A Hero for all Comers: The Ultimate Form Guide to The Horses and Riders of the 2022 Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*

Michael Jung, King of Kentucky, celebrates the arrival of yet another enormous EN form guide. Probably. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Though last year’s Kentucky-behind-closed-doors was brilliant, it really does feel like a triumphant comeback this year. The stands of the Rolex Stadium will be full; the rounds will be punctuated with gasps and cheers; the long stretches of bluegrass out on course will be well-trodden by thousands of eager feet, willing each and every horse and rider to a heroic finish. There’s nothing more special, nor more unifying, than the moment when a rider crosses the finish line and sees the culmination of a lifetime of dreaming come true – and no matter whether you want to root for a hometown hero, a global champion, an underdog, an ex-racehorse, or a plucky amateur rider, there’s someone in this field for you to get behind.

Chinch and his team of rodent brethren have been hard at work crunching the numbers on each pair’s predicted performance –- and, crucially, digging out the fun facts you really need to know to pick your favorite for the week. What fun they are, too –- in the sultry depths of this year’s form guide, you’ll discover which competitor dreamed of becoming a bull rider, which horse ‘feels like riding a kitchen table’, which two diminutive powerhouses share a (very quirky) sire, who’s here on holiday time from her job as a full-time vet, and who stands a chance of beating the sub-20 score Michael Jung will probably deliver. It’s a wild ride, folks, and everyone who comes to the Horse Park has a story, a big dream, and a whole lot of history behind them.

We’re particularly excited to get involved with EquiRatings Eventing Manager, which is the fantasy eventing game we’ve all been dreaming of since our formative days as Equestriad 2001-playing nerds. You’ll be able to pick a team of four horses and riders and compete to win real prizes, including some seriously cool EN swag if you join our league. The market opens at 1.00 p.m. EST today, April 26, so you’ve got just enough time to use the form guide to brush up on your knowledge now and get planning your team.

Keep it locked onto EN this week for all the Kentucky news, views, and updates you could possibly need -– and let us know in the comments who your money’s on this week! You can also use your freshly gleaned expertise to submit your pick to win in our Horseware Pick ‘Em & Win Contest here.

Author’s note: You may notice that a few names that appear in the official running order are missing from our form guide. Fear not, dear reader! We haven’t lost our minds. Those horses and riders will be hopping the pond for a jolly good go at next week’s Badminton Horse Trials instead, and you’ll be able to read all about them in that form guide. Onwards!

Want to jump straight to your favorite horse and rider? Click the links below to jump to their section (the combinations are listed by draw number):

2: Will Coleman and Dondante
6: Doug Payne and Vandiver
7: Leslie Law and Voltaire de Tre
8: Allie Knowles and Morswood
9: Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus
10: Jessica Phoenix and Bogue Sound
11: Hannah Sue Burnett and Capitol H.I.M.
12: Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo
13: Phillip Dutton and Sea of Clouds
14: Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancado
15: Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135
16: Elisa Wallace and Let It Be Lee
17: Tamie Smith and Fleeceworks Royal
18: Alex MacLeod and Newmarket Jack
19:Buck Davidson and Erroll Gobey
21: Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime
22: Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope
24: James Alliston and Paper Jam
25: Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium
26: Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights
28: Zoe Crawford and K.E.C. Zara
29: Hallie Coon and Global Ex
30: Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle
31: Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me
32: Joseph Murphy and Calmaro
33: Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF
35: Buck Davidson and Sorocaima
36: Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH
37: Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot
38: Jonelle Price and McClaren
39: Lauren Nicholson and Landmark’s Monte Carlo
40: Will Coleman and Off the Record
41: Bobby Meyerhoff and Fortuna
42: Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent
43: Fylicia Barr and Galloway Sunrise
44: Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit
45: Doug Payne and Quantum Leap
46: Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z
49: Yazmin Ingham and Bonzai Du Loir
50: Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire
51: Marc Grandia and Campari FFF
52: Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie
53: Sarah Bullimore and Corouet
54: Buck Davidson and Carlevo
55: Will Faudree and PFun
56: Pippa Funnell and Maybach

Will Coleman and Dondante. Photo by Brant Gamma Photography.

2: Will Coleman and DonDante (USA)

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Pachio x Muckno Clover, by Euro Clover). Owned by Team Rebecca, LLC.

It’ll be a third appearance at the 5* level for Will Coleman’s incredibly tall Dondante, who debuted at Kentucky last spring but finished his week early when he hung a leg at the Head of the Lake, giving Will a free diving lesson in the process. But as frustrating as an unplanned dunking is, it was also an educational moment –- and Will certainly spent the months since Kentucky solidifying his form. He returned to the level at Maryland in October after an up-and-down summer that saw him jump clear around the CCI3*-S at Great Meadow but retire on course in the CCI4*-S at Morven Park. It wasn’t, perhaps, the ideal prep, but everything worked out for the best: the pair finished fifteenth at Maryland, adding just 3.6 time across the country and a total of 4.4 penalties in showjumping to their first-phase score of 32.6.

While it’s not quite Dondante’s time to fight for the win, expect him to deliver three solid performances and make the most of the course: he’s a much more established competitor this year, and Will will be keenly aware of when and where he can push for a little bit more. The trailblazer spot is a tricky one to take on, and Will’s been thrust into it by surprise after the withdrawal of Buck Davidson’s Jak My Style, but he’s a pragmatic competitor and will still be riding high on the unique brand of confidence a major win gives a rider. He picked one of those up in September when he took the prestigious CCIO4*-S at Aachen with Off The Record.

It won’t be far from his mind that the gelding is capable of delivering similar victories in the years to come – and could pull out a very respectable result this week, too. His first phase performance will have him out of touch with the leaders, but a solid cross-country round would help him climb – and this is the horse everyone wants to ride come Sunday. He’s easily one of the best showjumpers in the field, with just two international rails to his name in nineteen FEI starts.

Oh, and his name? It comes from a song by My Morning Jacket -– one of Will’s favorite bands — as does that of his stablemate, Off The Record. His namesake song is quite the musical trip, if you feel like taking a listen. Trust us, we’ve done many a deep dive into the musical likings of one Mr. Will Coleman.

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Doug Payne and Vandiver. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

6: Doug Payne and Vandiver (USA)

Eighteen-year-old Trakehner gelding (Windfall II x Visions of Grandeur). Owned by Debi Crowley, Jessica Payne and the rider.

Debi Crowley’s Vandiver will be the first of two rides for Doug this weekend in the CCI5* at Kentucky — but he’s going to be very busy beyond that, with entries in the CCI4*-S and the CSI3* showjumping class. He’ll certainly enjoy heading out of the startbox with his experienced longtime partner first in this class, though, because at this point, tackling a five-star with the gelding has got to feel a bit like slipping on a really comfy pair of shoes. This will be their sixth start at the level and their fifth Kentucky; their best result here came in 2019, when they finished fifth. They returned last year and took twelfth place, which certainly helped them get selected as reserves for the Tokyo Olympics — a situation that ultimately saw them compete after the withdrawal of Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. They did themselves proud there, finishing in 16th place individually.

Consistency has been the name of the game for Vandiver, who with Doug in the irons has accumulated multiple top placings at the Advanced and CCI4*-S level. It’s no secret that Vandiver is a favorite of longtime Payne Equestrian groom Courtney Carson, who will be caring for him this weekend. He’s a quirky guy on the emotional side, whose biggest fear is big tractors, but he’s also happy to take a working student out for a hack around the property like a perfect trail horse. Courtney says if he were a human, he’d be the 65-year-old man still running marathons and Spartan races.

This is the first pair out of the start box that we’ll be able to use to gauge the time allowed. Vandiver tends to be quick, and Doug is very savvy about finding creative, economical lines, so if they can’t catch the time, we’ll know nice and early that the time penalties will come thick and fast throughout the day. Their efficiency will help them climb from their mid-30s first-phase score — though they certainly can go sub-30 at four-star, they trend higher at this level — and if they can lay down one of the quickest rounds of the day, they stand to allow a bit of a buffer for the rail they’ll knock on Sunday. A top ten finish isn’t out of the question, but in this caliber of field, top fifteen feels more likely.

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Leslie Law and Voltaire de Tre. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

7: Leslie Law and Voltaire de Tre (GREAT BRITAIN)

Thirteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Gentleman IV x Jasmina du Fresne). Owned by Tre’ Book.

“Larger than life” is how British Olympic gold medalist Leslie Law would describe the flashy Voltaire de Tre, who at the age of just 10 made an excellent CCI5* debut at Kentucky 2019 to finish in the top 10 overall. ‘Splash’, who is owned by and named after Tre Book, will now make his fourth start at the level, having also done Kentucky and Maryland last year. Their Kentucky run saw them finish 26th on a steady double clear, and at Maryland, they picked up 22nd place after activating a safety device on course.

With looks to match his ‘splashy’ personality, the French-bred gelding is impossible to miss, but sometimes this part of his personality can make him a bit of a handful to ride. Generally speaking, though, Leslie calls Splash a “trier” who does want to do his best work, even when it’s hard to contain his enthusiasm for the task at hand. The pair have scored sub-35 in their last two five-stars and should do the same again this week, though a 36.5 in their prep run at Red Hills CCI4*-S, where they finished 10th, will mean they really need to ride every stride and get on the same page to deliver the test they’re capable of. On Saturday, they’re a consistent and reliable pair, though not among the fastest in the field, so will be hoping for a tougher track to give them some climbing room. On difficult days, these ‘stayer’ horses are able to climb; on less influential days, it becomes a question of who can cross the finish line the fastest, which can work against some otherwise very good horses. Sunday sees them head into the ring with a roughly 60% chance of a clear, though Splash does tend to jump at his best on the final day of a three-day, which isn’t unusual for a spicy horse. Leslie will, no doubt, be aiming for another top ten finish this week.

Based in Ocala, Florida with his wife, Lesley, and their son, Liam, Leslie also does plenty of coaching as the USEF Eventing Development and Emerging Athletes Coach. He can typically be found helping the next generation of star event riders hone their skills, complementing the practical curriculum with other well-rounded teachings to produce not only competent riders, but excellent horsemen and women.

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Allie Knowles and Morswood. Photo by Abby Powell.

8: Allie Knowles and Morswood (USA)

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Richardo Z x Princess In Arms). Owned by Katherine O’Brien.

It’ll be a sophomore CCI5* for Morswood, who was originally produced by Great Britain’s Piggy March before handing the reins to her then-stable jockey, Ireland’s Susie Berry. With Susie, the gelding contested the Young Rider European Championships in 2017, and though he didn’t pass the final horse inspection, he proved how quick and competitive he can be across the country.

Since pairing up with Allie, who’s best known for tackling the biggest courses in the world with her OTTB Sound Prospect, he’s picked up some exciting results –- but also some green, educational ones. They went to Maryland for his first five-star off the back of a couple of his best performances at CCI4*-S and CCI4*-L, which set them up well for the gelding’s biggest challenge yet. He rose to the occasion with aplomb, finishing eleventh and giving Allie her best-ever five-star result.

Busy Allie doesn’t just produce horses and compete –- she’s also a certified trainer and helps her students achieve their own goals, too. That penchant for multitasking and super work ethic comes from her days as a Pony Clubber — she’s an A graduate of Sierra Gold Pony Club. Even more incredible? She’s a new mom, and managed that Maryland result less than a year postpartum. Baby Atticus is very much a part of Allie’s life on the road, and competing at a five-star is a family effort more than ever, now –- so expect to see plenty of happy tears and cheers as she and Ginge cross the finish line in pursuit of another excellent result. They should post around the 30 mark in dressage, though they can go sub-30 and will be aiming for it, and another clear with a handful of time will make them a threat at the upper end of the leaderboard. They can have a couple of rails down, historically, but they perform brilliantly under pressure and went clear when it counted at Maryland.

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Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

9: Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus (USA)

Fifteen-year-old Anglo-Arab gelding (Serazim x Wake Me Gently). Owned by Jacqueline Mars.

Though Lauren and her cool little guy, nicknamed ‘Bug’, remain on the entry list for Kentucky, they plan to go simply to throw down a dressage test and then reroute to Luhmühlen. Their plan for the spring had been to contest Badminton, but last month, Bug knocked his fetlock in training and Lauren opted to wind his intense conditioning work back while the swelling wore off, rather than risking a more serious injury. Though he didn’t come up lame at any point, she wisely didn’t want to compromise his soundness, but the missed work meant that he hasn’t picked up enough fitness to run at this level. A ‘schooling’ test in the stadium will be a useful exercise, and we look forward to seeing the diminutive powerhouse head back to Germany for his first visit to Luhmühlen.

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Jessica Phoenix and Bogue Sound. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

10: Jessica Phoenix and Bogue Sound (CANADA)

Fifteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Crafty Shaw x Carolina Blue). Owned by Amara Hoppner.

Bogue Sound, the Kentucky-bred Thoroughbred originally snapped off the track by Dorothy Crowell, was born to do cross-country. The chestnut gelding, who won a little over $11,000 through seven racing starts, became Jessie’s ride for owner Amara Hoeppner in 2016 after he’d done some Preliminary events. Now fifteen, ‘Bogie’ is preparing for his third CCI5*, having finished in the top 15 in his debut at Kentucky in 2019 and 21st at Maryland last year.

Olympian Jessie, who bases in Ontario for most of the year, is a bit of a superwoman herself. She’s made several successful returns to competition after sustaining many a serious injury, two maternity leaves, and the multiple other highs and lows that can be found dotting any event rider’s career timeline. Now, Bogue Sound looks set to step up to Jessie’s top string as she looks ahead to the World Equestrian Games and Canada’s ongoing rebuilding process on the world stage. Look for her to seek a competitive finish here, maybe even improving on Bogie’s top-15 in his first five-star.

He’s yet to pick up a jumping penalty in 24 international starts with Jessie in the irons. And while he, like most Thoroughbreds, tends not to love the first phase of competition, his scores have trended towards more competitive as he’s gotten stronger and more experienced. We’d ordinarily call him a mid-30s horse, but he pulled it out of the bag in a big way at Maryland, laying down a very respectable 29.6 –- his first and only sub-30 score in an FEI event. This year, he’s posted a 36.4 in the CCI4*-S at Red Hills, but followed that up with a promising 30.1 in the CCI4*-S at Bouckaert International, so another serious test this week isn’t out of the question at all. On cross-country, we’ll be looking to see them add a handful of time penalties, and their major obstacle for the week will be Sunday’s showjumping test – Bogie has only jumped clear three times in his international career, and had a frustrating five down at Maryland.

Bogie’s a trusting, laid-back guy who still has a good sense of humor. If he were to have a celebrity doppleganger, Jessica told Horse Sport, it would likely be country singer Blake Shelton. No word yet on whether or not he can carry a tune.

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Hannah Sue Burnett and Capitol H I M. Photo by Shelby Allen.

11: Hannah Sue Burnett and Capitol H I M (USA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Con Air x O-Heraldika). Owned by Christa Schmidt.

There are a number of horses making their five-star debuts at reasonably advanced ages this year, which is largely a function of the pandemic –- all the lost competitions and diminished seasons means that a lot of horses effectively lost a couple of years of mileage. One such late bloomer is Capitol H I M, who comes forward for his first five-star at fifteen. But in his case, it’s not actually a function of the pandemic that he’s debuting later. He actually didn’t start his international eventing career until 2019.

‘Cheeto’ is best friends with Hannah’s other ride, Harbour Pilot, and the two are turned out together at home – which has been a good humbling exercise for William, who happily lets Cheeto boss him around.

Though he’s reasonably new to the upper levels, Cheeto is no slouch: he stepped up to four-star last April and has never finished outside the top ten at the level. His mid-30s score won’t see him in the hunt from the get-go here, but he has everything it takes to deliver a respectable, if steady and educational, round on Saturday. Come Sunday, he’ll be in his element: he’s one of the best show jumpers in the field and has never had a rail at four-star or in either of his two long-format runs.

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Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo. Photo by RedBayStock.com.

12: Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo (CANADA)

Eighteen-year-old British Sport Horse mare (Jumbo x Polly Coldunnell). Owned by the Jollybo Syndicate and the rider.

Two-time Canadian Olympian Hawley has had some special horses in her life, and the 18-year-old Jollybo has certainly stepped into her predecessors’ shoes with class and just a little bit of sass. This weekend will be the seventh CCI5* start together for this pair, who first joined up in 2016 after the little mare was sourced by Great Britain’s Kate Tarrant and produced in the U.S. through the the CCI4*-L level by fellow Brit Justine Dutton. Hawley would likely tell you her preference is a cheeky bay mare –- if you hearken back to the Gin & Juice days, you might see a few commonalities.

This is a pair that’s been working hard at home to hone their craft, and Hawley can often be found bringing riders such as her longtime coach Buck Davidson out to her home base in southern California for regular clinics. Her hard work has paid off, as Jollybo’s dressage scores have trended downward since their partnership began. After rerouting to Jersey Fresh last spring after a minor foot issue kept Jollybo off the cross-country at Kentucky out of an abundance of caution, Hawley and “Jolly” finished 14th in the CCI4*-L and also picked up a top-five finish in the CCI4*-L at Rebecca Farm last summer. They then ticked their five-star box for the year at Maryland, finishing 20th. This year, we’ve seen them tackle one international –- the CCI4*-S sat Bouckaert International – but they did so with aplomb, earning a significant international personal best of 26.8 in the first phase.

Though the mare is in the latter stages of her career, we wouldn’t rule them out for the WEG –- so expect them to go for it here, as a solid performance will give them a real shot at selection. We’d love to see her dip sub-30, but a low-30s mark is more realistic, and they’ll be hunting for another clear with a handful of time penalties. Their best-ever finish here was twelfth place back in 2017, and they could go for a top fifteen finish again — as long as Sunday goes okay. Their three rails at Maryland were expensive, and we haven’t seen them go clear over the poles in an international since 2019.

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Phillip Dutton and Sea of Clouds. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

13: Phillip Dutton and Sea of Clouds (USA)

Eleven-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Malibu Moon x Winner’s Ticket). Owned by the Sea of Clouds Partnership.

This is a super field for fans of Thoroughbreds, with a total of eight entered –- and the eleven-year-old failed racehorse Sea Of Clouds will certainly give fans of the ‘underdog’ something to cheer about. ‘Socs’ didn’t have much success on the track, and actually retired from racing after just two starts, despite costing a whopping $170,000 as a yearling. But he’d been in training with Graham Motion, who had also trained Icabad Crane, and so the trainer –- and owner Sheikh Fahad al-Thani –- decided to give the system another go.

Socs proved a prodigy in his new career, winning his first-ever event, and since stepping up to the upper levels, he’s picked up innumerable top-ten placings, including third in the Morven Park CCI4*-S in 2019, tenth in the Great Meadow CCI4*-S in 2020, and fifth at Jersey Fresh CCI4*-L last May. He’s naturally very quick and bold, and was impressive in his five-star debut at Maryland, where he finished thirteenth after a classy clear inside the time proved why American Thoroughbreds deserve a chance to shine at the upper levels.

We’ve seen Socs out and about in just one international since Maryland, and that was the CCI4*-S at the Fork at Tryon, where he delivered a tidy fifth place finish, very nearly finishing on his 34.3 dressage, but for two seconds across the country and one in show jumping. That dressage score was actually high for him –- he put a 31.5 up at Maryland, which is much closer to his usual average. If he can replicate that at Kentucky, he stands a very good chance of fighting for a top ten finish -– though the one real question mark for him is the final phase. He had two down at Maryland, which isn’t unusual for him, particularly at a three-day.

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Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancado. Photo by Abby Powell.

14: Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando (USA) – ROOKIE PAIR

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding ((Lancer II x Fancy II, by Langata Express xx). Owned by Jacqueline Thorne, Kelly Morgan, and the rider.

New Yorker Booli heads to her first-ever five-star this week with Lance, her partner of six years, who she bought from equine vet Kevin Keane as a Prelim horse. Lance is one of those great characters of horse sport: though he’s categorically enormous at 17.1hh, he’s a bashful boy who often looks like he’s just hatched when he’s in a new place, according to Booli’s groom, Anna Ciampaglione. “He’s like ‘oh my gosh, the world is so big and bright’ even though he’s 15 years old and has seen everything there is to be seen,” Anna tells EN.

Though Booli and Lance’s journey up the levels has been slowed down a bit by injuries — both to horse and rider — they’ve put in some great results in their 13 FEI starts together. They finished their 2021 season with a ninth place finish in the CCI4*-L at Morven Park, and have gone clear in all six of their four-stars. Lance isn’t a naturally super quick horse, but he’s consistent and reliable, and knows he can trust his rider even when all those scary new things appear in his sight. They’ll be aiming to stay sub-40 in the first phase and will head out on course to chase a confidence-building clear that’ll set them both up well for the future. A likely rail or two on Sunday won’t dim the glow of a first Kentucky completion -– a magic moment for any rider.

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Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

15: Woods Baughman and C’est la Vie 135 (USA) – ROOKIE PAIR

Fourteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Contendro I x Anette). Owned by Kim and James Baughman and the rider.

It’ll be a five-star debut for 25-year-old Woods and his excellent German gelding, with whom he became the USEF CCI4*-L National Champion back in November. That’s a pretty good title to carry into a step up of this magnitude, which will be a homecoming of sorts, too — Woods is a Lexington native, and first visited the three-day when he was just a tiny six-year-old, taking weekly ‘up-down’ lessons and dreaming of life as… a bull rider. Though his goals have (fortunately) shifted, he’ll still have a hero’s welcome in his hometown – you’ll spot his friends and family out tailgating on Saturday, with three spots reserved just for the Woods fan club.

These days, Woods trains with Sharon White, who he first started working with when he was part of the Young Rider program, which she coached. His first job away from home was a winter spent in Florida at her southern base, and it was through Sharon that he was able to secure a year-long stint in Germany, where he based with Dirk Schrade. Dirk would help him find C’est La Vie, who was produced to CCI3*-S by Ben Leuwer – a rider responsible for a number of excellent horses, including Clever Louis, winner of the 2019 Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S under Chris Burton.

Just a matter of months into their partnership, Woods and ‘Contendro’, as he’s known at home, won the 2019 CCI3*-L National Championship. It was a brilliant way to close out their first season together, and the stage seemed set for an excellent 2021 -– but it all went pear-shaped when they came to Kentucky for the inaugural, very tough CCI4*-S. Woods fell on cross-country after the gelding hung a leg over a fence, and in doing so, broke two lumbar vertebrae. Though he was back riding within weeks, he and Contendro had to go back to the drawing board with their cross-country performances, which suffered an ebb of confidence and, crucially, control. A major step down to the Preliminary level helped them rebuild and they returned to the upper levels stronger and better than ever. In their last five FEI runs, they’ve only been outside of the top five once — and that was a 12th place finish in the CCI3*-S at Unionville, where they ran steadily.

Now, they return to Kentucky with bigger goals and more confidence in one another than ever. Their goal will be to start the week with a sub-30 score, which they’ve consistently delivered at four-star, and then to attack Derek di Grazia’s course boldly, listening to one another throughout and building their foundations for their very exciting future. Their sensible, educational steadiness will probably keep them from fighting for a placing this time, but Woods knows now that you can make the biggest leaps as a rider by taking it one well-thought-out step at a time. Come Sunday, they’ll be grinning: they haven’t had a rail down in an international since 2019.

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Elisa Wallace and Let It Be Lee. Photo by Shelby Allen.

16: Elisa Wallace and Let It Be Lee (USA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Fourteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Bernstein x Sugaree). Owned by Donna Biggs and Rosemary Spillane. 

We’re sure we’re not alone in feeling like we’ve ridden this very cool Thoroughbred ourselves –- after all, Elisa commits to uploading regular hatcam videos from her competitions, and so we know almost exactly how fun it feels to stare down a big, solid fence between his ears. We’re already hugely overexcited to see the content Elisa produces from her horse’s first five-star, which will be his 17th international start.

Elisa is best known for two things: retraining racehorses and working with mustangs, and there’s a lot more crossover between the two activities than you might think. She does a lot of bareback work with a neck rope with her event horses, working on building trust and partnership in a very foundational way, and she loves just hanging out with the horses, too, and feeding Lee his favourite snacks: jalapeño chips and gummy worms, a not dissimilar diet to that of a busy equestrian journalist, actually.

Lee, who raced in California under the name Leerider, was originally produced through the CCI3*-L level by Canada’s Kyle Carter. It was Kyle who ultimately acted as matchmaker, too: he kept insisting to Elisa that the Thoroughbred in his string was so similar to her former five-star mount, Simply Priceless, that she had to come and try him. Eventually she gave in, and she immediately felt the same feeling that ‘Johnny’ had given her. The rest, as they say, is history — well, history and FEI records. They finished in the top twenty in the very tough CCI4*-S here last year, despite picking up 20 penalties across the country, and they enjoyed their best result at TerraNova in October, where they finished fifth in the CCI4*-S. This will be an educational, rather than a competitive, run for the gelding, who has gone sub-30 at four-star but is likely to deliver a low-to-mid-30s score this week. His cross-country form has some blips, so Elisa will be looking to build his confidence and present him with fair challenges on the way around, so we may see a long route or two and a fair helping of time is to be expected. They’ll likely have two or three rails on the final day, but for those who are fascinated by the journey of producing a horse (which is most of us, because we’re a collective of big nerds here, let’s be honest!), it’ll be a really interesting insight to see how Elisa makes each phase happen, particularly with her generosity in sharing her journey from her point of view.

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Tamie Smith & Fleeceworks Royal. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

17: Tamie Smith and Fleeceworks Royal (USA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Holsteiner mare (Riverman x Marisol). Owned by Judith McSwain.

It’ll be a long-awaited five-star debut for the talented Fleeceworks Royal, whose first foray into the global spotlight came in 2018, when the glamorous gals benefitted from the Jacqueline Mars International Competition Grant and competed at Boekelo’s CCI4*-L in the Netherlands. They finished ninth there in strong company, and their competition record has continued on in much the same vein: in 26 FEI starts, Fleeceworks Royal has finished in the top ten 19 times.

Though the striking mare isn’t quite as strong on the flat as stablemate Mai Baum (but to be fair, who is?), she’s very capable of putting in a competitive first-phase performance that’ll have her well in the hunt. She’s generally a high-20s scorer, though in the last year we’ve seen her dip as low as 24.9 in the CCI4*-L at Galway Downs and as high as 32 in the CCI4*-S at Carolina. A score just sub-30 would be about right for her first time tackling the five-star test. On cross-country, she’s enormously reliable: she’s picked up jumping penalties across the country just once in an FEI event, back in 2016, and though she wouldn’t be as fast as some of the horses in this field, she ordinarily romps home with just a handful of time penalties. On Sunday, she leans towards having a rail, particularly over the last year or so, when we’ve seen her tip over her average in this phase.

California girl Tamie has a busy fortnight ahead of her: from Kentucky she’ll head straight to Badminton, where she’s got big plans to frighten everyone into submission with Mai Baum, who’s already been hotly tipped to lead the dressage. There are many fans of the sport for whom Tamie is a particular inspiration, and rightly so: she became a professional while supporting herself as a young single mother, getting an education alongside working, riding, and raising Kaylawna, who’s now a mother and an upper-level event rider in her own right. The big win that Tamie’s on track for might not come this week with this horse, but it’s certainly coming — and it’ll be enormously well-deserved when it arrives.

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Alexandra MacLeod and Newmarket Jack. Photo by Kim Miller.

18: Alex MacLeod and Newmarket Jack (USA) – ROOKIE PAIR

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Newmarket Jewel x Newmarket Chantepie). Owned by Carla MacLeod and the rider.

A true amateur competitor, five-star debutant Alex fits riding in around a career as a veterinarian in Los Angeles. That means that making it to this level has been a serious labour of love — and of time management. For example, here’s a typical week in her life: on the days that she’s riding before work, she wakes up at 3:45am so she can get to the barn, ride her horse, and then get to work by 7:30am. On the days that she rides after work, she leaves around 5:30pm to go to the barn and gets home at about 9pm. She tries to take dressage lessons in the evenings with Jane Arrasmith Duggan, and come rain or shine, she rides five days a week.

That all paid off in spades when she and Newmarket Jack, who she’s produced from a fairly feral five-year-old, won the Galway Downs CCI4*-L in November, a victory that saw them finish on their dressage score of 37 and put them on the shortlist for the 2022 Eventing Development Program. They followed that win with another at the same venue, this time in the CCI4*-S this month, despite running slowly to best prepare for their Kentucky debut.

Like many West Coast eventers, Alex had to get creative with her Kentucky prep because so many competitions — and barns, including her own — went into lockdown as a result of the EHV-1 outbreak. Because of her residency, she wasn’t able to relocate to ensure she got the runs in, but fortunately, that April Galway fixture went well and worked to give her and Jack what they needed ahead of their big trip.

Alex will have plenty of support on the ground at Kentucky from her wide network of friends and former trainers – while some might view the constant relocation her job has required as a hindrance, she’s certainly used it to her advantage, taking the chance to train with riders such as Phillip Dutton and Daniel Clasing while living on the East Coast, and even doing a stint working and competing in Wellington. She’s not coming to Kentucky to win it, but will be aiming for a sub-40 dressage and an educational clear round across the country –- and her completion will be a poignant victory for all working eventers.

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Buck Davidson and Erroll Gobey. Photo by Abby Powell.

19: Buck Davidson and Erroll Gobey (USA)

Twelve-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cassini II x Ulla II). Owned by Cassie Segal, Lisa Darden, and Natalie Sandler. 

Buck -– who’s the son of eventing legend Bruce Davidson -– is a busy man this week, but that’s the way he likes it: he hasn’t brought fewer than two rides to a U.S. CCI5* in any year since 2013. The withdrawal of Jak My Style, who was to be trailblazer, does give him a little room to at least suss out the rest of the competition, but he still has three horses to pilot around Saturday’s course. We hope he’s made plans to have a large bourbon waiting for him at the finish line once he gets his final ride home.

Erroll Gobey, who was bred in Germany but initially produced in the UK by JP Sheffield, made his five-star debut at Kentucky last spring, though was retired on course after going green at the first water. After that, Buck kept busy putting the wheels back on the bus, and Gobey stepped up, finishing sixth and second in Advanced classes at the Horse Park of New Jersey and Millbrook Horse Trials, respectively. He was on the roster for a second go at Maryland in October, but was withdrawn before running cross-country after Buck took a tumble with his first ride, Carlevo.

His 32 there, though, was a nice starting point that he’ll be hoping to replicate this week, and his one international run since — the CCI4*-S at Stable View this month — saw him finish in the top ten, even with a steady run. This is still an inexperienced horse for his age, thanks in part to the pandemic, and this week’s trip will be a consolidating one rather than a competitive one. This could be set to be the season in which Erroll Gobey steps up from a boy to a man, and this week will be a crucial stepping stone for his exciting future.

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Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

21: Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime (USA)

Seventeen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Aptitude x Czarina Kate, by The Prime Minister). Owned by CML Horses LLC.

This will be a fifth five-star for Leah and her stalwart partner AP Prime, who made their debut here in 2015, though opted to withdraw before cross-country. They’ve got two completions under their belt: a 33rd place finish in 2016 and 34th last year, both of which saw them complete with clear, steady cross-country rounds. They also jumped clear — and very quick — in 2018, though didn’t go on to showjumping.

Leah bought AP Prime as a five-year-old through CANTER Illinois for just $750, and in less than five years, he went to Kentucky for his debut. He’d been relatively unsuccessful on the track, winning $20,000 in 31 starts, but he took to his new role like a duck to water and was out eventing in just six months. Around the same time, Leah had made the big decision to leave her corporate finance job in Washington DC and go pro, and so her journey with the special Thoroughbred has been full of enormous milestones for her as a rider.

Leah describes herself as, “dysfunctionally ambitious” and has been laser focused on a fifth Kentucky appearance. “My singular identity is working towards five-stars,” she said in an emphatic campaign toward fundraising last year’s event.

They won’t fight for the win here this week, but they’ll certainly be hoping to replicate their cross-country run in 2018, where they romped home with just 1.6 time penalties. If they can do that again, plus keep their first-phase score to the high-30s, they could find themselves in the very exciting position of jumping for a place in the top twenty on Sunday. AP doesn’t find this phase the easiest, but he’s actually at his best on the final day of a three-day, and has only had one down in each of his five-star showjumping rounds.

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Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

22: Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope (GREAT BRITAIN)

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Porter Rhodes x Brown Sue). Owned by the rider.

Pippa has long ridden the reliable Majas Hope for owner Marek Sebestak, but was given ownership of the horse over the off-season, and so comes here in the rare position of being an owner-rider. It’s a financial gamble to do so for any rider, but Majas Hope is, fittingly, what we’d call a banker –- he goes out, puts his head down, and does his job every time, without much pomp or circumstance, but enormously reliably. That quality has led to him being selected for the British team: in 2019, he was the pathfinder at the European Championships and stormed home clear and inside the time, helping the team to gold and taking 22nd individually.

Since then, his weakest phase has taken a major turn for the better. He was a solid mid-30 scorer, but Pippa has put plenty of time and patience into producing more consistent work on the flat — and that, plus a swap to a double bridle, has seen him deliver four sub-30 scores out of his six FEI runs in 2021. His last two, the tough CCI4*-S and the inaugural ‘pop-up’ CCI5* at Bicton, saw him finish in the ribbons, and though Pippa retired him on course in Bicton’s CCI4*-S earlier last year, he looks more than ready to contest his fourth five-star and pay for his American outing.

We’ve not seen Majas Hope in an international this year, but he’s had three good national outings to prepare him for Kentucky, which will be the second Grand Slam leg for 2019 Burghley winner Pippa to chase down. He finished tenth in an OI at Poplar Park after a steady run, second in the AI at Great Witchingham on a quicker time, and twelfth in the star-studded Advanced at Thoresby Park. Pippa will be aiming to start the week sub-30, which will put her close enough to the top that if she hunts him round on Saturday, she can gain some ground. A tough course but a catchable time would suit him: he’s very genuine and capable, but not always the fastest horse in the field. A rail isn’t off the cards on Sunday – he’s had one in two of his three five-stars so far, but did showjump clear at Burghley in 2018 for 13th place. Top ten is a fair aim here, but if all goes well, a top five isn’t unrealistic.

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James Alliston & Paper Jam. Photo by Kim Miller.

24: James Alliston and Paper Jam (GBR) – ROOKIE HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Paparazzo x Reely Jamin XX). Owned by Helen Alliston.

Last year’s Rebecca Farm CCI4*-L winners come forward for what is just the five-star debutant gelding’s ninth FEI event — but though his record may be small, it is fierce. He’s never finished outside the top ten in any of his internationals.

This will be James’s long-awaited return to five-star — we last saw him here in 2017, though he didn’t complete that year with former ride Parker. He’s had eleven trips around the Horse Park prior to that, with his best results coming aboard Parker in 2011 and 2013. Both years, they finished in fourteenth place. Paper Jam’s inexperience may stop him from besting that finish, as he only stepped up to four-star last season, but so far, he’s looking to be a very competitive partner for the West Coast-based Brit, who moved over to work for Bruce Davidson in his gap year. After flitting back and forth between Bruce’s base in Pennsylvania and university in the UK, he finally committed to the American dream full-time when he was offered a training job in California post-graduation.

We’ll be looking at this pair to aim for the mid-30s or below in the first phase: their scores have been constantly improving, and their last three FEI runs have been on scores lower than 35. They’re naturally efficient across the country, too, and Paper Jam hasn’t picked up a cross-country jumping penalty in an international since his first season. They do tend to take a couple of rails, which will likely be expensive in this field, but an educational first outing at the level will be a really exciting stepping stone for this classy gelding.

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Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium. Photo by Shelby Allen.

25: Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium (USA)

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Cartano x Upana, by Opan). Owned by the rider.

Ashlynn Meucheul knows how to be a road warrior. After growing up in Kalispell, Montana (home of The Event at Rebecca Farm), Ashlynn graduated from high school early and made her first big move to southern California, where she began riding with Tamie Smith. Tamie would become a big mentor for Ashlynn as she prepared for Young Riders with a horse whom she’d been partnered with thanks to support from her mother, Kelli, as well as Sarah Broussard.

Emporium had made his eventing debut with Tamie originally as a five-year-old. Despite some quirks, Ashlynn struck up a partnership with “Theo”, who she describes as very careful and quite a character on the ground (and under saddle). From California, Ashlynn would next move to Florida, where she currently bases her business. Having just moved Emporium up to the Advanced level in 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold of the world, Ashlynn elected to aim for what was both horse and rider’s CCI5* debut at Maryland. They ultimately finished 33rd there after picking up 40 jumping penalties and 49.6 time across the country –- but along the way, they also picked up plenty of experience and education, which they’ll be putting to the test this week.

They’ve had one international run since then, picking up a top twenty placing in the CCI4*-S at Red Hills in March, where they ran slowly and steadily, but their two national-level runs have looked on good form, too: they were sixth in their final prep run in the AI at Ocala, where they ran quickly and put a very good 31.6 on the board, and they started their year with a top ten finish in an OI at Rocking Horse. They look set to replicate the low-30s mark they started with at Maryland and this time, we’ll be looking for them to nail down their first clear at the top level in what will be just their 16th FEI start.

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Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. Photo by AK Dragoo Photography.

26: Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights (USA)

Sixteen-year-old Thoroughbred-cross gelding (Black Fox Farm Incognito x Let’s Get It Right). Owned by FSG, Inc. and the rider.

This weekend will mark the 48th FEI start for Colleen Rutlege and ‘CR’, as he’s known at home. This is a particularly special partner for Colleen, who actually bred Covert Rights and also has gone on to breed three half siblings by the same sire. Covert Rights’ dam, Let’s Get It Right, was Colleen’s first Advanced partner. She paired the Thoroughbred mare with the Clydesdale-Thoroughbred stallion BFF Incognito, who had competed through the Preliminary level himself. This gelding was actually the only of Let’s Get It Right’s offspring to make it past his fifth year, making him all the more special as the memory of his mother lives on through him.

Eventing is an all-out family affair for the Rutledge family, as Colleen’s daughters, Cassie and CIana, also event – in fact, Cassie is currently competing Covert Rights’ half-brother, Sherlock, at the Novice level. You’re also almost sure to see Colleen’s husband, Brian, at every event he can make it to, and he’s always got a warm smile and a joke coming your way if you happen to run into him.

CR is “definitely a character”, Colleen told The Chronicle of the Horse last year, noting that he has a propensity for nibbling on zippers or headphone cords. But in general, he’s laidback to be around and a worker bee under saddle. Look for this pair to put in a workmanlike test –- and they’re capable of putting in a solidly competitive score, and routinely dip sub-30 at four-star –- and then watch for them to leave the start box full of determination. Their Maryland five-star run didn’t go to plan, and they were eliminated for a rider fall early on in the course, so Colleen will be doubly focused on the finish line this year in their first Kentucky since 2018. They’ve been competitive here in the past, finishing 11th in 2015, and they’ve jumped clear around Burghley, too, but their last couple of outings at the level have been fraught with frustration.

They won’t be the very fastest in the field, but if they can make the clear happen, they’ll climb into a competitive position. Then, they’ll have to dig deep to try to get the clear done on Sunday — they’re prone to a couple of rails.

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Zoe Crawford and K.E.C. Zara. Photo by Lisa Madren.

28: Zoe Crawford and K.E.C. Zara (USA)

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Aldatus Z x Puissance Flight). Owned by the rider.

27-year-old Zoe, who got her formative education through Massachusetts’s Norfolk Hunt Pony Club, comes forward for her third CCI5* after making her debut with K.E.C. Zara at Kentucky last spring. That was an educational, rather than a competitive, run for the pair, who took a tumble in the latter part of the course, and their steady clear at Maryland five-star in October proved that they’d learned a lot from it. They finished 29th there after adding 22 time penalties to their 43.5 dressage.

The goal this week is another, slightly faster completion, which will give them even more of an education for the future. A score around the 40 cusp won’t trouble the leaders, but they’re capable of two solid jumping phases and should produce a result they can be proud of. They’re not among the quickest pairs across the country, but proved in Tryon’s CCI4*-L in 2020 that they can catch the time when the conditions are right. They’re prone to a couple of rails, but did jump a classy clear on the Sunday of Maryland.

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Hallie Coon and Global Ex. Photo by Shelby Allen.

29: Hallie Coon and Global Ex (USA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Contador x Wesely Wonderfly). Owned by the rider.

Three and a half years after making her five-star debut at Pau with former top ride Celien, Ocala-based Hallie returns to the top with another mare –- this time, the petite powerhouse Global Ex, who she bought from Katherine Coleman at the very end of 2020. They got to know one another over a couple of weeks at Portugal’s Barocca d’Alva that November, and when the new year dawned, Hallie promptly stepped the little mare up to four-star. Since then, she’s been getting better and better: she was ninth in just her second ever CCI4*-S, the very tough one here last year, and she finished in the top ten in the CCI4*-S at Unionville, too. Her CCI4*-L debut came at Jersey Fresh in May, less than two months into her four-star career, and she jumped around clear for a top twenty placing. At the tail end of 2021 the pair were selected to represent the U.S. as individuals at the CCIO4*-L at Boekelo, where they were the only pair to finish on their dressage score, taking seventh place.

This year, all eyes are on a bid for a spot at Pratoni — but first of all, they’ve got a point to prove here. Hallie’s had one previous start in the CCI5* at Kentucky — she came here with Celien in 2019 but retired the mare on course. In ‘Dolly’, she has a much more out-and-out running-and-jumping machine, and they’re a joy to watch over the biggest tracks. A tricky outing at Bouckaert International nearly derailed their plans, because the feisty mare was a bit too hot to handle on course, but a quick reroute and a change of bitting has her back at her best.

A mid-30s score is the likeliest starting point for Dolly, though she’s dipped into the low 30s at four-star, and recent help from British dressage supremo Ian Woodhead has got them on an exciting trajectory. It’ll be Saturday where we really see this determined, dynamic duo at their very best, especially if the track is tough and the conditions are difficult. They’ve got a touch of Jonelle and Classic Moet about them, and they really excel on the days where the wilting flowers struggle. Hallie’s riding high on a great season so far, particularly with new ride Cute Girl, and that quiet determination and confidence stand her in good stead. They could well be looking at a top fifteen finish or better.

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Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

30: Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle (USA)

Twelve-year-old German Warmblood gelding (Leo von Faelz x Berina A). Owned by Tim and Nina Gardner.

Originally sourced and produced to CCI2*-S by Clayton Fredericks, FE Lifestyle has been an exciting part of the string owned by Jennie’s longtime supporters, Tim and Nina Gardner. Since she took the reins in 2017, he’s racked up ten top-ten finishes in an international (one of those with Lynn Symansky deputising), and jumped a reasonably quick clear around his five-star debut at Kentucky last year, Jennie’s first trip to the event in six years. ‘Foxy’ has also travelled abroad to represent the US, jumping brilliantly around Boekelo CCIO4*-L last year for fifteenth place.

Foxy is a ginger through and through: he can only be turned out with mares – he’s not a fan of other geldings at all, whether that’s in the field or the trailer, and he’s sensitive in his skin, with allergies, and under saddle, previously dumping Jennie in the show jumping warm-up as he spooked at a shadow, but Jennie has found what works best for him. Part of the tactics include riding without spurs a lot of the time, which is unusual at this level, and Jennie has also cultivated careful warm-up regimes that suit the gelding and his quirks perfectly. At home, you can often find him out hacking with Jennie’s yard mascot, miniature horse Hank, and at events, you’ll see him come into his own across the country.

His first-phase scores can fluctuate, but even with a tricky warm-up at Boekelo, he pulled a super performance out at Boekelo for a 32.1, and considering he earned a 34.8 here last year, he can definitely aim to knock a couple of penalties off this time. He’s excellent on cross-country, and has only ever had one blip at four-star, which came in 2019. His confident capability and natural speed will help him do some climbing after the first phase, and though he’ll probably pull a rail on Sunday, he’s certainly capable of moving into the top twenty or better this time. Jennie, for her part, will still be riding high after finishing fourth in the CCI5* at Maryland in October, and that kind of self-belief can be enormously powerful.

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Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me. Photo by Shelby Allen.

31: Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me (CANADA)

Sixteen-year-old Welsh Cob cross gelding (Brenarian Brenin x Dream Contessa, by Royal Chocolate). Owned by the rider.

Lisa and her beloved cob cross form part of the charge for the small but formidable Canadian effort at Maryland in what will be their seventh CCI5* start (or eighth, if you count the 2018 World Equestrian Games).

They’ve become a real mainstay at the Kentucky Horse Park since their top-level debut back in 2016. That year, he completed with an educational 20 penalties and ever since then, he’s sailed around clear and in fine style. Their best result was 18th place in 2017. It’s absolutely impossible not to notice how much fun this duo have together out on course, and their joy is contagious, making them a real fan-favorite pairing. Their partnership is bolstered by the fact that Lisa had to rehab ‘Tali’ extensively as a young horse because he had such significant bone chips, so they’ve really put in the miles together.

Though they’re a very consistent duo, they didn’t have an ideal week in Maryland’s five-star last autumn, and opted to withdraw after picking up 40 penalties across the country. They had also had a 20 in their prep run at Unionville CCI4*-S, though, and this year’s prep has gone considerably better, with a steady clear for a top twenty in the CCI4*-S at Tryon this month. Their mission this week will be to ensure the cross-country — their biggest strength — comes back together; in this company, their high-30s dressage and two rails will likely keep them out of the top twenty unless there’s a significant rate of attrition on Saturday. In that case, if Tali is back to his confident best, they could storm their way to rivalling their personal best finish here.

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Joseph Murphy and Calmaro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

32: Joseph Murphy and Calmaro (IRELAND)

Eleven-year-old Brandenburg gelding (Carpalano x unknown dam). Owned by Claire and Charlie Mayne, Annette O’Callaghan, and the rider.

Calmaro is a relatively new ride for Joseph, who took the reins in mid-2020 from former rider Laura Collett. It’s been something of a fairytale ending so far: Laura, who produced the horse all the way to the Seven-Year-Old World Championships with some excellent results along the way, intended for the gelding to be sold as a Young Riders’ prospect, but he and Joseph have ended up so well-suited to one another that he’s made it to the top level. It was particularly sweet to see Laura, who previously part-owned Calmaro, at the in-gate at Pau last year watching the pair jump their way to the top fifteen, after having helped them prepare for the round.

In fact, we haven’t yet seen Joseph and Calmaro finish outside the top twenty in an international, and their eight FEI runs together have yielded four top-ten finishes — including a win, which they picked up in the CCI4*-S at Kilguilkey in July last season. Their impressive showings have included a good run at Aachen for 17th place, fourth place in the CCI4*-L at Millstreet, and a top twenty finish in the 106-strong CCI4*-S at Thoresby this month, where they added just a scant 2.4 time penalties across the country to their 32.1 dressage.

Their low-to-mid-30s first-phase mark will keep them out of the hunt before the weekend there, though they’ll be laughing if they can replicate the 31.5 they earned at Pau, which would be a super point to climb from. That climb is something you can almost count on – Joseph is particularly adept at making his way up the leaderboard, and has  thrice won the Glentrool Trophy for the biggest climb after dressage at Badminton. In the smaller Kentucky field, the same starting score will give them a much smaller margin to make up, and we could see them make a very competitive effort. Calmaro might still be inexperienced but he’s game, catty, and quick, and though he’ll probably have a rail on Sunday, he can be expected to make some major gains through the weekend.

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Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

33: Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg (USA)

Fifteen-year-old Trakehner gelding (Windfall II x Thabana). Owned by Christine, Thomas, and Tommie Turner.

The 2019 second-place finishers – and USEF National Champions – are among the highest hopes for a home-nation win, particularly as Boyd, with the sadly withdrawn On Cue, comes into this event as the sport’s reigning five-star champion after winning Maryland last autumn. But if you were to meet Tsetserleg at home, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t instantly recognize him as champion material.

“He can be a mediocre performer at the barn, but he loves his job and turns it on at shows,” says ‘Thomas’s’ owner, Christine. “He would do anything for his rider — if he likes them — and he loves Boyd.”

The ‘funny little character’ is a consummate showman, and while he tends to economise in his performances in training, he knows exactly when he needs to rise to the occasion – and that’s when his adoring fans are watching. This will be a fourth trip to Kentucky for Thomas, who finished 11th in his debut in 2018 before returning as runner-up in his sophomore attempt, after which they won double gold at the Pan-Ams in Lima. They returned to Kentucky last year and looked on super form until a very late crashing fall on course brought their weekend to an early end, but fared much better at the Tokyo Olympics, finishing 20th individually. This year, they’ve got one international run under their belt: they ran in the CCI4*-S at Tryon, finishing fourth.

They’re mid-to-high 20s scorers generally, and will be hoping to replicate the 25.4 they earned here last year — though not the trip across the country that followed. On their day, they’re very efficient, and it’s rare for them to pick up jumping penalties on cross country. A rail on Sunday is a little more likely, and could be the deciding factor if we see a tightly-packed bunch at the top end of the leaderboard come Sunday. A top five finish feels almost certain, though.

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Buck Davidson and Sorocaima. Photo by JJ Sillman.

35: Buck Davidson and Sorocaima (USA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Eleven-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Rock Hard Ten x Sankobasi). Owned by the rider.

This will be just an eleventh FEI start for Buck’s young Thoroughbred, who was entered at Maryland last year but didn’t make the cut of Buck’s characteristic line-up of rides. He makes his five-star debut as the second of his rides to leave the start box, and comes in off the back of a nice prep run in the Stable View CCI4*-S, where he finished ninth. That follows on from a third place finish in the CCI4*-L at Morven Park in October, where he finished off his year.

‘Cam’, who was initially piloted by a student of Jill Henneberg’s, wasn’t exactly an auspicious racehorse in his brief career. His debut came at Gulfstream in December of 2013, and he went out of the start box with seriously unfavourable odds of 147-1. He finished last, losing by nearly fifty lengths. Through his seventeen runs he did manage a couple of seconds and a couple of thirds, but it was patently clear he wasn’t cut out for track life — or at least, Florida’s dirt tracks weren’t right for him. When Pennsylvania-based trainer Teresa Connelly took him up north to give him a chance on synthetic tracks he flourished, notching up four wins, five second place finishes, three fourths, and a sixth in claimers at Presque Isle Downs. At the end of 2015, he retired and swiftly embarked upon his second career, first with Matthew Bryner via CANTER, then Brazil’s Nilson Moreira da Silva, then with young rider Karli Wright at Jill Henneberg’s stable.

Cam is a consummate trier and a real cool character, who was renowned in his racing stable for bobbing his head along to music on the radio. This isn’t his week to win a big one, but he’s never yet faulted at an international and should nail a great completion with a high-30s dressage, a swift cross-country round, and a rail or two on Sunday, though this phase is constantly improving for him.

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Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

36: Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH (GERMANY) 

Fourteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Contendro I x Havanna). Owned by Sabine and Klaus Fischer, Hilmer Meyer-Kulenkampff and the DOKR.

It’s a little hard to focus on anyone in the field, isn’t it, when Michi and his wunderkind Chippi are on the roster. The pair come to Kentucky, which is Michi’s favourite event, for a technical five-star debut, though Chip did go to the 2018 WEG with former rider Julia Krajewski, so it’s not really a debut at the level. Michi took the ride shortly after and began campaigning the gelding in early 2019, finishing the year with a European silver medal, a second place finish at Aachen, further seconds at Marbach CCI4*-S and Baborowko CCI4*-L, and a win in the CCIO4*-S at Strzegom. In 2020 they had another win in the same class, and one at Avenches CCI4*-S, and in 2021, they won four of their five international starts. The one they didn’t? The Tokyo Olympics – where they would have taken gold but for a MIM clipped corner, which activated and fell several strides after Michi and Chip had landed. They ultimately finished eighth, which is of course very good, but for the man who’s won every medal there is to be won, it must have stung. In a classic case of pulp fiction plot line writing, they lost out on that gold to… Chip’s former rider, Julia Krajewski.

If betting existed in our sport, this pair would almost certainly be the odds-on favorites to take the win: they come here off the back of another win, in the CCI4*-S at Kronenburg, and they’ve dipped sub-20 in the first phase several times. They’re quick and very reliable across the country, and even Chip’s historic weak phase, the showjumping, has improved no end — they haven’t had a rail in an international in a year, even over the very tough course at Tokyo. This will be a 49th FEI run for the gelding, and he’s got 40 top-ten international finishes to his name. He’s almost guaranteed to take a podium placing, unless something goes startlingly wrong – but there are a couple of horses in this field who are prepared to take him on.

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Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Shelby Allen.

37: Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot (USA)

Nineteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Cruising x Shannon). Owned by Jacqueline Mars.

There’s a handful of real ‘warhorses’ in this year’s field, and Hannah Sue Burnett’s consummate gentleman, who’s named William after his breeder, the renowned Irish horseman William Micklem, is leading the charge for the good old boys (and girls!) as one of two nineteen-year-olds entered. This will be an incredible eleventh CCI5* for the much-loved little gelding, whose career highlights have included an eight- place finish at Luhmühlen CCI5* in 2018, as well as eleventh place at Kentucky in 2019 and fifteenth there in 2014 and 2016.

William is one of those horses whose career has been hit hardest by the pandemic: in the twilight of his career, and just at the moment he’s been poised to produce some of his best results, widespread cancellations have cost him and Hannah Sue so much valuable time together. They’ll be hoping to regroup after a disappointing Kentucky this spring, where they picked up a technical elimination for missing a fence, and a frustrating Maryland run where they picked up a 20. On their day, they’re a formidable force to be reckoned with for the U.S. side: though they average around the 30 mark in dressage, we’ll likely see them score in the 20s, and they’re very capable of a pretty quick clear across the country. Showjumping will take a bit of luck – they frequently deliver clears, but they also frequently take several poles. At this stage of the game, it’s likely that Hannah wants to give her longtime partner a classy clear across the country as a final hurrah for what has been a storied, special career. A top ten finish feels unlikely on recent form, but isn’t wholly out of the question – and it would make for a perfect way to bow out from the top.

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Jonelle Price and McClaren. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

38: Jonelle Price and McClaren (NEW ZEALAND)

Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Clarimo x Toni 1). Owned by Katherine and David Thomson.

Teeny-weeny 15.3hh McClaren is so pocket-sized that even petite Jonelle looks tall on him, and so it’s hard to imagine that he was ever the partner of leggy Mark Todd. But he was, and even back in those formative days of his career, he was impressive – he was selected to represent the Kiwis under Toddy at the WEG in 2018, and though it didn’t go quite to plan, it was a valuable glimpse at the scope and power he was, and is, in possession of.

He’s not necessarily a straightforward ride, though, and Jonelle has patiently produced him over the past few years to coax him into using his powers for good, not evil. He truly came into his own at the end of last season, when he finished third at Pau CCI5* just weeks after a belligerent drive-by on cross-country at Aachen. The breakdown of his Pau performance is very, very impressive: he posted a 24.4 in dressage, which was a significant personal best, and followed it up with a mature, professional clear round with 4.4 time penalties. On Sunday, he jumped clear, adding 0.8 time penalties. It was by far a career landmark moment for a horse who either jacks it in in a naughty moment on cross-country or finishes in the top 10, with very little in-between.

Jonelle is about as level-headed and pragmatic as riders come, and there’s no chance she’d have put him on a plane if she didn’t think he was ready to deliver the same kind of performance again this week. And if he does? He could better his result at Pau. No doubt he and his plane pals Corouet and Banzai du Loir have been chatting about which spots each of them would like to occupy on the podium.

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Lauren Nicolson and Landmark’s Monte Carlo. Photo by Sally Spickard.

39: Lauren Nicholson and Landmark’s Monte Carlo (USA)

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Formula One x Glamour). Owned by Jacqueline Mars.

“Patrick” made his eventing debut with Hannah Sue Burnett before transferring to Lauren’s program in 2011 as a Novice horse. In the intervening years, Lauren has put her stamp on the gelding, tactfully moving him through the levels before finding herself up against a roadblock in the show jumping phase as he got to the upper levels. After he began accumulating a higher number of rails in the show jumping than was characteristic, Lauren wanted to find something to give the gelding an injection of confidence — and that’s when Cathy Wieschoff recommended she try bringing in an animal communicator. Believe it or not, the tips provided by the animal communicator — which centered around positive encouragement and taking the pressure off — helped Lauren turn a corner. He still has a pole down here and there, but the nerves seem to have been soothed.

This will be a fifth CCI5* start for the striking grey gelding, who has twice been a top twenty finisher at Kentucky and finished sixth at Maryland in October. He’s got masses of experience and a penchant for going fast and clear across the country. Expect a good dressage around the 30 mark or just below, and likely a quick round on Saturday – he was one of eleven to finish inside the time at Maryland, though we expect (and hope!) the time will be a little tighter here this week. He had a rail there, and will probably have one here, but his form is looking great: he comes forward off the back of a win in the CCI4*-S at Red Hills. If they can reproduce their 28.5 from Maryland and go clear inside the time again — something they’ve come within two seconds of doing here before — they’ll afford themselves a bit of a buffer to have that rail and still go for the top ten.

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Will Coleman and Off The Record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

40: Will Coleman and Off The Record (USA)

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (VDL Arkansas x Drumagoland Bay). Owned by the Off The Record Syndicate.

Will and ‘Timmy’ gave U.S. eventing an enormous boost last September when they handily won the CCIO4*-S at Aachen in Germany, arguably the sport’s most prestigious competition at the level. That win felt well-deserved and a long time coming, because the gelding had previously come so close to winning other major events, such as Tattersalls CCI4*-L, which he lost in the final phase. He’s not a bad show jumper by any stretch of the imagination — statistically, he’s got a 50/50 chance of having a single rail or going clear, but he’s just been a little bit unlucky a few times. Aachen certainly felt like a turning point, and Will has continued that great form with a third place finish in the CCI4*-S at Tryon this month. He’s now on 20 top-fifteen finishes from 25 international starts, and 17 of those are top tens.

“There are a lot of days when you get on him and it feels like you’re riding a kitchen table,” Will told us last year. “But he’s a kitchen table with a couple of Ferrari engines attached to it — he’s not the easiest to steer, or the most pleasant to ride sometimes, but the effort is really what makes him special. It took me a long time to figure that out, actually — that he was trying very, very hard, even when we were struggling to communicate with one another. I think what’s helped him turn a corner is me just getting that and figuring out how to help him instead of asking why he’s not doing what I want. So we have a good relationship; he’s just got a lot of energy, and he’s like a kid who needs Ritalin. When his energy gets up, he can be a lot to handle, but it’s not malicious; he just gets high strung and his effort comes out in ways that aren’t that attractive. It’s just making him relaxed and helping him feel like it’s as easy as possible.”

This will be a second run at five-star for the gelding, who made his Kentucky debut last year and walked away with a very respectable fifteenth place. His sub-30 score, quick clear across the country, and that 50/50 rail should see him replicate or better that this year, and Will will be hunting down a shot at his best-ever finish at the level. This’ll be his 20th five-star, and his three best results — fifth at Maryland last year with Tight Lines, and fifth at Kentucky in 2012 and fifth at Luhmühlen in 2009 with Twizzel — are begging to be topped.

“You’ve got to keep knocking on the doors,” Will said to us sagely after that Aachen win. “Eventually, one of them’s got to open.”

In case you were dying of curiosity, here’s Off The Record’s namesake song:

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Bobby Meyerhoff and Fortuna. Photo by JJ Sillman.

41: Bobby Meyerhoff and Fortuna (USA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Balout du Rouet Z x Nova). Owned by the rider.

Fortuna is one of the smallest horses in the field – at 15.2hh, she and Sarah Bullimore’s Corouet can shoot one another dirty looks directly in the eyes. Consider it sibling rivalry: both are by the stallion Balou du Rouet.

But you should never, ever disregard a dinky mare, because so often, they’re made of pretty fiery stuff, and Fortuna is no exception. She first came to Bobby’s yard as a two-year-old, and though she’s never been a particularly straightforward horse, Bobby immediately spotted something special in her.

“It’s been a lot of slow and steady like a turtle,” Bobby explained to EN. “I just have to keep telling her the same things: everything is ok, work your body side to side and let go, trust me. I’ve come to realize that she can be a little insecure — she has all this bravado and attitude, but underneath it she’s got some insecurities.”

Fortuna can be an extravagant sort of mare, particularly when faced with something she’s unsure about. She’s bold and incredibly genuine, so she’d rarely choose to evade the effort, but she often chooses to jump higher, which can pose a few problems: in a combination, it can sometimes mean she doesn’t give herself a way to get to the next fence, and it also makes it harder for her to catch the time. That can be seen a few times on her record at four-star, particularly last year – she stepped up to four-star well in 2019 and then sat out 2020, but on her return to competing, she had three frustrating results in a row in internationals, culminating in a horse fall at Carolina CCI4*-S last March. Bobby took his time, worked on rebuilding her confidence, and by August, she was running well at three-star. When she stepped back up to four-star at the Fork in November, she looked better than ever and took a classy fifth-place finish. Bobby opted to start her 2022 season with an easy, confidence-boosting run in a CCI3*-S at Carolina, and she came out well for a top twenty spot.

This week will be all about building on that confidence and bolstering the partnership Bobby and his little mare have been working on. Their high-30s score will put them on the back foot going into the weekend, but that’ll take all the pressure of trying to be competitive off of them, and they’ll be able to focus on one fence at a time, one stride at a time. A good experience here will set them up to come back and take calculated, competitive risks in the years to come, because Fortuna always remembers a good experience.

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Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent. Photo by Abby Powell.

42: Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent (USA)

Sixteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Quiet American x Edey’s Village). Owned by William Duhring and the rider.

It was a circuitous journey that brought Palm Crescent to Virginia-based Pony Club alum Meghan O’Donoghue, who became a fan favorite when she debuted her mighty off-the-track Thoroughbred, Pirate. After a three-year racing career during which he raced 12 times, “Palmer” was placed with CANTER MidAtlantic, and after transitioning from track life under the watchful eye of Allie Conrad, the bright bay gelding eventually was purchased by and started his eventing career with Jan Byyny. He was later purchased by the Shipka family, who would go on to own the horse as a ride for Meghan as he showed his prowess at the upper levels. Meghan has since taken on ownership, but she’s always quick to reflect back on all of the wonderful people who helped her find this next shining star.

Palmer made his Kentucky debut last year, finishing 23rd, and they cracked the top twenty for 17th place on their sophomore run at Maryland in October. They’re low-to-mid 30s scores – their Kentucky test earned them a 32.8, while Maryland saw them score a 35.8 – and their talent lies in the climb. Though Palmer’s speed average is brought down by his slower runs at short-format internationals, he’s actually among the quickest in the field at the long format, where he’s able to settle into a high-octane cruising speed and eat up big, long, tough tracks. But like many classic, golden-era-style event horses, he doesn’t always have the easiest time on the final day, and is prone to a rail or two. He’s not yet gone clear in the showjumping at this level, but if he can this week, we could see them make a bold bid for the top fifteen.

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Fylicia Barr and Galloway Sunrise. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

43: Fylicia Barr and Galloway Sunrise (USA)

Fourteen-year-old American Warmblood mare (Duty Officer x Coco Chanel). Owned by Shannon and Daniel Barr and the rider.

When she was just 13, Fylicia spotted a Craigslist ad for ‘Sunny’. A $500 Warmblood yearling who wasn’t even halter-broke was far from a prospective upper-level horse at the time. But Fylicia and her mother liked finding diamonds in the rough, so they took their chances on Sunny. Throughout their partnership, the two have overcome multiple obstacles – like stall rest for a year and a half because of a pasture accident – to get to where they are today. After a lot of determination and effort on both ends, Fylicia and Sunny have blossomed into a competitive duo, and this will be their third outing at five-star. Last year, they made their debut at Kentucky, jumping a steady clear across the country for eventual 38th place, and though their Maryland outing ended early with a rider fall on Saturday, they learned a huge amount through their 2021 season and will have spent the winter consolidating it into practical action.

They’ve scored a 32.4 and 31.7 at this level, and though they proved last year that they can go sub-30 at four-star, it’s reasonable to expect them to stay just the other side of that barrier here. They’re a naturally efficient duo, and with foundations at five-star now, we’ll be looking for them to cut back on the 22.8 time penalties they wisely collected here last year and take some calculated risks to try to catch the time. If they can come home with just a small handful of time penalties, that’ll give them a bit of breathing room come Sunday, where they’ll face their toughest challenge: they had four rails at Kentucky last year, and are just about guaranteed at least one. If they can keep the rails to a minimum, we could see them realistically try for the top 25.

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Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit. Photo by Shelby Allen.

44: Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit (CANADA) – ROOKIE HORSE

Eleven-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Line of Departure x No Kissing, by Great Gladiator). Owned by Jim Phillips and the rider.

Look, every time I try to write about or refer to this pair in any way, my brain smooshes them together into one sexy, speech-impedimented cartoon called Jessica Wabbit, and I’m hoping if I hold my hands up now and admit it it’ll all go away. Canadian Olympian Jessie and her gorgeous off-the-track Thoroughbred — one of two she’s piloting this year — deserve better than that.

Last year, Jessie became the first Canadian eventer ever to compete at over 100 CCI4*-S events, which should give some idea of how much of a stalwart character she is on the circuit. With her longtime partner Pavarotti, she earned five Pan-American medals, competed at two WEGs, and came to Kentucky four times — though he only ran cross-country once, finishing 17th when he did so back in 2017.

Last year, Wabbit came here as a very inexperienced four-star horse and tackled the tough CCI4*-S in seriously tricky conditions, adding just time penalties to finish tenth overall in the class. This year, he returns stronger — both mentally and physically — and with plenty more experience, including an eighth place finish in the CCI4*-L at Morven Park. He’s getting quicker and quicker, and his first-phase scores have dropped down to the high 30s, but he does still struggle over the poles, and we’ll likely see him pull a couple on Sunday. But his main aim for this week isn’t to win — it’s to learn, and to grow as a competitor as Jessie looks ahead to more shots at representing Canada on the world stage.

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Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. Photo by Shelby Allen.[/caption]

45: Doug Payne and Quantum Leap (USA)

Eleven-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Quite Capitol x Report to Sloopy). Owned by Jessica Payne and the rider.

Doug and his wife and fellow CCI5* rider Jessica began buying young horses early on, both out of financial savviness and also a belief that partnering with a horse from its earlier days is a key to future success. Quantum Leap was one such youngster, purchased from breeder Elizabeth Callahan as a weanling. Now eleven, “baby” Quantum has really grown into himself as he’s moved into the Advanced levels of the sport. He finished his first CCI5* at Kentucky last spring, and while an otherwise strong showing was marred by one mistake on cross country, this wouldn’t be a horse you’d peg to have issues on the second day. They proved that point when returning to the level at Maryland and finishing ninth with a swift, classy cross-country round that added just 2.8 time penalties.

There’s no reason they can’t replicate that round here, though they’ll be keenly aware that they’ll need to keep the first-phase score down to stand a chance of another placing in this larger field. At Maryland they posted a 33.6, which was slightly higher than their form predicted, but since then, they’ve scored a 38 and a 42 in internationals. Doug will be hoping for smoother sailing — and some Friday afternoon generosity — to put him back in the low 30s and give him a nice platform to try to climb from. Sunday shouldn’t pose too much stress for them — Doug has plenty of mileage in the jumper ring, which translates to great foundations and performances for his horses, and Quantum is no exception. He’s jumped clear on the final day in both his five-stars.

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Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z. Photo by William Carey.

46: Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z (USA) – ROOKIE PAIR

Twelve-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Chico’s Boy x Chardonnay Z). Owned by the rider.

Lexi and ‘Sprout’ finally get to make their long-awaited debut after a couple of false starts: she’d originally planned for a trip to Pau in 2020, then rerouted to Kentucky 2021 as a result of the pandemic, and finally to Maryland in October, but some issues with their prep and an ill-timed abscess for the gelding meant that it wasn’t to be. But Lexi’s an eternal optimist, and pragmatic, too, and she believes that everything happens for a reason — and this time, as she makes the trip to Kentucky for real, it’s with a horse who has physically and mentally matured as a result of all the extra time spent building up to it.

Lexi has certainly spent the last few years prioritising his education, and her own, too. She relocated to England in 2019, basing herself with the ultimate professor, William Fox-Pitt, who imparted his slow-and-steady-wins-the-race philosophy unto her and helped her learn to trust her gut in the training process. As a result, she and Sprout picked up a top twenty at Bramham that year over a tough CCI4*-S track, jumped clear around four-star courses at Burgham, Burnham Market, and Chatsworth, and racked up some educational milage at Blenheim and Hartpury, too, before Lexi moved back to Florida to set her own business up. She and Sprout started their 2022 season with an eighth place finish in the CCI4*-S at Red Hills, and though their next run in the CCI4*-S at Stable View didn’t go quite to plan, she’s got plenty of support around her to help her itemise what she needs to fine-tune this week and shut out any unnecessary worries. They’ll be aiming for a confidence-giving clear that they can use as a foundation for more competitive runs in the years to come. 

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Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

49: Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir (GREAT BRITAIN) – ROOKIE HORSE

Eleven-year-old Selle Français gelding (Nouma d’Auzay x Gerboise du Cochet). Owned by Jeanette Chinn and Sue Davies.

25-year-old Yaz is one of Britain’s brightest talents, and not even in a ‘maybe in a decade she’ll be able to take over from the likes of Oliver and Piggy’ sort of way. Her results are so strong that if she represented any other country, you’d almost certainly have seen her at a major championship last year, and this Kentucky trip will absolutely be part of a bid for a spot on the team at Pratoni this year. She’s won every national age title all the way through from her days on ponies (and she was Pony European Champion, too!), and with the exceptional French gelding Banzai, she’s also nabbed the national CCI4*-S title for eight- and nine-year-olds, following it up with a win at Blenheim CCI4*-L last season. In fact, in their last five international runs, they haven’t finished outside the top five — and that includes a run in the achingly tough, very-nearly-five-star CCI4*-L at Bicton in June and fourth in the 100+ strong CCI4*-S at Thoresby this month.

This will be a first five-star for Banzai, though not for Yaz, who made her debut at Pau in 2018, finishing in the top twenty with her self-produced Night Line. She’s since returned to the French fixture with another ride, Rehy DJ, who had an educational run in 2020. This will be her first really competitive bid at the level, though, and she comes forward with a very good chance of running away with the title – a result that would be a real fairytale for the young rider from the Isle of Man, who has been so generously supported by owners Jeanette and Sue over the years. Banzai is excellent on the flat and a consistent 25-27 scorer with good changes, so expect him to be well in the hunt from the first phase. Across the country he’s a real natural and finds it easy enough to go quickly, though Yaz is pragmatic and sympathetic and will give him a long route if he needs it. He was bought with a specific goal in mind — Paris in 2024 — and so this is all part of his education along the way. On Sunday, though, assuming all goes well they’ll pose a serious threat: they’re excellent over the poles and have had just one rail at four-star. A top five finish is not at all unreasonable to expect, and few would be surprised if she went for it and took the win.

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Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

50: Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire (USA)

Twelve-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Diarado x Lantana). Owned by Carol and Arden Stephens. 

Sydney and her rangy gelding return to Kentucky after a whirlwind year that’s seen them hit some of Europe’s hottest spots. They debuted here last year, taking nineteenth place, and after a well-earned holiday they got straight on a plane to Germany, where they competed as part of the U.S. team at Aachen. They finished 26th there after a tricky dressage earned them an uncharacteristic 39.4, but by their next appearance, in the CCIO4*-L at Boekelo, they’d put all the wheels back on the bus and added a few new ones for extra measure, too. Their 26.7 there put them in a very competitive position, and after delivering a clear inside the time across the country and tipping one rail on Sunday, they became the best-placed Americans in an impressive fifth place.

Sydney certainly made the most of her time in Europe, basing herself with Belgian Olympian Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and her husband, German eventer and Belgian team coach Kai-Steffen Meier at Arville Castle. She logged up further international mileage of her own with up-and-comer Commando d’Osthuy, who tackled three-star and four-stars at Ligniéres in France and Strzegom in Poland, and this year, she and QC Diamantaire have come out looking self-assured and ready to take on the world. Their prep runs at Carolina and Tryon CCI4*-S looked workmanlike: they were quick for fourth in the former and steadier for 15th in the latter, where their dressage also bubbled over into the mid-30s again. But Sydney’s done this one before, and the sunny, funny, and determined rider is no doubt heading to the Bluegrass State with a wry grin, thinking to herself, ‘okay, try me – let’s make this another Boekelo.’ If they deliver those performances again, we’re looking at a fight for a top ten finish here. The only thing that could stand in their way? That pesky final phase. They’re just about guaranteed a rail, which could prove costly if we see a tightly-packed field heading into Sunday’s competition.

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Marc Grandia and Campari FFF. Photo by Hope Carlin.

51: Marc Grandia and Campari FFF (USA) – ROOKIE PAIR

Twelve-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Camiros x Tanner, by Ariadus). Owned by Team Rebecca, LLC.

Debutant Marc Grandia has had to deal with two different pandemics on his way to the top level: COVID-19 and its swathe of cancellations gave way to the West Coast’s EHV-1 outbreak, which forced many major spring events in California to close their doors. For the Washington-based professional, who moved all his horses to California over the winter to allow him to train and compete, it was a major blow – but the resourceful rider didn’t let it slow him down. Instead, he loaded up Campari and another of his horses and started trekking east to run at Carolina. They finished twelfth there with their planned slow run, and then loped around the CCI3*-S at Tryon earlier this month, where they had an unfortunate 20. That’s not always a bad thing: a tricky final run can knock the rust off and ensure there’s no complacency on the big day, and Marc will no doubt be resolute about riding each stride, and each fence, as it comes.

“He’s very opinionated, hot, and spooky. We call him a ninja sometimes. He is not malicious by any means but is quirky and really athletic, so you better be on your guard at all times,” laughs Marc in an interview with EN. That spookiness can push their scores up over the mid-30s mark, but on his day, Campari can knock a good few penalties off, and he’s come achingly close to slipping under the 30 barrier at four-star. He’s also a very good show jumper, and though he’s not a super-quick horse, he tends to be at his speediest in a long-format, where he can find his rhythm and settle into it. That’s seen them take fourth at Rebecca Farm CCI4*-L last year — a particularly special competition for the pair, as Rebecca’s owners, the Broussards, own Campari — and we’ve seen them finish on their dressage score for second in the CCI4*-L at Twin Rivers. They won’t be fighting for the win this week, but the experience they gain will be foundational for the future, and will offer another great boon to West Coast eventing.

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Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie. Photo by Shelby Allen.

52: Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie (USA)

Nineteen-year-old Australian Thoroughbred gelding (Jetball x Tudnela). Owned by Denise Lahey, Pierre Colin, and Gretchen and George Wintersteen.

Steady Eddie is one of those horses who has lived up to his name time and time again. He’s a true warhorse, racing 36 times in Australia before coming to the U.S. to join Boyd Martin’s program, wherein he went all the way up through the levels with Boyd before Boyd’s longtime assistant rider, Mike Pendleton, took over the reins to gain some experience at the Advanced level. Now, he’s started 40 FEI events, including seven starts at the CCI5* level.

Kentucky last spring was to be the debut Mike Pendleton had been working toward, but a very unlucky fall near the end of the cross country would cost them the completion. Neither Mike nor Steady Eddie were worse for the wear, though, and after couple of easy runs over the summer to ramp back up for another go, they jumped around Maryland five-star for 20 penalties and 31st place. Their goal this week will be to chase down that all-important clear completion, and they’re more than capable of it. Their high-30s dressage, smattering of time, and two or three rails will stop them fighting for a competitive result, but Mike is very aware that his partnership with the stalwart gelding, who’s the eldest horse in this year’s field, is about education, not about glory. Every competition they tackle together adds to Mike’s foundations as a young professional and will help him to be competitive with his next top-level mount.

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Sarah Bullimore and Corouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

53: Sarah Bullimore and Corouet (GREAT BRITAIN) – ROOKIE HORSE

Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Balou de Rouet x Lilly Corinne). Owned by the Kew Jumping Syndicate.

Dear little ‘Elfie’ is just 15.2hh (and even that might be an optimistic measurement), but he has enough personality to fill the Horse Park. He’s always been a particularly special horse for Sarah and her husband, Brett: they bred him themselves, pairing Sarah’s 2015 European Championships ride Lilly Corinne with the mercurial stallion Balou de Rouet, who’s also the sire of Sarah’s longtime five-star partner Reve du Rouet. Balou babies have the well-earned reputation of being as tricky and sensitive as they are talented, but it would be hard to find a rider more tactful than Sarah, and horses who require enormous tact thrive under her careful production. Reve du Rouet, for his part, has a number of top-five finishes at five-star, including a very near win at Pau in 2017, and will come forward at Badminton next week for an extraordinary eighteenth five-star start.

This week, though, it’s all about this little guy. Like Reve du Rouet, who was 13th here in 2014, he makes his five-star debut at Kentucky — and in doing so, he comes forward as one of the hottest prospects to win the whole thing. He’s certainly the best equipped to deliver a first-phase result that’ll challenge Michael Jung and Chipmunk: he regularly scores in the low 20s and put a decisive 19.6 down in Burgham’s CCI4*-S last season. We’ve seen those scores fluctuate up to the high 20s and even across the 30 mark in the not-too-distant past, but with every outing, the gelding looks physically stronger and also more willing to concede that team work does, in fact, make the dream work.

Speaking of dreams, he certainly made a few come true last season. He and Sarah took the individual bronze medal at the European Championships in Avenches, which was Sarah’s first call-up to a Senior championship squad since she got the chance to ride as an individual at Blair in 2015 with the gelding’s dam. She’s consistently been listed as a reserve, leading her to jokingly (and a little wistfully) refer to herself as the British team ‘super sub’, but at Avenches, she was rightfully selected to go and proved exactly why when she finished on a score of 23.6. There’s been a few moments of rotten bad luck that have stopped her taking a five-star with Reve du Rouet so far, but with this incredibly special little horse, it looks like a fresh start and a renaissance for this extraordinarily underrated rider who’s well overdue her big moment.

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Buck Davidson and Carlevo. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

54: Buck Davidson and Carlevo (USA)

Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Caresino x Ramatuelle). Owned by Katherine O’Brien. 

If Carlevo was a person, he might be the kind of chap who wears airy harem trousers and has to pay for extra pages in his passport. That’s how well-travelled this experienced gelding is (though as Buck describes it, his vibe is a bit more ‘high-flying CEO with a heart of gold’). His career began in Germany with Dirk Schrade, and since joining Buck’s string in 2015, he’s competed at the likes of Boekelo CCIO4*-L in the Netherlands, Blenheim Palance in the UK, Tattersalls and Millstreet in Ireland, and Aachen in Germany. He’s also headed north of the border, with a fourth- place finish at Canada’s Bromont CCI4*-L in 2019 – but surprisingly, for all that jetsetting, this will only be his fourth CCI5*. He completed Kentucky in 2018 and again last spring, finishing in the top twenty both times. As the very last horse out of the box, and in the worst of the weather last year, he produced rather a slower round than we’d expect, so we’re looking to him to improve upon it this time out — though a horse fall in the Maryland five-star might mean that Buck opts for a rebuilding round. They’ve had one CCI4*-S run in the lead-up to Kentucky, finishing seventh at Bouckaert International despite activating a safety device. Their dressage score of 25.1 there was particularly impressive.

If they go for it, they stand a good chance of a competitive result. You can expect them to put up a fight in the first phase, as their scores inch ever-closer to the mid- 20s, and they should be classy and reliable across the country, though not among the fastest. It all hinges on the showjumping for this pair: they’re just as likely to go clear as they are to take two or three rails.

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Will Faudree and Pfun. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

55: Will Faudree and Pfun (USA)

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tadmus x Celerina). Owned by Jennifer Mosing and Sterling Silver Stables.

We didn’t get to see the excellent Pfun run at Kentucky last spring because the gelding was sidelined with a minor injury – but now he’s back, baby, after a steady clear at Maryland in October saw him finish just outside the top twenty-five.

His 2021 started out well: he finished third in both the Advanced Intermediate at Pine Top and the CCI4*-S at Carolina, before enjoying a leisurely summer presumably sipping margharitas while he watched his friends go off to do the hard graft of going in circles and jumping big fences. That sparse season didn’t worry Will, though, because his experienced gelding has been so consistent in the eight years they’ve been tackling the FEI levels together. In fact, the last time Pfun had a jumping penalty in an international was on his CCI5* debut at Kentucky in 2017 – since then, he’s been delivering the goods, finishing fifth in the CCI4*-L at Millstreet, Ireland and fourth in the CCI4*-S at Unionville. His dressage scores have drastically improved over the last eighteen months, and he went sub-30 for the first time in his prep run at Carolina CCI4*-S in March.

Pfun – so named because he’s so fun to ride, and we don’t recommend Googling any other alternative meanings – brings charisma, consistency, and experience into his fourth career CCI5* run. We last saw him finish in the top twenty here when completing Kentucky in 2019, and though he’s had some time out with injury, he’s been laying down solid performances like clockwork over the last two seasons. We’ll be looking for him to better his dressage average, because his scores are getting lower each time out, and he’s very reliable in both jumping phases, so can climb.

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Pippa Funnell and Maybach. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

56: Pippa Funnell and Maybach (GREAT BRITAIN) – ROOKIE HORSE

Twelve-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Jaguar Mail x Lady Micra). Owned by S.H.E. Eventing.

The second of Pippa’s rides this week will be the debutant Maybach, who Pippa has been riding since 2017 on behalf of Sweden’s Hedvig and Sara Sjöborg Wik. Though he’s tended to live in the shadow of his five-star stablemates a little bit, he’s a very consistent competitor who’s more than ready to step into the spotlight this week.

Though this will be just his eighteenth FEI event, Maybach hasn’t scored outside the 20s since 2018, has never had an international cross-country jumping penalty, and is naturally pretty efficient, averaging 7 time penalties at the four-star level. His showjumping is his weaker phase: he’s had a rail of two in each of his CCI4*-L runs, and is more likely to deliver a clear in a short-format class. But this week will be an enormous foundational week for the gelding, who also has every chance of claiming a spot in the top ten. His tenth place in a hot field of over 100 at Thoresby CCI4*-S this month looks like a very promising bit of prep.

Pippa tends to be pretty savvy about how she prepares her horses for dressage, and if you’re out and about on site at Kentucky, you might see one of her savvy bits of ingenuity in action with this gelding. In preparing for the first phase at Bicton’s CCI4*-L last year, she did all her schooling in a jump saddle, saving the sitting trot for the test itself and focusing simply on encouraging a soft, loose, swinging back in the lead-up. Other tactics we’ve previously seen Pippa use with other horses include riding around the outside of the test arena with one hand behind her back, which can have a similar effect as it recentralises the riders balance and stops any fiddling. There’s a lot to be learned from focusing on the details when watching a rider of Pippa’s experience, and how lucky are we to have double the opportunity to do so at Kentucky?

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