Both FEI cross country courses, the 2*-L and especially the 3*-S designed by Jay Hambly rode tough today at Hagyard Midsouth in Lexington, KY. In the 3*-S there were just seven clear rounds from 14 starters and only one of them — Cosby Green on the experienced Highly Suspicous — inside the time. The coffin, which came early, was influential; sited close to the 5* coffin seen at Kentucky this spring, multiple horses jumped the rail in only to be surprised by the gaping ditch with a large blue hose in it at the bottom of a steep decline. Later on, the water out in the tailgate field caused a little trouble, and a wagon to an acute corner on returning into the infield was also responsible for some penalties.
Leading the 3*-S pack overnight is Jeff Beshear who positively cruised round on his OTTB Say Cheese. Jeff was glad to have some solid rounds this year under his belt as they set off on course this afternoon. “He was awesome!” he smiled. “This is his best phase and we’ve done a bunch of hard ones this year so I actually didn’t think this looked all that challenging when I walked it. It’s hard, but after doing Great Meadow, Morven and Carolina in the spring I felt really good about it. He’s done a coffin like this one so I thought we’d be ok there and really there wasn’t anything else that he even looked at.”
Jeff and Say Cheese’s dressage score of 32.5 was their best so far at this level, and they added just a scant 0.8 worth of time penalties to it today. “I was happy with his score [yesterday], I thought he did a really good test and between he and I — we’re a little limited so I think we’re probably peaking at what we can score,” he laughed modestly. “But he’s a machine! He can make time anywhere I let him. I didn’t push him too hard in certain places but we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Jeff has been working hard on their show jumping but admits “he struggles in that phase and when he’s tired it’s even worse.” Both this horse and Jeff’s 2* ride, Storm Is Due, will have a break following this weekend but Jeff is hopeful he can step Say Cheese up to Advanced in the spring. “Neither one of us have ever done that,” he explained, and although he muses Say Cheese might be a better Short format horse he doesn’t rule out a career akin to Kevin Keane’s. “Maybe some day I can catch up to his legacy!”
Jeff’s wife, Emily, is back in the saddle and was back in the winner’s circle at Morven recently, and their son Nicholas has been crushing it this year, adding a 2* and a 3* win to his resume. “I’m more competitive with my son”, Jeff admits. “But then again, my wife does it for a living and I do it for fun! We all cheer each other on and I usually watch his lessons and that’s more the lesson I get than anything else because it’s obviously hard to take lessons from your wife!”
Emily and Nicholas were both supposed to be here this weekend too but sadly “the horses just didn’t work out to come”, so instead his parents are here supporting him this weekend, and his mother Jane, an experienced and accomplished fox hunter, eventer and all-round horsewoman in her own right, has been diligently adding grooming and videoing to her workload.
Local rider Cosby Green rode an efficient and professional round on Highly Suspicious, adding nothing to their dressage score and finishing the day in second place in the 3*-S. Cosby has grown up in Lexington — and more specifically the Horse Park — and riding at the highest level has long been her goal. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I remember when I was twelve years old, out here in my pink and green colours going Beginner Novice,” she said. “So it’s really special to have done the three-star here and to have done the Advanced in the past. It’s fun to measure your progress through the years. I love it here.”
Highly Suspicious came to Cosby’s barn about five years ago from Will Coleman. “We’ve been climbing up the ranks and doing some Advanced and trying to find our footing at four-star, but we thought this weekend we’d just do a nice, easy run in the three-star and get the confidence back,” she said.
Obviously walking the course with some higher level form was encouraging but nonetheless, Cosby granted, “I didn’t think it was that bad because we have done a lot together but at the end of the day it was a proper three-star, and the results definitely showed that and it rode like it!” Tryon’s 4* is probably next on their agenda following their good round today, and then Cosby will head to Ocala this winter with fellow Lexingtonian (via California!) Allie Knowles. Highly Suspicious goes by “Puff” in the barn which Cosby says suits him because “he’s just looking for snacks all the time and he’s got a really bubbly personality!”
Australian rider Dom Schramm was delighted to feel like he finally got all the moving parts together with his super-talented bay mare Quadrocona today, easing her home with a handful of time penalties to slide into third place going into the show jumping tomorrow. “She’s just such a good horse,” he reiterated. “I’ve known she’s unbelievable since she was a four year old and she’s been successful along the way, but we’ve just had one little thing after another which has prevented her from having superstar results. I think it’s all starting to come together now.”
Dom was not surprised by the trouble the track caused today. “Walking the course, I thought that Jay set a lot of really forward lines. I’m lucky that my mare is pretty nippy and I didn’t add [strides] everywhere, but the places where I thought it could get a bit sketchy I just made a bit of a wider turn and helped her, so I was a bit slow. I think if you were out there really gunning for it and you got even some of those lines a little bit wrong I could see where it might all fall apart. I thought it was a good course, I thought [Jay] did a good job, it certainly wasn’t easy, not at all!”
Early to go in the order on his first horse, Penhill Celtic, Boyd Martin took a tumble at ditch in the coffin. “It’s a spooky fence and I underestimated it because he’s been such a good cross country horse,” Boyd said. “I had a great shot at part A and then as he jumped the rail he looked at the ditch and he slammed on the brakes and I slid up his neck and then poor old Donald was in a tiff and a frenzy jumping around and he threw me off.”
Luckily neither of them were any the worse for wear — “good as gold, it was graceful!” — and Boyd was able to lay those demons to rest definitively on his second ride, Contessa, with an emphatic and impressive clear round to move up to fourth place overnight.
“She was fantastic,” he agreed. “She’s so seasoned now and she had a nice run; this is her preparation for Tryon four-Long in a few weeks.” Despite his little blip, Boyd was full of praise for Jay’s track. “I loved the course,” he gushed. “I think maybe a couple of the distances were a bit open but at this level, we come to Kentucky and we should expect a coffin and a sunken road, good water jumps, narrows….I love coming here, they’re brilliant courses, top design. It was a green field with the three-Long last weekend at Maryland so I praise the course designer and I think we’ve just got to be ready that when we come here it’s up to scratch.”
Lynn Symansky’s flashy Global Cassero 3 was originally and inexplicably awarded 20 penalties but once they were removed it was just 13.6 time penalties that dropped them from second after the first phase to their current fifth position.
“I went slow on all of them. He was good but the ground was a bit firm so the plan was to go out and give them a good run and make it easy.” Lynn was a little surprised by the trouble the cross country caused today. “It walked like an average, stiff track”, she mused. “The coffin rode really, really hard. I think it was easier when it was filled with water because the horses didn’t peek so much at it; then they drained it and there was a blue hose in there so maybe it was a horse-eating snake!” Despite his experience Lynn said “Jerry” even had a look at the coffin but overall, “he was very good but the course certainly rode harder than it walked.”
Elaborating, Lynn mused that it was a good experience for all her horses. “It was a good track, I thought [Jay] did a good job with it. I didn’t walk away from it thinking it was too hard before going out and Jerry was good. For the greener horses it was pretty hard, especially walking it for my intermediate horses. I think it was a proper three-star track and just because the field has trouble I don’t necessarily think that’s a reason to dumb it down, I think it was up to the standard.”
Kentucky is in the midst of an extraordinarily dry period, and Lynn appreciated the mammoth effort the grounds crew have made to try and alleviate the hard footing, with aerating and non-stop sprinklers. “They did what they could with the ground,” Lynn agreed. “They really made a huge effort to make the ground as good as possible but you can’t add six weeks worth of rain in a weekend!”
An unfortunate stop at the coffin saw dressage leader Allie Knowles and Katherine O Brien’s Business Class drop to sixth place after this phase, but overall she was encouraged by their round today.
“It was great. We’ve had some trouble recently this fall, so I knew he would be backed off and it was a tough coffin, but once I jumped it I think he knew I was serious and he went beautifully. I think this will help him moving forward,” Allie said. Like so many of the riders I talked to, Allie was a fan of the course. “It’s a proper three-star track”, she confirmed. “He’s a very well-schooled horse but he and I have just not been on the same page in the last few months so I think this was definitely a step in the right direction. Obviously I of course wanted to go clear but I think we are headed back that way so I think it was a good progression for our confidence, and even having the stop I think he’s going to leave more confident than when he started and I will too. The results page doesn’t always tell the whole story!”
There were 21 clear rounds in the 2*L from 30 starters and Dom Schramm sits atop that leaderboard on another striking dark bay mare, this time It’s Adomos Fuwina. The Horse Park is bustling with action with the Training Three-Day and a plethora of lower levels also taking place — the organisation to coordinate all the things truly boggles the mind, and I only wish I could cover every division equally.
There are final horse inspections early Saturday morning before the FEI divisions show jump to decide the final placing.