Hosted for the first time by the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, the Nutrena American Eventing Championships have made a highly anticipated return to the East Coast. With quite a strong contingent set to compete for the top prize in the Adequan USEA Gold Cup Final, we are looking forward to a hotly contested finish come Sunday.
The requirements for qualifying for this division mean that there will be no first-timers here, and a large majority of the horses in the field have already competed at the CCI3* and CCI4* levels. With such experience, it will be extremely important to be in striking range of the top after the first phase to even break into the final top 10.
The dressage test is 2014 USEF A-B, by far the most commonly used test for Advanced divisions around the country, so a large majority of the competitors are familiar with it. Capt. Mark Phillips, the course designer of Burghley, will debut his new Advanced cross country course this weekend (check out EN’s course preview here). Marc Donovan is popular across the country for his challenging but thoughtful stadium courses, designed to shake up the ranks on the final day.
1. Marilyn Little and RF Demeter: Marilyn and RF Demeter have been absolutely dominant at the CIC3* and Advanced levels in their partnership together, placing out of the top 10 only once in 19 starts and finishing in the top three 58 percent of the time. Most recently this pair finished second behind Loughan Glen at the Great Meadow CICO3*, once again proving they are a force to be reckoned with in this format.
RF Demeter has only performed this test twice since 2013, averaging a 31.0 in two attempts. Although these two have conquered Capt. Phillips’ Burghley course with 14.4 time penalties, a pace closer to their overall average of only 1.6 time penalties is much more likely this weekend. These two can definitely jump a clear stadium round, but an average of one rail over Marc Donovan’s designs could threaten their position. Still, they should finish the weekend with the win on a score in the mid 30s.
2. Buck Davidson and Petite Flower: After an ill-timed hoof issue during the Olympic selection process, Buck and Petite Flower quickly bounced back with a solid second-place finish at Millbrook. With a cross country record that gets stronger with every passing show, Petite Flower has really jumped into the top echelon of U.S. eventers.
This little mare averages a 31.8 on this test, putting her well within stalking range. Buck and Petite Flower accumulated 5.6 time penalties over Capt. Phillips’ AEC course at Texas Rose in 2014 and will likely at least match that this weekend. Petite Flower is one of the best show jumpers on the circuit and hasn’t had a rail at a CIC3* or Advanced since early 2014. A double clear round would cement second place, with a score less than a point behind RF Demeter.
3. Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border: After demonstrating his talent last fall by placing third at Fair Hill CCI3* in only his third three-star start, Cooley Cross Border took a hiatus from the scene. Returning at Millbrook last month, he made a splash by finishing fourth in a strong field.
This horse has talent in spades on the flat, averaging a cool 28.8 on this dressage test. While he hasn’t seen a course by Capt. Phillips’ yet, he averages 9.2 seconds overall across the country. Cooley Cross Border has had the occasional lone time penalty in stadium, but has yet to have a rail at this level in six rounds thus far. These two should finish in third, breathing down Buck’s neck with a score less than half a point behind.
4. Doug Payne and Vandiver: Doug and Vandiver have come a long way in their partnership from last fall, from gaining their qualifications to doing their first four-star as a pair this spring, and most recently becoming more of a fixture in the top five at top events. With their recent performance on the rise, they’ll likely shine bright this weekend as well.
These two average a very good 29.6 on this particular dressage test, which will put them near the top after the first day. An average pace of 9.2 time penalties across the country could move them down as they attempt their first Capt. Phillips course, but lately these two have been hitting at or near the optimum time. A very good show jumping team, it’s unlikely they’ll have a rail over Marc Donovan’s course. Doug and Vandiver should place no lower than fourth on a score less than a point behind Cooley Cross Border.
5. Boyd Martin and Crackerjack: Crackerjack has been improving on the flat and getting faster on cross country all year. Paired up with his considerable show jumping prowess thanks to Boyd’s work with show jumping guru Richard Picken, the improvements have left a much more competitive horse as Crackerjack continues to gain experience at the level.
Crackerjack averages a 34.6 on this dressage test, which will leave him middle of the pack on day one. However he recently nipped over Capt. Phillips’ Luhmühlen course with only 4.4 time penalties. If he matches that performance, he’ll be in good standing for day three, where his double clear average over Marc Donovan’s courses will prove to be valuable. A final score nipping right on Vandiver’s heels will help this pair round out the top five.
6. Sharon White and Cooley On Show: Sharon has been patiently biding her time with this striking grey all year, sacrificing top placings in favor of gaining solid experience. Lately their times have been getting faster, and they’ve been inching up the competitive ranks.
With an average of 33.8 on this test, this pair will be stalking the leaders after the first day. Although they haven’t tackled a course by Capt. Phillips yet, they have a solid average of 7.2 time penalties across the country. Cooley On Show favors Marc Donovan courses, typically jumping double clear over his designs. A final score just over 40 will keep these two in sixth place.
7. Mackenna Shea and Landioso: It’s fantastic to see Mackenna out on the East Coast again, and it’s great for the AECs that we have some West Coast representatives here this weekend. Landioso should be quite competitive in this field and reward Mackenna for making the trip with a solid top-10 finish going into the fall season.
With an average of 31.8 on this test, Landioso and Mackenna will be well-placed after the first day. A time penalty average of 9.2 across the country will drop them down a little as they tackle their first Capt. Phillips course, but an average clear round with two time penalties when jumping Marc Donovan designs should make up for it. A solid seventh-place finish with a score in the low 40s will make a good start to their fall season.
8. Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo: Landmark’s Monte Carlo has taken a bit of a backseat to Lauren’s team horses this summer, but now he gets a chance to step into the spotlight. With both international and four-star experience already under his belt, this horse has a real future with Lauren in the tack.
An average of 33.9 on this test will keep this horse in the hunt after the dressage phase, but he’ll really shine on cross country day. Although he hasn’t tackled a Capt. Phillips course yet, his average of 5.6 time penalties should move him right up the rankings. This horse does average one rail in the stadium when jumping Marc Donovan’s courses, which will solidify an eighth place finish on a score just half a point behind Landioso.
9. Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett: Woodstock Bennett may not be the flashiest horse in Ryan’s string, but he’s become one of the most consistent throughout his first full year at Advanced. The recent winner of the Bromont CCI3*, he’ll get a chance now to see where he stacks up against some of the best horses in the country.
Woodstock Bennett averages a 33.1 on the B test, making him another who will be within stalking range after the first phase. He’s generally been a bit slower across the country, with an average of 10.8 time penalties, but proved he could make the time if asked at Bromont. A good show jumper, this horse tends to jump clear over Marc Donovan’s courses. A final score in the mid-to-low 40s will leave this pair in ninth come Sunday.
10. Boyd Martin and Welcome Shadow: Welcome Shadow is a future star for Boyd, and she’s come a long way in proving she is team material this spring. With plummeting dressage scores and quicker cross country times, this mare has potential to place quite high within the division.
Welcome Shadow averages a 33.2 on this test, but don’t be surprised to see her score drop lower. An average of 7.6 time penalties should move her up the ranks on cross country as she makes her first attempt over a Capt. Phillips course. Although she is a good show jumper, she does average one down over Marc Donovan’s designs. A final score in the mid-40s will leave this pair to round out the top 10.
Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM: Buck and his old partner Reggie are back at it again for the first time since The Fork, where they picked up a stop before retiring on cross country. This horse is one who wins pretty much every time out … as long as he finishes. Fantastic on both the flat and the show jumping, Reggie hasn’t regained the consistency he had prior to the 2014 World Equestrian Games, but when he is on, he wins. It’s well within their grasp to take home the blue this weekend if they have a good day across the country.
THE DARK HORSE
Allison Springer and Arthur: After a disappointing Rolex, Arthur is back out to prove he is still a force to be reckoned with. A horse likely to be at the top of the leaderboard after dressage, his overall averages on cross country and show jumping indicate he should place inside the top 10 at the end of the weekend. Despite that, his latest experience with a Capt. Phillips course didn’t go quite so well, with a stop and considerable time penalties at Burghley 2014. This is an Advanced though, not a four-star, and Arthur should be in his element.
Ryan Wood and Powell: Powell made headlines when he topped the field on the first day of dressage at Carolina International, then followed up on that promise with a win in his first CCI3* at Jersey Fresh. As a result, the pair were long listed by Australia for the Olympics, and although they quite get to travel to Rio, there’s no doubt big things on the horizon for this pair.
The cross country pace has been a bit slow as Powell finds his legs at this level, and he would be out of the ribbons this weekend at that pace, but a fast round at Jersey proved he is well capable of making the time should Ryan choose to pursue a top placing.