We’ve talked about which riders had the most impressive Rolex Rookie debut, now let’s talk about the biggest breakout equine stars that emerged from the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. In order of their final placing on the leaderboard, let’s get to know five horses that should have a bright future ahead based on their four-star debuts.
Fernhill Cubalawn is the new USEF National CCI4* Champion after finishing in fifth place with Phillip Dutton as the highest placed American combination. A 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Con Capitol X Corse Lawn, by Arkan) owned by Tom Tierney and Simon Roosevelt, “Cuba” was beautifully produced from Training through the three-star level by Alex Green before going to Phillip’s barn last year.
Phillip said he pushed for a bit too much in the canter in the horse’s dressage test on Thursday afternoon, which botched a flying change for a score of 50.9 to put Cuba in 23rd after the first phase. The horse did his cross country about halfway through the order of go when conditions were beginning to deteriorate, and he scrapped around in good form for a clear run with just 3.2 time penalties to move up to ninth place.
Cuba then jumped one of the eight double clear show jumping rounds the next day to clinch the national championship, which is a marked improvement from the horse’s last three-day at Blenheim, when he had the final three rails down to drop outside the top 10. Phillip said he’s worked extensively on the show jumping with Silvio Mazzoni and Richard Picken, and the hard work is clearly paying off.
Cuba now joins the ranks of Mr. Medicott and Mighty Nice, as well as fellow four-star first-timer Fernhill Fugitive, giving Phillip a variety of options as we look ahead to the 2016 Olympic Games. Fernhill Fugitive, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, also had a very respectable four-star debut, with Cuba’s quicker cross country trip only just edging “Jack” in our rankings.
One could argue that OBOS O’Reilly had his breakout moment with Will Coleman at Bromont in 2013, when he won the CCI3* on a score of 58.2. But the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (OBOS Quality X Omard Clover Queen, by Clover Hill) owned by the Four Star Eventing Group dropped off the radar after that, not returning to FEI competition until last summer.
“Oboe” struggled to return to those winning ways in his first events back, ultimately retiring on course at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI3* last fall with plans to re-route to Galway Downs. But then a bronchoalveolar lavage revealed mucus in his lungs and a moderate case of inflamed airway disease, forcing him to withdraw from the event and finish out 2014 without a three-day completion on his record.
So it’s been a long time coming to see this horse back at the top, which makes his performance in his first CCI4* all the more satisfying. A dressage score of 52.6 put Oboe in 31st place after the first phase. Then he delivered one of the six double clear cross country rounds the next day, coming home two seconds under the optimum time of 11 minutes, 6 seconds to win the Land Rover Ride of the Day and a 24-month lease on a 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport for Will.
One rail down in show jumping saw Will and Oboe finish in sixth place at Rolex on a score of 56.6. Will rode the horse beautifully in all three phases, and it was great to see him back at Kentucky for the first time since 2012, when he finished fifth with his London Olympic partner Twizzel, who has since been retired from the upper levels. Oboe has big shoes to fill, and he’s well on his way if Rolex is any indicator.
Master Frisky is another horse that has already had success at the three-star level, having been the National CCI3* Reserve Champion at Fair Hill with Boyd Martin last fall, but there’s really no telling how a horse will handle a four-star until it actually happens. “Mikey,” an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Master Imp X Frisky Legs, by Coopers Hill) owned by Steve Blauner, rose to the occasion and then some in Kentucky.
He was one of the better placed U.S. horses after dressage, scoring 47.0 to sit in 12th place as the very last horse to go on Friday. That means he had to tackle his first CCI4* cross country course at the end of the day on Saturday, after the saturated footing had been churned up by more than 70 horses. But it was no trouble for Mikey, who jumped around clear with just 1.6 time to move up to sixth place on 48.6.
Show jumping continues to be the toughest phase for this horse. Mikey lost Fair Hill last fall due to a rail, and he had two rails down over Richard Jeffery’s challenging show jumping course on Sunday to finish in seventh place on a final score of 56.6. Mikey did produce a clear show jumping round over a tough course at the Carolina International CIC3* in March, so the potential is very much there.
After selling Trading Aces and leasing out Otis Barbotiere — and with Neville Bardos bopping around at the lower levels — Master Frisky is a welcome new addition to Boyd’s four-star string. With his World Equestrian Games partner Shamwari largely expected to be Boyd’s first choice as he looks to land a spot on the 2016 Olympic Games team, Mikey looks to be an excellent reserve horse for Rio with a solid Rolex debut behind him.
Covert Rights generated the biggest buzz by far amongst the breakout stars at Kentucky, as he delivered an impressive dressage test with Colleen Rutledge to sit in fifth place on a score of 42.3, making them the highest-placed American combination after that phase. Colleen bred and produced “CR,” a 9-year-old Thoroughbred/Clydesdale gelding (BFF Incognito X Let’s Get It Right, by Covert Operation), which she said made his success at his first four-star all the more special.
This horse came out swinging when he made his Advanced debut back in 2013, finishing fourth in his first CIC3* at Richland that year and garnering a top-10 finish at Plantation Field, one of the most hotly contested three-stars of the year. He would have gone on to do his first CCI3* at Fair Hill that fall had Colleen not fallen from a different horse at Morven Park, breaking her hip and requiring surgery.
She fought to get their mojo back last season after healing from the accident, and they finally made it to CR’s first CCI3* at Fair Hill last fall, where he finished 14th to qualify for Rolex. After that stellar dressage test in Kentucky, Colleen turned in a double clear round on her other ride Shiraz as the first pair out of the start box and returned later in the day to give “CR” an educational, confidence-boosting ride in the rain, jumping clear with 12 time to sit in 10th on 54.3.
CR pulled two rails the next day to finish in 11th place on a score of 62.3. While Colleen has been invited to train with Coach David O’Connor at the USEF High Performance training sessions, she has never been listed officially. We’d love to see her named on the 2015 USEF summer/fall training lists, as CR would almost certainly benefit from working with show jumping coach Silvio Mazzoni, as Fernhill Cubalawn and Master Frisky have. Sharpening the show jumping would make Colleen and CR a formidable combination.
Though Petite Flower took home the win at the Galway Downs CCI3* in 2013, “Flower” has proven to be a study in patience for the BDJ team. The 13-year-old Thoroughbred mare owned by Caroline and Sherrie Martin and bred by Bruce Davidson Sr. (by Amber Lust out of Tears of Loss) is a lovely mover and an excellent show jumper, but her distinct disdain for corners means Buck Davidson has struggled to produce clear cross country rounds with her.
Buck and Flower just did the dressage at Rolex last year, and she actually scored better then (54.2) than she did this year (57.2). But the real test was always going to be cross country day. Flower has twice attempted one of Derek di Grazia’s other major tracks in North America at the Fair Hill CCI3* and twice retired on course, so Saturday was a big ask for her.
Flower and Buck took the long route at the Park Question, the coffin at fences 8 and 9, which caused numerous problems on Saturday, but so did Tim Price and Wesko, who jumped double clear and led overnight, ultimately finishing in second place, so we can’t hold it against them too much. Flower went on to jump clear with 10.8 time penalties to move up to 19th place on a score of 68.0.
The mare then jumped one of the eight double clear rounds in show jumping the next day to keep cruising up the leaderboard to finish 13th in her four-star debut. If Flower can continue to show that type of consistency in all three phases, she’ll be a serious asset in Buck’s barn. I don’t think anyone expected Flower to be the best placed of Buck’s three rides at the beginning of the event, and it’s exciting when horses like her rise to the occasion and prove us wrong.