We knew we’d be looking at a very strong challenge from the incredibly deep British squad, which sent forward three combinations for the MARS Maryland 5 Star, presented by Brown Advisory this weekend. True to form, the Brits have now established themselves as the top three to beat at the conclusion of two days of dressage.
Initially first after Thursday, Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise will move into second tonight after an elegant performance from the 9-year-old Cooley Rosalent (Valent – Bellaney Jewel), owned by Paul Ridgeon and piloted this week by current world #1 Oliver Townend. Hot on the heels of one 5* victory at Burghley with the great Ballaghmor Class, Oliver’s hoping to add another to his collection of trophies, walking the line of a good first experience and a desire to compete. He’s hit the podium twice here, having come here to compete at Maryland since its first year as a 5* in 2021 and finishing second then with As Is and third last year with Cooley Master Class.
Cooley Rosalent, or “Rosie”, has been with Oliver since she was four, quickly showing her talent and grit for the sport with two top-10 finishes at the FEI WBFSH Young Horse Breeding World Championships, both as a six- and a seven-year-old. She stepped up to the 5* level at Luhmühlen earlier this year, an uncharacteristically high dressage score and a green 20 making it a true learning weekend for the pair.
“We’ve always thought she was very, very good, but obviously she’s arriving at these big events a little bit ahead of being established,” Oliver said, noting that his test — which earned a 23.1 to give him a finger’s width of breathing room tomorrow — was a “movement by movement” type of ride, focusing on riding forward and keeping the mare relaxed. “But she’s got enough experience to be here, obviously, and she’s on great form.”
Cooley Rosalent comes from both jumping and racing lines — in fact her dam, Bellaney Jewel, won several times as a steeplechase racer — a combination Oliver would say is an optimum blend for a top event horse. “She was bred to gallop, not to do dressage, but luckily she trots as well. I love her type of pedigree. I think if you get that combination — and I think also if you own Thoroughbred mares and you’re wanting to breed event horses, it gives you much more option because you’ve got a thousand jumping stallions, whereas if you own an eventing-type mare, there [aren’t] that many Thoroughbred eventing stallions around these days.”
Multi-5* winner William Fox-Pitt is down to just one top-level event horse these days, and it’s the 11-year-old mare Grafennacht (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz – Nachtigall) who keeps him wanting to compete at these big 5* events. After attempting some embryo transfers this spring during 5* season, William decided to tick off a new box on the old “events to do” list — “Burghley’s wonderful, but I have done it a few times!”
“I’ve heard good reports, obviously from Harry [Meade] and Tim Price last year about how amazing it is,” William said. “And it’s fantastic. It’s so welcoming and generous. We’re all looked after completely.” His competition is off to a strong start as well, scoring a 26.1 to slot into third place overnight. This pair contested Badminton this spring, finishing in the top 15 and likely would have gone higher had it not been for three pesky rails down on Sunday.
“Honestly, delighted with the horse, she’s a trier. She’s fun to ride,” William said. “She’s also very good cross country but the show jumping is a little bit work in progress. So if I’ve got three in hand on Sunday, I’ll be happy!”
“I would like to think she really does want to clear the jump,” William said of her show jumping progression. “But she’s just in the stage sometimes where she’s a little bit core weak. So she’s very able to stretch and jump and gallop but the core sometimes is not good enough to be round enough for jumping, and I think that will come with age. You know, I say she’s only eleven but she had her tenth year off, so she’s a little bit like a ten-year-old. And I think, you never know when she’s 16 and I’m 100!”
It’s a bit of a festive atmosphere in the Fox-Pitt camp this week, as Grafennecht’s owner, Amanda Gould, lives in London but has dual citizenship with the States and therefore finds this weekend to be a bit of a “home” event.
Boyd Martin and Club Contessa Contessa (Contender – Veritas) are the top-placed U.S. pair now, moving into fifth place with on a score of 28.8. This is a marked improvement from Contessa’s debut 5* score of 35.5 (Kentucky), though she’s certainly scored in this range on the flat at other times. Boyd took a small risk and tweaked his warm-up today, opting to do a lengthier warm-up about two hours before his actual test time, spending some time both in the warm-up as well as on the gentle slope in the infield of the track, trotting and cantering relaxed serpentines and getting the mare loose and listening. As one that struggles a bit with tension, especially the more you ride her, this new approach seems to have paid off well for Boyd.
“It’s interesting, you know, growing up on Thoroughbreds, often you just get them as tight as you can and slowly but surely, I’m learning there’s all different systems in preparing horses,” Boyd said. “It was something different. I tried and it worked out. She’s a tough girl too, she’s a resilient horse. And sometimes we’re both lathered in sweat on dressage days, but I feel like we’re getting somewhere now.”
Using the words “quietly confident, but quietly terrified” are a fairly accurate way to sum up what Ian Stark has awaiting these riders tomorrow, but Boyd putting his experience to good use as he prepares to leave the start box as the last on course. “I’ve just gotta be sensible and pay [attention] — like she, if I try and go real fast in the beginning, it blows her mind a bit and I think I’ve got to ride calm but efficient. Pick the jumps that I feel like I could fly and the ones that are gonna slow down.”
Caroline Powell is also making her first trip to the Maryland 5 Star, bringing her up-and-comer Greenacres Special Cavalier (Cavalier Royale – Greenacres Touch) and taking a score of 29.0 to go into sixth overnight. At 10, this is another horse that’s still gaining experience and strength at the level, though she does have runs at Pau and Badminton under her belt to date.
“She’s only ten and there’s a lot in the test for her to do at a young age and she’s just improving all the time,” Caroline said. “At the moment, we’re about training the brain more than training movements and stuff — she just needs to develop into the superstar she’s hopefully going to be.”
Caroline noted that the mare’s owner, Mann Chris, loves to travel and see the world, and given that the mare had done Pau already, it seemed a good shout to come to the U.S. for a run. “Everybody was really keen to come out here,” she said. “It’s sort of been on our target all year. So we’ve been doing everything with Maryland in mind because we love Ian’s courses (though I might not be saying that tomorrow!).”
A 5* first-timer hit the board in sixth place: Jacob Fletcher going on a 29.3 with Fletcher Farms’ Fabian (Up to Date – Ineke) in a strong start to his weekend. “I thought he was really good. I was really happy — he can be slightly cold but also really spooky in a new environment so we have to kind of battle doing just enough to where he still is fresh, but enough to where he doesn’t spook and it goes completely chaotic.”
Jacob’s chosen a lighter prep and fitness schedule for his horses, a methodology he’s gleaned from his own experience as well as time spent observing William Fox-Pitt and Kevin McNab, with whom he based previously. “So I’m quite happy to do well and have a canter around and keep them good, but that’s that philosophy. I try to do three or four shows, but try to do them [in] two to three week intervals to the show and then three weeks before the big one.”
Lexi Scovil is also a newcomer to the top 10 after scoring a lovely 31.9 for seventh place with Chico’s Man VDF Z (Chico’s Boy – Chardonnay Z). “Sprout” was also keen to come into the mixed zone for an interview, and even more pleased to be included in some enthusiastic pats and grass-feeding from some adoring fans. Lexi refers to the 13-year-old Zangersheide gelding as “a total pet”, and one who’s matured much in the seasons she’s had him at the Advanced and 4* level. This is this pair’s second 5* start, having finished in the top 30 at Kentucky in 2022.
“He’s maturing and finally dealing with the atmosphere they snuck in,” Lexi said. “He always lights up a bit in the atmosphere, but he’s finally lighting up correctly instead of, you know, with tension, so I’m so happy with him. He’s such a good boy.”
“It’s just a matter of we’re trying to get a more uphill without adding tension,” she continued, noting her work with former Spanish Riding School rider and current Austrian eventing coach Herwig Radnetter as instrumental in helping her progress on the flat. “You know, I’ve struggled for a long time — he’s lovely in a lower level frame. It’s been that step up that’s been tricky for him.”
Caroline Pamukcu Overtakes Lead in USEF CCI3*-L National Championship
The Maryland 5 Star is also home to the USEF National CCI3*-L Championships, where the competition has been fierce. Caroline Pamukcu (nee Martin) has been working hard with a total of three horses in the division. She hasn’t let the extra workload hold her back, as she’s currently leading the division with HSH Connor (Connor 48 x Galwaybay Merstona by Mermus R) with a score of 25.4. The 7 year-old Irish Sport Horse, owned by Sherrie Martin, Luann McElduff, and Caroline, has been tackling the hefty atmosphere of Maryland 5 Star like a champ.
“He’s still young, he’s seven [so] it’s a big ask for him with all the atmosphere in the cross country but we think the world of them we’ve had him since he was a baby,” Caroline said. “I give an incredible thank you to my owners, Luann McElduff, who owns him with my mom, Sherrie Martin. They are the reason why I got to keep the ride on him.”
Behind Caroline is Lauren Nicholson and Ms. Jacqueline Mars’ Larcot Z (L’Arc de Triomphe – Kocote De La Londe, Socrate de Chivre), holding second with a score of 28.2. “All the credit goes to the training done by Will Coleman and Reagan Lafleur who campaigned him previously,” Lauren said. “It’s pretty lovely to get a horse trained by Coleman and get to compete. He’s a super classic horse anyway, and then lovely in the ring. So it is very much a pleasure to ride at the Maryland 5 Star.”
In third place, just .4 points behind Lauren is Taren Hoffos with Regalla (Sir Donnerhall – Rubiera, Rubinstein 46), owned by Carolyn Hoffos. Taren has traveled all the way to the East Coast from her home in Ramona, California, where she and her family own Copper Meadows. The Maryland 5 Star is Taren and Regalla’s first trip to the East Coast.
“This just felt like the right moment for the horse,” Taren said. “She’s had a really good season, at the Intermediate and three-star level when she did the three-Long at Rebecca Farm, and did quite well. And my mom and I were talking about it, my mom owns her, and she said, ‘Let’s just go for it. This is your moment. She’s ready, you’re ready. Let’s just do the big trip and go for it.’ So we just kind of got in the truck and started driving.”
After a rockier start to Regalla’s career, the 12 year-old Oldenburg mare is really showing her talent this weekend. “She did the young horse events out west and honestly didn’t really excel at that. She went to be a dressage horse for a few years and that helped quite a bit,” said Taren. “She came back to us when she was eight and we thought, well, let’s give jumping another try and she really took to it. So from then on, it’s kind of like she’s going for it. She’s been great ever since.”
We now look ahead to the daunting challenge Ian Stark has put out in what are to be his final years designing at Maryland. Our full course preview will be published first thing tomorrow, but you can take an Ian Stark-guided glance around via CrossCountryApp here.
We’ll see the CCI3*-L first, beginning at 9:05 a.m. ET with Marley Bourke and Superstorm Sandy. CCI3*-L cross country will finish at 11:20 a.m. ET, and we’ll continue with the CCI5* beginning at 1:35 p.m. ET with Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. All of the action will be live streamed on ClipMyHorse.TV/USEF Network — you can access the live stream here. If you’re outside of North America, you’ll find the live stream on Horse & Country here.
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