A Showcase of the Sport on Cross Country Day at Inaugural Maryland 5 Star

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Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Kate Samuels.

Despite the fact that collectively the riders here at the Maryland 5 Star probably got about five hours of sleep thinking about the big, burly cross course that awaited them today, we quickly learned there was much to love about this brand-new track with no precedent at the Maryland 5 Star. In spite of those nerves, one of the biggest traits designer Ian Stark is known — and respected — for is the fact that even though he might scare the riders into a sleepless night or two, he is always fair to the horses.

This is what we saw today as the very first Maryland 5 Star cross country course was finally unveiled, beginning with the CCI3*-L this morning and concluding, nearly beating the downpour, with the CCI5* in the afternoon. The course rode exceptionally well, presenting a challenge but for the most part allowing all horses to get home with good wind. Outside of the top three, we saw some shuffling which we’ll get to shortly, but for now we will see Oliver Townend and Angela Hislop’s Cooley Master Class (Ramiro B – The Swallow, by Master Imp) remain on their dressage mark of 21.1 after turning in a fast clear inside the time. Tim Price and Xavier Faer (24.3) also keep their position overnight after a double clear, as will Boyd Martin and On Cue (25.0).

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Abby Powell.

We waited nervously for the first rider to come home this afternoon after Buck Davidson and Carlevo fell at fence 10A. It would fall to Will Coleman and Team Rebecca LLC’s DonDante, second out of the box, then to make it through the finish flags as the first pair to officially complete Ian Stark’s track, and while the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Team Rebecca LLC ran out of gas toward the end, Will showed his horsemanship to nurse him home.

“It felt like a lot of work,” Will said at the vet box. “The terrain challenges you in a number of ways, makes the fitness part of it that much more intense…I was thankful that (DonDante) stayed with me and was honest, but it was hard work, no question. As hard a five-star as I’ve done, start to finish.

Will Coleman and DonDante. Photo by Abby Powell.

Oliver Townend may find himself in a leading position quite often, but he says he always feels the pressure. Looking ahead to tomorrow, he’ll not have a pole in hand ahead of Tim Price and Xavier Fear. But for today, he’s very happy with the 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B — The Swallow, by Master Imp) owned by Angela Hislop.

“He’s really shown today how good he is because this is not a track that’s built for Cooley Master Class,” Oliver said after his ride. “But he’s been with me since he was four years old and he has a lot of trust in me and allows me to do my job so that he can do his. He gives me his brain in the start box and wherever I point and kick, even if he’s a little careful or not sure, he throws himself between the flags for me.”

“It’s an amazing venue and the organizers for me couldn’t have done a better job at the first attempt at the five star,” Oliver continued. “Ian was my hero as a kid, and it’s about time he had a five-star. He’s one of the best designers in the world. Yet again, despite us all scratching our heads and not liking the idea of his track before going out, he’s shown that he’s very, very fair.”

Tim Price and Xavier Faer. Photo by Abby Powell.

The Price crew is making good on their latest trip to the U.S., with Tim and Trisha Rickards’ Xavier Faer (Catherston Liberator – Faerie Dazzler, by Catherston Dazzler) remaining on his dressage mark to hang on to second, though this pair also does not have a rail in hand tomorrow. Xavier Faer was runner-up at Kentucky earlier this year, and he pulled up full of run at the end today to look like he’ll return for a good crack at the show jumping tomorrow.

“You’ve got to enjoy it whilst it’s there for you with a horse like him and the partnership we’ve got,” Tim said of “Hugo”, who is doing his seventh five-star this weekend. “He’s great fun. He’s a great traveler which made the time getable for me.”

With their cross country finishes today, both Tim Price becomes the first rider to complete cross country at all seven five-stars in the world, having made many runs around the various other events scattering the globe, including the most difficult to reach (thankfully, he hails from the Southern Hemisphere so were at one point closer to the Australian Three-Day!). Editor’s Note: This fact was corrected due to an error.

Jonelle Price and Classic Moet. Photo by Abby Powell.

Boyd Martin found himself with just the one ride this weekend, plus another in the CCI3*-L, with Christine Turner’s On Cue (Cabri d’Elle – On High, by Primitive Rising), and the 15-year-old Anglo-European mare once again proved her mettle as she turned in a first double clear (though she came close in Kentucky, picking up just two seconds of time) at the level.

“She’s brilliant,” Boyd said after his ride. “I love this horse. She’s an older horse, but this year, I mean, what a champion.”

Boyd Martin and On Cue. Photo by Abby Powell.

“I think this cross country course is fantastic,” Boyd elaborated in the press conference. “It had everything — the technical questions — and it was a real test of endurance. The top class of horses made the trip look good…obviously, you want to bring a real good athlete to the five-star, and I think this event’s going to evolve in years to come to be the greatest five-star in the world.”

In fact, the top five at the end of phase two all turned in double clear efforts. The time proved to be the most consequential factor of the day, with jump penalties spread out throughout. These efforts were rewarded with a reshuffling of the remaining top 10, starting with Lauren Nicholson and Landmark’s Monte Carlo (Formula One – Glamour), who came home three seconds under time to remain on a score of 28.5 and move from sixth into fourth. Lauren will actually have both of her rides inside the top 10 overnight as Vermiculus (Sazeram – Wake Me Gently), the first of her two to leave the start box, also turned in a double clear two seconds under optimum. Both Landmark’s Monte Carlo and Vermiculus are owned by Ms. Jacqueline Mars.

Lauren Nicholson and Landmark’s Monte Carlo. Photo by Abby Powell.

“It’s a proper five-star for sure,” Lauren commented after her ride with Vermiculus. “It’s a really interesting feeling to go out on a track like that with no information really. Even when you’ve done Burghley or Badminton the first time, you can go watch years and years of videos and get some idea of what you’re instincts are going to be like or how the horses are going to read certain areas or landmark fences. But it was definitely very interesting to go out on this track. There was a lot of hype about the terrain and going in the first five, you don’t get any information.”

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Abby Powell.

Lauren explained that her strategy was to try to go after the time from the beginning — a bold choice given the terrain that awaited, but she ascertained that it would be the better to start quick than try to make up time later. This move paid off, and it’s one she says she credits to trusting her horse’s fitness — particularly Vermiculus with his Arabian blood — and that she’d properly prepared them. That prep work and that trust paid off in spades today. Vermiculus remains on his dressage mark of 30.7 to sit in eighth heading into show jumping.

Harry Meade and Superstition. Photo by Kate Samuels.

Britain’s Harry Meade also enjoyed a nice romp up the board, moving from 10th into fifth thanks to another fast double clear. Superstition, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Satisfaction FRH, hasn’t run much between this weekend and Kentucky, a strategy Harry says is to help the gelding work through his nervous tendencies. This selective, conservative approach paid off well today, leaving Harry to muse that he felt the horse even had more to give (challenge issued, Ian?).

“It was a great course,” Harry said. “My horse had his ears pricked the whole way…He had much more to give, and when you’re at a five-star you want to be able to demonstrate that, but it’s still always good to come home happy…This guy hasn’t run for twelve weeks to the date. That was a deliberate plan; he’s had one cross country school. He’s an unorthodox horse, he gets a bit stressed for the occasion so it’s about keeping it easy. I jumped a couple of fences this morning, hacked up here (to the cross country warm-up), jumped two fences in the collecting ring and went out. To me, it’s just about keeping his heart rate resting before he starts, and trying to travel with economic speed so it’s not blowing their brains and their adrenaline getting up too much. Five-star eventing isn’t a sprint — it’s not like short formats. It’s about getting them into a rhythm and breathe and relax.”

Andrea Baxter and Indy 500. Photo by Abby Powell.

While several riders turned in double clear efforts, it would be California rider Andrea Baxter with her incredible little mare, the 16-year-old Indy 500 (Cromwell – Tens of Thousands, by Spend A Buck), who would be the quickest of the day. Their time of 10:43 would reward them with a rocket up the board from 39th into the top 20 still on her dressage mark of 37.2. This is the seventh 5* this pair has started, and like a fine wine #InternationalIndy continues to get better and better. Andrea told us at the finish that she thought she was about 30 seconds down on her clock at fence 24. “I knew I had a Thoroughbred with a lot of gas in the tank, so I just put the pedal down all the way to the end and came in a little faster than I needed to,” Andrea laughed. “But it was really only that last bit that I had to sprint.”

“She’s such a warhorse,” Andrea said. Indy 500 came to Andrea a bit inauspiciously, and she always describes their early days as Indy “picking” her and proving herself as a horse worth keeping around. “She picked me in the beginning and she has earned her keep. She’s been the best horse ever.”

 

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We also saw our two debut riders finish the track this afternoon, along with a handful of “rookies” giving the 5* level a second go after running into trouble at Kentucky. In all, we were thrilled to welcome debutants Emma Lomangino (Master Frisky) and Ashlynn Muechel (Emporium), as well as Mike Pendleton (Steady Eddie), Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride (Favian), Zoe Crawford (K.E.C. Zara), and Karl Slezak (Fernhill Wishes) through the finish flags to finish their first cross country course at the level. It’s a huge amount of effort that goes into getting a horse and rider to this level, and all of the aforementioned riders are primarily one-horse riders without a big string to gain mileage on. We hope you are all proud and happy tonight — and we know for sure that Emma Lomangino is, as demonstrated by her and Master Frisky’s post-ride interview (and we’re also pleased to welcome Master Frisky back to the 5* level for the first time since 2015!):

 

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Problems were tossed a bit throughout the course, and while no one fence would really emerge as a bogey, fence 11 — a left-handed brush corner that came on the end of an S-shaped line on a downhill — caught out four riders with runouts. The track accumulated a completion rate of 83%, with 11 starters (26%) going clear inside the time and 26 (62%) starters going clear without jump penalties.

Three horses fell: Buck Davidson and Carlevo hit the deck rather hard at fence 10A, but both were up on their feet afterward. Buck went on to ride Jak My Style but later withdrew his third ride, Erroll Gobey. Caroline Martin and Islandwood Captain Jack fell at fence 20, the second of the sharply angled cabins that followed the big Fair Hill drop. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore also fell at the Groundhog Garden Gate at fence 24, and while the MIM clip was activated the fall was quite scary. Colleen Rutlege (Covert Rights), Holly Jacks-Smither (Candy King) and Fylicia Barr (Galloway Sunrise) unfortunately fell off. Ema Klugman pulled up Bendigo heartbreakingly close to home at the final water — one of the most difficult (but at the same time, easiest) decisions a horsewoman can make so near the end. Ema reported that Bendigo ran out of steam a bit at the last hill, and she decided to let him call it a day. We’re relieved to report that no injuries have been reported to any riders at the time of publication, and all horses were confirmed to be ok.

You can review the full leaderboard for the CCI5* here.

Kurt Martin and D.A. Lifetime Keep CCI3*L Lead

Kurt Martin and D.A. Lifetime. Photo by Abby Powell.

The USEF National CCI3*-L Championship competitors ran their cross country earlier today, giving the day a brilliant start as Ian Stark’s track here also rode exceptionally well for this division. The 3*L would be a test for horses aiming to move up to the Advanced level in the near future, as third-placed Caroline Martin noted, and this test certainly stood up to that challenge. In the end, Kurt Martin with Debbie Adam’s D.A. Lifetime will retain their lead after a quick clear, remaining on their dressage score of 23.5.

“‘Clarence’ was really excited to be out and she’s a very enthusiastic lady,” Kurt said of D.A. Lifetime, a 9-year-old Holsteiner mare by Lingh who so far has improved upon her two previous CCI3*-L performances. “In the warm-up she was honestly very nervous, so I spent a little bit more time than I had planned up there and she came out of the box well. She just wants to go and go and go and she’s not scared of anything, she’s not backed down by a crowd or by fence or even me and so there was a little bit of wrestling at the beginning but she’s just very genuine lady and she gave me a good ride.”

Daniel Clasing and Olney Uncle Sam. Photo by Abby Powell.

Second in the CCI3*-L overnight will be Daniel Clasing and Jennifer Ward’s Olney Uncle Sam (Sonset Seiger – Aerial, by Starman) — who is a true Maryland horse as he was bred here in the state by the well-known Olney Farm, who made quick work of the track to move up from fourth on a score of 26.0. “We’ve been getting to know each other,” Dan said in the press conference. “We’ve had good events and we’ve had ones that didn’t work out so great, but I think we’re developing a partnership and he’s bwe’ve been getting to know each other, he’s been, you know, we’ve had good events and we’ve had ones that didn’t work out so great but I think we’re developing a partnership and he’s been getting more consistent as the season goes on.”

Caroline Martin and HSH Vamanos. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Caroline Martin, who’s probably the busiest rider here this week in terms of number of horses (and who’s always quick to thank the team behind her for helping make these busy weekends work), and she’ll slot into third place in this division with the 8-year-old HSH Vamanos (Andiamo VH Kapelhof Z – Quasimodelle Kapelhof Z , by Quasimodo Z), who was one of the first to see the track this morning. Caroline and Vamanos will take a score of 27.5 into tomorrow after picking up 2.0 time penalties. This is a special one for Caroline, as Vamonos was actually given to her as an engagement gift.

“Vamanos is quite a cool horse,” Caroline said. “I just got the ride on him in January or February. My business partner Kelly Hutchinson sourced the horse and Emily King produced him up to the two-star level. Kelly found him and gave him to me as my engagement gift so that’s kind of cute. He’s kind of a quirky guy, a little bit of a head case, we jokingly say.”

The 3* did prompt quite a few retirements, with 11 pairs retiring after trouble on course and two picking up eliminations. Elinor O’Neal and Zick Zack had a fall at the angled cabins following the drop, but Zick Zack is reported to be ok.

In total, it was a brilliant day and a brilliant showcase of our sport. The organizers of the Maryland 5 Star hail from other industries outside of the horse world, and the result of this experience led them to reach out into the community to invite more newcomers to take in the event. And what a grand show of sport we gave those newcomers today! We love a challenging cross country that does not trick its participants, and the general consensus in talking to the riders is that Ian Stark did a brilliant job designing his first five-star — though he intimated that he may already be working on some new tricks for next year!

For his part, Ian — who was decidedly nervous to see how this track would ride today — was pleased with how things went, though he admitted he felt nervous after Buck and Carlevo fell. “I’ve always said, my big fear is tricking horses,” Ian said. “And so, what really pleased me today was the horses seem to be reading the questions, even the sort of less experienced horses and riders. Yeah, they had some hiccups but in general, they were getting wrong and they weren’t losing competence and that’s important because a lot of the riders said they had sleepless nights but then so did I, so I don’t really mind!”

Just as the rain began to pour, the final horses were finishing their rounds. Thanks to a move up of start times for both divisions, we were able to see the vast majority of all pairs before high-tailing it back to the press tent (and turning up looking like drowned rats — did you think this job was glamorous? Because it’s decidedly the opposite) as the downpour started.

We will wrap up this epic weekend at Maryland with the final horse inspection tomorrow, beginning at 8 a.m. EST with the 3* horses and 8:30 a.m. EST for the 5* horses. The 3* show jumping begins at 9:30 a.m. EST, followed by the 5* finale at 1 p.m. EST. This schedule is subject to change, so we’ll let you know if any of these times shift.

In the meantime, we’re thankful to have horses and riders back in the barn safe after a fantastic day of cross country. It’s certainly been an incredible experience, and we are grateful to you for following along with us.

Go Eventing!

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