Tilly Berendt contributed to this report.
Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous swept the dressage lead yesterday here at the $50,000 MARS Eventing Showcase and carried it through the cross country finish flags today, winning on a final penalty score of 28.2.
Marilyn and the 14-year-old Oldenburg (Carry Gold x Richardia, by Lario), owned by Ms. Jacqueline Mars and Phoebe and Michael Manders, added a show jumping rail and 4.8 cross country time penalties to their dressage score of 19.4.
Of 27 cross county starters, there were 10 clear rounds inside the time across Captain Mark Phillips’ testing track. The master designer made the most of limited space and offered a dynamic cross-section of questions that came up fast and caught some horses off-guard in this compact format. The skinny wedges on the mound at 9 and 10 proved particularly troublesome. The most flowing performances had the quality of a luxury car commercial filmed on the Pacific Coast Highway — 90 mph but perfectly in control, tires hugging every curve in the road as though it were flanked by cliffs. For a play-by-play of the cross country action, check out Sally’s live updates here.
The top nine from show jumping held their ground through the final phase, with Buck Davidson/Carlevo and Phillip Dutton/Z finishing 2nd (28.6) and 3rd (28.7 — so close!) respectively. Here’s what the top three had to say at the final press conference:
Marilyn Little, 1st with RF Scandalous
“In a three-minute cross-country course there isn’t much time to make up time, so I started out much faster than I normally would – which is fine, she’s at the place where she can do that. But her normal prep would be a slower event or two before so we know we have all the control and the partnership that this kind of horse requires. That’s a lesson learned for Kentucky – you need to make sure you have everything in place. This isn’t a long format but it still takes just as much partnership to go out there and execute it.
“I was using this as a starter event leading up to Kentucky, but actually, if you’re going to come in and give a game day performance, it takes every ounce of partnership and experience to pull it off. Today, we were perhaps a little bit underprepared – I wouldn’t have thought it before, but lesson learned. We’ll be reorganising and working that out very soon.
“Today didn’t really go to plan. She warmed up beautifully for the show jumping but somewhere between the first and second fence she must have gotten her tongue over the bit. She was quite uncomfortable going around the course, and it was really a testament to her heart and her bravery that she kept going. A few years ago she would have been incredibly distracted, and she wouldn’t have been able to pull that off. I obviously didn’t know until after the course – she was trying so hard to jump around. She put in a really great effort.
“This afternoon [cross country] did not go to plan. We’ll be regrouping at home and figuring out how to do it better. Some days in sports just don’t work out. She came through the finish line and we thought, we’ll have to go out at a lower level – there’s a lot to be learned. Next time we go out there, it’ll be organised and relaxed.
“I’ve had a relationship with her for a very long time, and so we trade on that quite happily. We’ve obviously got a great support team around us, which helps a lot. We also tend to have a good plan – I know how many events it takes to get her to her best. We spend a lot of time travelling – I spend a lot of time in Ocala, and we’re at other prep events, and not just taking a crack at winning them. We do a lot of schooling runs to prepare.
“We have to stick with the things we do well, and then go back to the drawing board and try to do better.”
Buck Davidson, 2nd with Carlevo
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to get ourselves and the horses in gear this early. Carlevo has missed a bit of time and maybe isn’t the quickest thinker, but I learned a lot with him at Blenheim [in 2019], and it’s about going a different route with him this year. He’s certainly good at this stuff – his show jumping is getting better. The owner and I sat down and talked about maybe selling him, but we figured he’d be good for these sorts of things, and he’s a nice horse to have in the barn. He’s really a sweet horse, and he’s good in all three phases. He was very good this weekend.
“It was fast enough without going crazy – it’s a unique event in that it feels more like a cross-country school than it does a real competition. But I think for most of the horses here that have experience, they understood the job. I could hardly get my first horse past that water in the show jumping – but I think it’s a good thing for the young horses to get this atmosphere and deal with all the other things going on.
“Mark [Bellissimo] is certainly a genius at putting these things on – he has a way of making you think, ‘wow, that’s not going to work’, but then it works. Full credit to him and everybody here who puts on a great show.”
Phillip Dutton, 3rd with Z
“I think it’s very early in the season, but it’s great to get out with some atmosphere – and to do the five-star dressage test is a great advantage for us. The showjumping is unique. We don’t see many show jumps around the cross country course like that, but the horses have to get used to different scenarios.
“The cross country didn’t walk super big, but you have to keep in mind that it’s early February and they haven’t done much. So I tried to set out on both horses to give them a good fitness run – you can’t keep them coddled all year. You’ve got to get them out, and so I tried to give them a run without stretching them too much at this stage of their year. I’m really pleased with both horses [Phillip also finished 10th on Fernhill Singapore], and I think they had a good experience.”
Many thanks to Tilly Berendt for this photo gallery:
Many thanks to this event’s generous sponsors and especially its title sponsor, MARS Equestrian; to Mark Bellissimo and Palm Beach International Equestrian Center for hosting us at their beautiful venue; to Shelley Page and the crew that made this event possible; to all the spectators, eventers and non-eventers alike!, who came out to support our sport; and last but not least to EN’s best-in-the-land readers for joining us this weekend.
Final Top 10: