked up a 20 at Kentucky last year, and one at the European Championships, but also enjoyed a major win at CHIO Aachen and, other than those two tough events, never finished outside the top three in FEI competitions.

Expect Yas and Banzai to lead after the first phase, as they did last year on a 22.1. Then, keep your eyes firmly on them come Saturday: we know they’ve got everything it takes to come home clear and quick, and they’ll have been hard at work since last year, fine-tuning the basics, but they’ll also have to contend with a whole lot of pressure. On Sunday, they’re generally exceptional, with just two rails down since 2021. They’re a frontrunner for the win here, but with just enough question marks on their name right now to make the whole thing incredibly exciting, right down to the very last moment of the competition.
And if they get that win, or even a top five finish? Expect to see the pair right back in the hunt for a spot at Paris –- the competition the horse was bought for in the first place.


20: Monica Spencer and Artist (NZL)

Monica and ‘Max’ are definitely on the short list for personal favorites this year. Their first Kentucky 5*, they are no stranger to the level, having finished 7th at Maryland last year. A typically impressive result from this pair who burst onto the Northern Hemisphere eventing scene in 2022, as part of the Bronze medal winning Kiwi team at the World Championships in Pratoni. They were top 10 after dressage on that occasion, with a PB of 25.9 and were comfortably into the 20s again at Maryland, so it will be no surprise if they are sitting pretty going into cross country at Kentucky, too.

Another OTTB, Monica bought Max as a four-year-old. ‘Too slow’ for the track, they dominated the New Zealand eventing season before coming temporarily basing in the US last August in preparation for their run at Maryland. They returned in February, along with a string of horses and no return ticket. Husband Andrew and son Gus have made the move too, and Monica has hinted that this time it is a more permanent move. Andrew and Gus will be grooming for Monica and Max this weekend, so it will be quite the family affair! Monica has made no secret that she has eyes on Olympic selection, so a good run this weekend will certainly help in that respect, and further confirm their presence on the world stage.


21: Bobby Meyerhoff and Lumumba (USA)

Bobby Meyerhoff and Lumumba tackled their first CCI5* just last year at the Maryland 5 Star, finishing in 14th place. While the longstanding pair completed the Kentucky 4* in 2021, this will be their first attempt at the iconic 5* track. Their upper level career has been a little bit hit or miss. While Lulu has finished in the top ten several times, most recently achieving 7th in the 4*-S at the Maryland International, that much-desired podium finish has eluded them thus far.

Lulu tends to score in the mid-30s in the dressage phase, and despite having no obstacle faults on her cross country record, her philosophy leans towards slow and steady wins the race. The pair could be turning over a new leaf in 2024, as they had their lowest number of time faults yet at their first FEI event of the season at Carolina International. Unfortunately, show jumping is their real achilles heel with at least three rails at each event in their 2023 season. When it comes to an uber competitive event like the Kentucky Three Day, you can’t have a single rail if you want to finish in the top ten, which is a big ask for 13-year-old Lumumba.
For only their second 5*, I suspect Bobby may play it safe and ride to cross the finish line, not to win. After all, the real win is when every pair is back at the barn happy and healthy at the end of the day.


22: Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me (CAN)

If anyone has a spare groom at the horse park, I’m sure Lisa Marie would appreciate it, as she’ll be grooming for herself this weekend if her friend can’t get the time off work. This will be Lisa Marie’s first return to the Kentucky Horse Park since 2022 when she and Honor Me placed 19th with a score of 68.8. Honor Me, aka “Tali,” have been competing at the FEI levels for over a decade. 2024 marks the 18-year-old gelding’s sixth year of competition at the 4*/5* level.

With all those years of experience, Tali has only a handful of refusals/run-outs on his cross country record, but regularly gets 10 to 20 time penalties. Unfortunately, his dressage scores are really what holds back the big chestnut Welsh Sport Horse. Consistently receiving scores in the low to mid-40s, it’s clear that dressage is not his favorite phase. While he’s not particularly careful in the show jumping phase, typically adding a rail or two, he is fast with very few show jumping time faults on his record. At the end of the day, I’d search the results for Honor Me and Lisa Marie somewhere in the middle of the pack.

I’m mostly hoping that Tali and Lisa Marie will bring along their adorable Appaloosa mini friend, Popcorn. While I’m not sure if this is the role Popcorn plays, in general the emotional support Miniature Horses that come alongside these big bad 5* horses always make me happy.


23: Phillip Dutton and Quasi Cool (USA)

Phillip Dutton hardly needs an introduction. A seven-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist, he’s forgotten more about eventing than I will ever know. As his second 5* mount of the weekend, Quasi Cool is in good shape to tackle his first ever 5* course. Despite it being his first time taking a crack at the level, I’m sure Phillip is hoping for a triumphant return to the park after placing second with “Quasi” in the 4* in 2022.

Phillip took over the ride on Quasi circa 2021. Just a year later, the horse’s career was almost cut short by a broken orbital bone, putting him at risk of having his eye removed. Now 13 years old, the Holsteiner gelding is set up to have a promising eventing career ahead of him.

True to form, since Philip took the reins Quasi hasn’t placed lower than 15th, and has won notable events including the 4*-L at Morven Park and the 4*-S in Unionville. Quasi and Phillip have never had a refusal or run-out (knock on wood) and typically cross the finish line with a few time faults. In dressage, Quasi is more than capable of pulling sub-30 scores, his lowest to date being a 23.9 at the Carolina International CCI3* in 2021. Clearly Quasi and Phillip have a system that works for them, but this weekend is a bit of a wild card as it’s Quasi’s first time moving up to the 5* level.


24: Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K (GER)

If there’s one thing that unites most of us, it’s that childlike love for a leggy, elegant dappled grey. To hell with the fact that keeping them clean is a nightmare; never mind the fact that those dapples eventually fade. The twelve-year-old girl inside all of us (men included; being a horse girl is a non-gender-specific affliction, frankly) yearns for the unicorn. And here he is.

If you’ve not had the joy of seeing Carlitos Quidditch K, or ‘Schimmi’, as he’s known at home, on the European circuit, prepare yourself to fall in love. Since the start of his career, which he’s spent with Malin in its entirety, he’s been joy on legs, gobbling up every cross-country course he’s unleashed upon with his best pal aboard. Last year, we saw the pair make their Senior championship debut, riding as part of the German team at the European Eventing Championships, where they finished in the top twenty individually and in silver medal position with their countrymen after battling horrendous conditions.

This’ll be a first five-star start for Schimmi, who comes in with super form: in his last eight FEI runs, he’s only been out of the top twenty once (and then it was 22nd for a planned slow clear at three-star this spring); in five of those, he finished in the top five, including a win in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim in September. He’s usually a 29/30 hoverer in the first phase but if he can start his Kentucky week on the sub-25 he pulled off at Blenheim, things could start to get very exciting indeed for Germany’s formidable front in Lexington.


25: Matthew Grayling and Trudeau (NZL)

If there is one thing that you can be sure of at a 5*, it is that there will be several heart-warming stories. Enter veterans of the sport, 60-year-old Matthew Grayling and 18-year-old Trudeau.

Like fellow Kiwi Monica Spencer, Matthew and ‘Tru’ came to the States earlier this year, basing with Boyd Martin. Like Monica, he too has one eye on the Olympics — ‘Paris is at the back of my mind,’ — though his day job is less professional event rider, and more full-time dairy farmer. He has left his son in charge of the family farm, and the 600 dairy cows that live there, in order to have one last crack at the big time.

Matthew is no stranger to the top level of the sport, though: he won Adelaide back in 2001 with Revo, the horse with whom he finished 8th in the 2004 Eventing World Cup. The pair were also part of the fifth placed New Zealand team at the Athens Olympics that year.
This will be 18-year-old Tru’s 5* debut, though he has won 3 consecutive national titles in New Zealand, and is rarely out of the top 10. He had an uncharacteristic 20 on the cross country at Raeford earlier this year, but his jumping record is otherwise impeccable. Matthew has said that he is ready to ‘take on the big boys again,’ and I can’t wait to see them do just that: hopefully theirs will be another 5* fairy-tale.


26: Sharon White and Claus 63 (USA)

This debut at 5* is a somewhat long time coming for Claus 63, who was sourced from Germany by Dirk Schrade as a 5-year-old. Sharon liked the horse so much on video — and trusts Dirk immensely with his eye for what she likes — that she bought Claus nearly sight unseen. It proved to be a fortuitous purchase, as Claus now stands to be the sixth horse Sharon has produced to the 5* level.

After winning a team silver medal at the 2023 Pan American Games, Sharon has her eyes set on a successful 5* career for Claus — and has also submitted for Olympic consideration ahead of Paris. Claus is notoriously “emotional” but has a very empathetic and patient rider in Sharon, who manages his emotions well. Sharon will be thrilled to deliver a dressage test that’s relaxed and in which Claus can “take a breath” and ease into his body, a clear cross country, and a clear show jump that the 12-year-old Holsteiner is well capable of. She will have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s ahead of this next step for an exciting debutant, and she will have all of her fans clad in her signature orange cheering her on this weekend.


27: Zachary Brandt and Direct Advance (USA)

‘Rosco’ and Zach have been together right from the gelding’s first event, and Zach credits their solid partnership for their rise to the top level of the sport, with their CCI5* debut coming at Maryland in 2022. They return to the Horse Park after finishing 24th last season, a completion Zach was thrilled with despite having two runouts on the tricky cross country course. He was honored with the James C. Wofford “On the Rise” trophy, presented in remembrance of the late Jimmy Wofford, which was a super special moment given that sixteen-year-old Zach had been lucky enough to ride in a clinic with Jimmy.

The first phase is still very much a work in progress for Rosco, with scores ranging from mid-30s to having a hoof in the 40s — at Maryland last year they posted a 35.9; at Kentucky it was 43.5. Their cross country record shows a couple of green mistakes at 5* — as well as the 40 at Kentucky last season, they picked up a 20 at Maryland in 2022, and then again last fall. After retiring out on course in both his Maryland runs, Zach’s looking for his second completion at the level and will be hoping to secure the clear cross country jumping round that’s eluded this pair thus far. No so in the show jumping however, where Rosco really shows how careful he can be over the colored poles, generally adding nothing in the final phase. Here’s hoping they get to build on their 5* experience at Kentucky this time around, and put in the cross country round which is clearly within Rosco’s capabilities.


28: Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way (USA)

This weekend marks the sixth CCI5* start for “Mason”, who’s become a consistent performer in partnership with Will Faudree. This pair have finished in the top 16 at the level three times and will be looking to best that marker in Kentucky. Campaigned at the outset of his FEI career by Germany’s Andreas Dibowski, Mason journeyed to the States to begin his relationship with fill in time for the 2019 season, and he went on to debut at Kentucky in 2021, where he finished 14th overall.

Will works hard on the flat, arguably Mason’s most challenging phase, with Bettina Hoy, who will be on hand to assist this week. We’ve seen this pair pull out a sub-30 score at this level before (Burghley 2023), and if they can get close to this number again this year they’ll be in good stead to finish on or close to the mark and in the top percentage of the field.


29: Mia Farley and Phelps (USA)

Where to start with Mia and Phelps, who provided the fairytale of last year’s Maryland 5*? Their debut at the level, they finished in 5th place- had it not been for the two poles that fell in the final phase, they would have been on the podium. They posted the only cross country clear inside the time, although that is hardly surprising, given that Phelps is a OTTB. Bought by David O’Connor for the enormous sum of, er, $1, he and 24 year old Mia have been together almost ever since (see, I told you theirs was a fairytale).

Mia — who has been based with the O’Connor’s since 2017 — says she is hoping for another confident run at the level, and for them both to add to their positive experience last fall. She will be the first to admit that he struggles in the show jumping, but he hasn’t had a cross country fault in the whole of his FEI career thus far, and his dressage isn’t too shabby either. They were top ten after the first phase at Maryland, and will no doubt be hoping to repeat that form here, too.

Pushy with his closest friends, but ultimately ‘such a dude,’ Phelps brought Mia to the top 20 in the 4* here last year, and given their performance on their 5* debut, there is no reason why they shouldn’t post a similar result in the 5* this year. A classy pair, and one of my personal favorites on the start sheet.


32: Joe Meyer and Harbin (NZL)

New Zealand Olympian Joe Meyer will be piloting Harbin around Harbin’s first 5* attempt. Harbin started his competitive career as a racehorse, selling for €40,000 as a 2 year old. After racing four times, where he placed in none of his races, Harbin found his calling in the event world. Joe took the ride on Harbin in 2021 after Rebecca Brown took him through the 3* level. Since the beginning of their partnership, Joe and Harbin have competed in ten 4* events since they began at the level in 2022.

The 2024 season started off strong for this duo, with a 3rd place finish in the 4* at Bouckaert Equestrian, where they saw a typical low 30s dressage score, a clear cross country, and a clear show jumping. While they do deliver some impressive results up the levels, we have seen some inconsistencies at the level, recently finishing with an elimination in the 4* at TerraNova. As they turn to the 5* in Kentucky, they’ll be looking to secure the scores we know they can deliver.


33: Christoph Wahler and D’Accord FRH (GER)

If you’re not rooting for Christoph, who’s based at his family’s fairytale dressage stud near Luhmühlen, where have you even been these past few years? He was second at his local five-star in 2021 with the great grey Carjatan S, and with the same horse, was top ten at two European Championships, top twenty at another, and part of the gold-medal-winning German team at the 2022 World Championships in Pratoni, where he was the pathfinder. He’s a seriously good rider across all three disciplines, and five-star debutant D’Accord mustn’t be underestimated either. While he’s not as sharp or flashy a type as Carjatan, he’s been seriously consistent since Christoph took the reins in 2022, finishing in the top ten in nine of their 13 FEI starts together.

His first-phase results can fluctuate — he’s gone sub-30 at four-star a few times, but tends to sit more consistently between 30 and 32. On cross-country, though, he shines — he tends to be bold as brass and seriously quick, particularly for a big horse, and has only added a total of 4.8 time penalties across his last eight FEI runs. He’s a decent showjumper, too, and constantly improving in this phase — he’s gone from being a regular four- or eight-faulter to a horse who tends to have a rail down every third round or so. Consider these two a shout for a very good top ten finish – assuming D’Accord can go the distance — and then get on Google and start fantasizing about moving into Christoph’s base, Klosterhof Medingen. It is perfect.


34: Andrew McConnon and Ferrie’s Cello (USA)

We saw Andrew McConnon and Jeanne Shigo’s Ferrie’s Cello take their first crack at the 5* level this past fall at the Maryland 5*. Finishing just outside of the top ten in 13th and their first 5* appearance, Andrew and “Eddie” started their partnership when Eddie came to Andrew as a young Preliminary horse with loads of physical talent, but a bit of a mental code that needed Andrew’s careful development.

This pair’s FEI partnership began in 2019. They moved up to Advanced in 2021, and have since competed for the US on the Nations Cup teams in Bromont and Strzegom. This duo typically sees dressage scores in the low-mid 30s, and have seen an occasional cross country penalty or rail. We’ll be excited to see how this duo competes in their second attempt at the level before an exciting 2024 for Andrew — he received the Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant this year, and is looking to take a horse or two to Europe.


35: Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle (USA)

The second part of Jennie Brannigan’s ginger dream team is the thirteen-year-old German Sporthorse gelding FE Lifestyle. “Foxy” is quite the seasoned campaigner at this point in his career with six CCI5* completions under his belt. His best finish was fifth at Maryland in 2022, but last season he was 12th at both Kentucky and Burghley.

We expect a low-30s dressage result in the first phase, and Jennie’s grit partnered with Foxy’s big, forward step could make them a major threat on cross country day. Here last year, they had only 2.4 time penalties across the Kentucky bluegrass, so another performance like that will certainly keep them in the hunt to crack the top ten.


36: Bruce Davidson Jr. and Sorocaima (USA)

Buck’s here for his third trip ‘round Kentucky CCI5* with Sorocaima, his Kentucky-bred OTTB. ‘Cam’ earned over $80,000 on the track before turning his hoof to eventing, retiring from racing in 2015 and joining Buck’s barn in 2020. His 5* debut came in 2022 at Kentucky, which was followed up with a trip ‘round Maryland in the fall, where he finished 14th. Last year he returned to the Horse Park and finished just outside the top-20, rounding out the season back at Maryland where he was top-10.

We can expect a mid-30s score in the first phase — they put down a 36 at Kentucky last year and 34.2 at Maryland — but like a lot of eventers, Cam’s here for the cross country. In his 19 FEI starts, he’s had cross country jumping penalties only twice, both times at Kentucky — Buck will be looking to put that right this time around. There are generally time penalties to be added, although not due to a lack of speed on the flashy bay gelding’s part; he’s super powerful which tends to eat up precious seconds out on course. The final day is the trickiest for this pair, with jumping penalties often racking up to 8, or more. They kept it to one pole at Kentucky last season, although that came with 4 time penalties, which was a huge improvement on the year before when they added 28 jumping and 2.8 time. Will they slay their Kentucky 20 demons in 2024? We’ll have to wait and see!


37: Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby (USA)

With thirteen CCI5* starts in his twelve year eventing career — and seven top-20 finishes — LCC Barnaby comes to Kentucky for the third time with a bunch of experience (and then some) under his cinch. He made his top-level debut at Kentucky in 2016 and has since become a familiar face on the 5* circuit both in the States and across the pond, having contested the two US 5*s and both British ones multiple times. He’s been to Badminton the last two seasons but returns to Kentucky this year for his sixth Horse Park appearance. He finished his 2023 campaign with a career-best result, placing just outside the top-ten at Maryland; earlier in the year he was top-20 at a really tricky Badminton.

It’s no secret that Barnaby’s heart is on the cross country course. His best score in the first phase, 33, came at Maryland in 2021; at Badminton last season he put down a 39.5. But we all know eventing’s not a dressage competition and Barnaby is likely to be a leaderboard climber on cross country day — from 42 FEI competitions, he’s had jumping penalties just four times. Time penalties can run to double figures, and Barnaby’s no spring chicken, but Lillian will be riding the horse that’s underneath her and enjoying his game approach on what is likely to be amongst his last appearances at the level. He’s reliable on the final day, rolling just one pole in each of his 5* competitions last season. It’s such a pleasure to watch these experienced horses still loving their job, and a testament to everyone who takes care of them. If you want to see a horse running cross country with a grin on his face, Barnaby’s your guy.


38: Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent (GBR)

Produced by Oliver from the start of her eventing career, this exceptional mare has an impressive record: from 19 FEI competitions, she has three wins, five second placings and three third place finishes, only finishing outside the top-7 on three occasions. Last season she won the 4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds at Blenheim, finishing on her dressage of 24.7, the only competitor to keep a clean sheet across the board, and made her CCI5* debut at Luhmühlen where a green mistake cross country saw her finish in 27th. She obviously stored that learning experience under her cinch though and came back to claim third at Maryland in the fall, where she held her position as clubhouse leader after cross country with a quick-enough clear but dropped down the podium with two rolled poles on the final day. Nevertheless, she sure showed her class at the level and it’ll be exciting to see how she takes to Kentucky.

We can certainly expect a sub-30 dressage score, perhaps even landing in the low-20s — at Maryland she put down a 23.1. She’s unlikely to add much to that come cross country day, having had just that blip at Luhmühlen in her last nine FEI runs and generally keeping any time penalties to single figures. The final phase can be her undoing however; whilst there are plenty more clear rounds than faults on her record, she’s yet to jump clear on the final day of a 5*. This mare is truly an exciting prospect for Oliver — watch this space.


39: Rebecca Braitling and Caravaggio II (AUS)

After a two decade hiatus, 2024 marks “Bec” Braitling’s return to the five-star level. Her last crack was in 2003 at Adelaide in her native Australia with her self-produced mare Just A Lady. In the years since, Bec has relocated to Paso Robles, California, though she still rides under the Australian flag, and she’s now partnered with “Ernie” who she owns in partnership with longtime supporters the Arnell family.
Bec first met Ernie while horse shopping overseas for Lauren Burnell, the founder of Arnell Sporthorses. The serendipitous connection was made by Mike and Emma Winter where Bec had a love at first sight moment with the British Sport Horse. Bec recently told the USEA, “I just thought to myself, ‘I am going to take this horse to Kentucky,” and that’s exactly where they’ve landed.

Though this is a five-star debut for Ernie, he did dip a toe in this pond last year contesting the competitive CCI4*-S division where he finished 23rd. He followed that up with a whirlwind European summer vacation that included representing Australia at Aachen as well as completions at Jardy, Hartpury, and Blenheim. The education gained last season is one of their most valuable tools ahead of what will be a memorable weekend for this exciting pair.


40: Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus (USA)

Everyone’s favorite “Bug” returns to the top of competition level this year after a stall injury forced him to stay on the sidelines last year. Vermiculus’ last major competition was a tiny show called the FEI World Championships for Eventing in Pratoni, Italy, where the pair aided the U.S. in a historic silver medal finish.

Lauren is very excited to bring her veteran partner out again at 5*. He’s 17 years young, but don’t tell him we told you that — he prefers to be thought of as 17 going on 7, if you ask him. This is a pair that stands to be competitive on the weekend, and Lauren’s studious and methodical way of producing horses has contributed to Bug’s long career.


42: Elisabeth Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker (USA)

It’s difficult to stand out when you live in a barn full of winners like Miks Master C, Fernhill by Night, and Cooley Quicksilver, but Cooley Nutcracker or “Bali” will get the spotlight treatment his week as hometown rider Liz Halliday’s sole entry in the CCI5* division.

Though a first-timer, Bali has certainly proven himself a fierce competitor for Liz, landing on the podium practically more often that not, and most recently winning his last two CCI4*-L competitions. He was first campaigned by French Olympic gold medalist Astier Nicolas before landing in the states only two years ago.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see Liz and Bali stick a high-20s score in the first phase, and he boasts an impressive cross country record with a dozen faultless international results under Liz’s tutelage. Bali usually sees a smattering of time penalties, but there’s no one better to fight the clock with than a former racecar driver. On the final day, Bali is known to rise to the occasion with a double clear result in show jumping.


43: James Alliston and Karma (USA)

Karma — queen of the barn at Team Alliston — came to Helen and James as a ‘pretty difficult project,’ with a tendency to freeze in the ring. When she arrived at their West Coast base, she was indeed ‘pretty antsy,’ and took a little while to settle. Once she did though, she proved unstoppable and had moved up to the Intermediate level within her first eventing season.

She and James were part of the US Nation’s Cup Team at Military Boekelo-Enschede last year, finishing on their dressage score of 35.9. This talented young mare is rarely out of the top ten and won both the CCI4*-L at Rebecca Farm and the CCI4*-S at Twin Rivers last year. She has won twice this year too, and James will be hoping that she runs as well in the 5* at Kentucky as she did in the 4* last year, when she added just a handful of time faults to her 35.2 dressage score, to finish in 8th place.

Karma’s dressage scores are unlikely to break any records, but what she lacks in the first phase, she more than makes up for in the jumping rounds. “I remember the first time I cross-country schooled her, I was thinking, Oh yeah, we’re on to something here. She’s very natural,” says James, who cut his teeth with Bruce Davidson Sr. Fingers crossed she continues to demonstrate such aptitude, and Team Alliston can return home with a newly minted 5* horse.


44: Tom McEwen and JL Dublin (GBR)

Could last year’s reserve champion become this year’s Kentucky winner? You’d be hard-pressed to bet against Tom and the former Nicola Wilson mount ‘Dubs’, who became the European Champion in 2021 with his previous rider -– but as with compatriots Yas and Banzai, there are a couple of little question marks here that’ll need to be ironed out if they want to get a spot at the Olympics this summer.

Let’s start with the good: they finished second in their first CCI4*-L together at Boekelo in 2022, before coming to Kentucky for that second place finish last spring. They earned another second place at Little Downham’s CCI4*-S last autumn before heading to Pau and finishing third (nice to break a trend, but we reckon Tom was aiming for the other direction!). This spring, they earned their first win together, taking the CCI4*-S at Kronenberg in the Netherlands from wire to wire.

But then there’s the little whoopsies — like a very late run-out while in contention at Aachen last summer, or a rider fall in the final water at the European Championships on their next outing. They’ve bounced back brilliantly, but there’s a point to prove that’s enough to have sent them across the Atlantic. The stakes are ludicrously high — but it’s hard not to think that this duo have a top-level win in them soon. They’ve got a second and a third place at the level — maybe now it’s time to complete the set on their third attempt.


45: Doug Payne and Camarillo (USA)

By now, we’ve all see the viral video Doug Payne shared of “Carl” when he was younger and much more “feral” than he’s likely to be these days (though Doug admits you still have to ride this one with both eyes open and a good ability to stay stuck). It’s a testament to patience and belief in what you’ve got that has kept Doug plugging away with this U.S.-bred gelding. And that hard work has begun to pay off: Carl competed here at Kentucky successfully last year, finishing 20th in the Lexington 4*-S before going on to finish 10th in the 4*-L at Tryon later that spring. Doug’s got plans to give Carl the most confidence-boosting rides he can provide to set the 10-year-old up for what we hope will be a lengthy career at the top levels, following in the hoofprints of his well-known stablemates Vandiver and Quantum Leap.


46: Boyd Martin and On Cue (USA)

The Maryland 5 Star winner from the event’s inaugural year in 2021, On Cue, took some time off from the top levels in 2022 and returned to full competition last year, finishing 10th at Burghley in the fall. She’s 18 years young this year and is eyeing her fourth 5* start. She’s a competitive lady: she’s not finished outside of the top 10 (and has only finished outside of the top 5 once) in three starts at the level.

If Boyd, who works on the flat with his superstar wife Silva as well as German Olympian Bettina Hoy, can secure a mid-20s score that “Cue” has earned before, he’ll be well-placed to make a run for the top of the board in a wide-open field. The mare does have a handful of rails spotting her 5* record, but luckily Boyd has the secret sauce that is Olympic show jumper Peter Wylde in his corner, and they’ll have been fine-tuning the Sunday phase at home in preparation for this run.


47: Phillip Dutton and Azure (USA)

Bred and produced to CCI4* level by Irish international eventer Elizabeth Power, Azure joined Phillip’s barn in 2022 and made her first 5* start last season at Maryland. An unfortunate mishap with the striding between a double of corners on the cross country there means Phillip’s looking for his first top-level completion with the mare at Kentucky. Trending mid-30s in the first phase — they scored 34.2 at Maryland — they won’t be at the top of the pack once dressage is done, but Azure’s cross country jumping record is seriously impressive; in 24 FEI starts, there’s just one 20 on her score card. She’s no slouch when it comes to the clock either, with a clear inside the time in the 4*-S at Kentucky last spring, where she finished 7th, and another in the 4*-L at Tryon at the end of last season, for third place; she won the 4*-L at Bromont adding just 0.4 penalties across the country and the same in the show jumping.

Azure is generally a one or none kind of gal in the final phase, but she came out this year with a clear round at Bouckaert Farm a few weeks ago, where she finished 7th, and another at Stable View earlier this month, so we’ll see whether things continue in the same vein as the season progresses. Until their fall at Maryland, Azure looked to be eating up the 5* fences, so it’ll be cool to see her take on Kentucky and hopefully fly through those finish flags having climbed the leaderboard.


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