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Boyd Martin won his first then-4* event in 2003, when he was still living in Australia. It was his very first start at the level at the green age of 24, and he took home the title in the Australian 5* with True Blue Toozac. In the intervening 18 years, he started a total of 42 times at the 5* level, sometimes coming tantalizing close to the top of the podium but never quite managing to catch it — until today.
It came down to the final wire, and Boyd entered the main grandstand as the third last to jump today at the Maryland 5 Star with Christine Turner’s On Cue. They needed a clear round to maintain pressure on top-ranked Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class as well as Tim Price and Xavier Faer. And deliver they did, producing a double clear effort despite a couple of rubs — On Cue putting in her absolute best effort after the grueling endurance effort of yesterday — to finish their second 5* together on a score of 25.0. After both Tim and Oliver each had one pole down, the gasps echoed through the grandstands and in the warm-up, where Boyd waited with his team, the screams, shouts, crying, and hugs began — and the U.S. collected its first 5* winner since 2008 (Phillip Dutton and Connaught won Kentucky in 2008).
Boyd began riding under the American flag in 2009 after moving from Australia in 2007. Since then, he’s collected numerous accolades as one of the top-ranked riders in the country, but as the sport so often goes he found himself battered and broken more often than atop the podium. He’s had numerous special horses, and the 15-year-old On Cue (Cabri d’Elle – On High, by Primitive Rising) entered this season flying mostly under the radar, living in her stablemate and Boyd’s Tokyo Olympic partner Tsetserleg TSF. But it would be this Anglo European mare, who was bred in England by Alyse Clancey, to step up to become the USEF CCI5* National Champion earlier this year at Kentucky as the top-placed U.S. horse. Now, she gets her full due, joining the ranks of 5*-winning mares such as Paulank Brokaugh, Vanir Kamira, and Classic Moet. On Cue has been under the watchful eye of Boyd’s longtime groom, Stephanie Simpson, who also traveled to Tokyo with the crew and is one of the many irreplaceable grooms who’ve worked very hard to care for their charges, day in and day out, to get to this point.
“I obviously knew Tim when he was in New Zealand and competed against him when he was sleeping on a mattress in the back of his trailer at shows,” Boyd said, laughing at the memory of that first 4* in Australia. “and, you know (it’s) wonderful to see that you work hard, you try hard and dig deep and make something of your life. Thinking back to Australia, it was a great country to get started in. I still sort of think of myself as an Australian person, that sort of work ethic and horsemanship from there and then obviously to come to America, and I fell in love with this country with great culture, great people and great events…It’s good, it’s not the be all and end all, but it’s a moment in time you’re grateful for, and we’ve come a long way since 2003.”
It won’t be the weekend of Oliver’s second 5* win of the year (though, hey, he’s still got some horses entered at Pau in two weeks’ time, so it’s early days still), but one pole down with Angela Hislop’s Cooley Master Class (Ramiro B – The Swallow, by Master Imp) would still be enough to finish second on the weekend. The pair ends their weekend on a finishing score of 25.1 (perhaps Oliver will be re-reading his dressage marks to figure out where he could’ve gotten rid of that .1!). While the result is no doubt not what the British Olympian would have wanted, but at the end of the day he recognized the efforts of Boyd and the honor of competing next to the likes of Boyd and Tim for many years.
“We’re very happy with the way our horse jumped, and we’re actually very happy for Boyd as well,” Oliver commented. “Some days are meant to be your days and some days aren’t meant to be your day. And (right hand woman Karyn Shuter) said, ‘you know, we’ve seen (Boyd) scrape himself up off the floor so many times of so many times — we’ve all scraped ourselves off the floor, that’s not meaning that he falls off all the time! — but he’s taken some knocks. This was tough, and to be again sat, both with Boyd, and Tim for me, is a privilege because the riders that I actually have a huge amount of respect for. They’re both working boys, we’re all very normal lads. And for all three of us to be in the position that we’re in is a huge privilege. It does just show that normal people — and we all three are definitely normal people — if you work hard, you can make it to the pinnacle of this sport. That’s the message I want to get out to any kid that’s thinking ‘I can’t do it because I’m not from a wealthy background’, I think we’re all selling the sport now that is actually possible, and I’m very proud of Boyd for continuing on.”
New Zealand Olympian Tim Price with Trisha Rickards’ Xavier Faer (Catherston Liberator – Faerie Dazzler, by Catherston Dazzler) also lowered a pole but still remain within the top three in the 15-year-old British gelding’s eighth 5* event. Both Tim and Jonelle Price were eager to come over for this inaugural Maryland 5 Star primarily for the big cross country that each rider felt would suit their respective horses. Tim and “Hugo” will end their weekend with just the one pole added to their penalty mark and a final score of 28.3 — the picture of consistency as their finishing score at Kentucky this spring was a 28.2.
“Like I said yesterday with just being so grateful to have another competition of this level that truly is earning the five-star status, I’m really excited to see what comes in the future here,” Tim commented. “(I) brought a horse myself that I felt was going to be very capable of cross country. This is a place we can really fall out of a competition or stay in the competition, so I felt with the course designed by a man like Ian Stark, and from the reputation I’d heard this place has with the undulation in the ground it brings a good cross country course. Today was actually not as spotless, there was lots of crashing and bashing for me as well, it felt, and having to second down it’s not a great beginning to round. But Xavier Faer is a very simple horse, he just sees a fence, I’ve got to get in there in the right way with the right energy and we get away with it most of the time…But I’m very pleased with the result, and just to be out here again with these boys, I couldn’t be more proud of all of us really.”
Jennie Brannigan told us earlier this week that her weekend in The Netherlands at Boekelo, where she finished in the top 15 with FE Lifestyle, gave her a boost of confidence heading into Maryland with the stunning Stella Artois (Satisfaction – I—Comtess, by Contender), who is owned by the Stella Artois Syndicate, and today they finally got their first 5* finish under their belts as a pair. Jennie and Stella had a tough run of luck, encountering eliminations at each of their first two attempts at the level. But we always knew the talent was there — “Toddie” won her first CCI4*-L at Rebecca Farm in 2019 as well as in the top 10 in the CCI4*-L at Tryon last fall. This weekend, she proved she’s every bit of a 5* horse, and despite some time added in the jumping phases she moved up the board after starting in seventh position and ending in fourth.
Aachen winner Will Coleman and The Conair Syndicate’s Tight Lines (Turgeon – Merindole, by Tel Quel) earned their best 5* finish together this weekend, steadily making climbs up the leaderboard to eventually complete the top five on a final score of 32.2. This pair is the only other to finish the weekend on their dressage mark, and Will noted yesterday that he thought the grueling cross country would suit the 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding — and it certainly seemed that rang true as Tight Lines looked fresh at the finish line.
It’s been a process of getting to know what works best for “Phish”, who like many Thoroughbreds can experience some tension, particularly in the first phase. “He’s like a lot of Thoroughbreds,” Will said earlier this week, explaining his warm-up process for the dressage. “He carries a lot of excess energy, and sort of positive tension from just trying really hard…I think he just does better when he comes out and you kind of give him those first few minutes to move around and be a bit natural and not go right to material or training or making him feel like he has to come out and bust a gut right away. We’ve definitely learned a lot from Phish, on just kind of how to meet a horse in the middle.”
Will also finished his second ride, Team Rebecca LLC’s DonDante, inside the top 15.
Ken Krome, who is a renowned Grand Prix show jumping designer, designed his first three-day eventing show jumping today — and the track certainly did its duty to test the riders. Seven riders out of 35 starters collected double clear efforts: Ashlynn Meucheul (Emporium), Zoe Crawford (K.E.C. Zara), Will Faudree (Pfun), Astier Nicolas (Babylon de Gamma), Doug Payne (Quantum Leap), Will Coleman (Tight Lines), and Boyd Martin (On Cue). Three riders produced rounds clear of jumping penalties, but picked up time penalties against the tight time allowed of 81 seconds. The ring here feels much closer than the imposing Rolex Stadium in Kentucky, creating a bit more of a “fishbowl” atmosphere for the horses — Doug Payne remarked that the ring felt perhaps a bit tight, but that the atmosphere was “exceptional” and that he enjoyed riding Ken’s track.
Rails down were scattered throughout the track — fence 5 and fence 12b proved to be the most influential, with fence 5, an oxer coming across the center of the ring on a snaking bending line, coming down seven times and 12b, the second element of the triple, coming down six times. You can view the full fence-by-fence report here.
We’ve somehow already reached the end of an incredible weekend at the Maryland 5 Star. We’ve worked with the organizing crew here for many months to create the digital program, and through it all we’ve been witness to the immense efforts they’ve made to put this event on. It’s easy to forget that every other 5* is so well-established, with decades of experience, history and tradition behind them. The indication we got from this first go-round was that this event has every marker of being a top-class event — and a popular spectator event, as the event welcomed over 20,000 of them this weekend — and we truly cannot wait to return next year.
That wraps up our reporting from Maryland, but we’ve still got more content yet to come! We’ll be adding more photos to our site and social media over the coming days, so keep an eye out for more still to come. Most importantly, thank you all for following along with us. We were thrilled to welcome 50+ fans to our course walk with Ema Klugman and RideIQ (something we hope to do much more of in the future!), and all throughout the weekend we interacted with so many excited people — it reminds us why we do this job and of how much we love this sport. So, from all of us at EN to you: thank you, and Go Eventing.
And as our last hurrah, allow us to leave you with some additional photos, as well as this special moment we managed to capture as Boyd learned he’d won:
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