The crown jewel of the East Coast fall eventing scene is upon us. The Dutta Corp Fair Hill International attracts riders from all over the country, including from as far west as California.
This show is truly a testing ground, as many a favorite has fallen prey to a stray run-out while the underdogs rise to the occasion and post a double clear round. Quite a few riders use this show as a qualifier for a four-star next year, and with Fair Hill’s reputation as a ‘three-and-a-half’ star, it’s no surprise to see many of the same pairs head off to Rolex.
This year, Fair Hill CCI3* will be the final qualifying event in the east for pairs interested in representing the U.S. at the Olympics next August. While last year competitors in both the two- and three-star could achieve a qualifier for the Pan American Games, only three-star competitors will be considered for the Olympics.
To achieve Olympic qualification, a horse and rider pair must score under 75.0 penalties in dressage, finish cross country with 0 jumping penalties and 90 seconds or less over optimum time, and no more than four show jumping rails on the final day.
The dressage test will be 2015 FEI 3*-B. The cross country course designer is Derek di Grazia, who also designs Rolex and Bromont. The show jumping course designer is Sally Ike, who is usually only seen at this event and Jersey Fresh.
1. Tamie Smith and Mai Baum: Tamie and the “Black Stallion” are on an absolute roll this year, with wins in four out of five of their Advanced and CIC3* starts. Most recently they bested an incredibly talented group at Plantation Field with their best three-star dressage score yet. If they can keep their momentum rolling through Mai Baum’s first CCI3*, they could emerge as early favorites for team contention in Rio.
Mai Baum is currently averaging sub-40 on the flat and averages a cool 39.4 for this test. These two will likely be your leader after the dressage. This will be the horse’s first try at a Derek di Grazia three-star course, and while time penalty averages can be deceptive when it comes to this event, Mai Baum has proven he can go fast across hills. An overall average of 5.2 time penalties at this level would cut their lead down, but they would still maintain their top placing.
This horse is quite a careful jumper, and although he does currently average one rail per round at this level, he has jumped double clear in his last two events. Even a rail down in show jumping wouldn’t pose a problem, and Tamie and “Lexus” will likely walk away with the win on a score in the high 40s.
2. Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice: As experienced as Mighty Nice is, he has never run the CCI3* at Fair Hill, but Phillip will be able to give his campaigner the quick ride he needs to be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
Mighty Nice usually lives up to his name in the dressage phase, and his average of 43.3 on this test will put him in the top three. Phillip brought this horse home with only 3.2 time penalties over Derek’s Rolex course earlier this year, and a similar effort would boost this pair to second after cross country.
Mighty Nice’s weakest phase is show jumping, and he averages one rail in this phase. The single rail will give Tamie a bit of breathing room, and Phillip will end the day in second, with a score just over 50.
3. Caroline Martin and Center Stage: Center Stage has shown a lot of promise for Caroline Martin this year, despite a hiccup at Plantation. This horse is fairly green with only three runs under his belt, but a good showing here could bump him up into the top three.
Center Stage is showing to be fairly talented on the flat, averaging a 46.1 on this test. This will be his first crack at a Derek di Grazia course, but an average of 5.2 time penalties when running clear will keep this pair well up in the ranks. While this horse hasn’t seen a Sally Ike course yet, he has only had one rail in three show jumping attempts and could easily show jump clear come Sunday. Caroline will take her top placing at this show to date with a score in the low 50s.
4. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn: Phillip has chosen to run his more experienced pairs at Fair Hill. Fernhill Cubalawn has been a stalwart for Phillip all year and could be a top team contender for the Olympics next year.
Fernhill Cubalawn averages a 48.8 on this test, which will keep him out of the very top but puts him well within stalking range. One of the quickest horses in the field, Phillip averages only 2.8 time penalties with this horse over Derek’s cross country courses. A double clear stadium average will seal the deal on Sunday and allow Phillip another top placing, less than half a point behind Center Stage.
5. Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border: Cooley Cross Border qualified for Fair Hill at the eleventh hour, with a careful run at muddy Morven Park sealing the deal. Fair Hill will be a test of another magnitude, and if this horse passes the test, he’ll be one step closer to proving he has what it takes to be a team horse.
Cooley Cross Border is another horse with some serious dressage chops, and his average of 42.7 on this test will drop him right in contention from the get-go. Kim has taken her time across the country with him as he gets his bearings at this level, and an average of 12.4 time penalties will drop him down a bit. This horse has yet to have a rail at this level though, so look for a clear round from him on Sunday. Kim could potentially round out the top five, with a score less than a point behind Fernhill Cubalawn.
6. Jessica Phoenix and A Little Romance: Jessica is another rider who has only brought her most experienced horses out to play this weekend, sending the greener contingent out to Galway Downs. A Little Romance has all the jumping ability in the world, which will help this mare move up the ranks throughout the weekend.
This mare is probably the toughest of Jessica’s string on the flat, and an average of 55.5 on this test will leave her well down the order. However, these two will likely have the quickest round of the day on cross country, with a tendency to go double clear over Derek di Grazia courses. A Little Romance has also averaged double clear over Sally Ike courses, which will continue to push her up. These two will finish in sixth, breathing down Kim’s neck.
7. Kurt Martin and DeLux Z: Kurt Martin made a splash this summer by taking the inaugural Rebecca CCI3* win with DeLux Z, at the horse’s first attempt at a CCI, no less. He’ll have more competition this weekend, but should still be able to manage to end well inside the top 10.
DeLux Z averages a 50.8 on this test, which will keep him out of the top after dressage. A quick average of 5.2 time penalties over Derek’s cross country courses will push these two up the ranks. This horse did have one rail down over Sally Ike’s Jersey Fresh course in May. A final score around 60 will put this Kurt in seventh place.
8. Sara Kozumplik-Murphy and Catchascatchcan: Catchascatchcan moved up to Advanced at the beginning of 2015 and has quietly spent the year posting clear round after clear round. With a clear CCI3* at Bromont, this horse still needs one more three-star to be qualified for Rolex next year and could obtain his final qualification this weekend.
Catchascatchcan averages a 54.2 on this test, a couple points better than his overall average. A swift round with an average of 6.8 time penalties over Derek’s courses will move this pair up. This gelding jumped double clear over Sally’s Jersey Fresh course. A similar effort here will put Sara into the top eight with a score just over 60.
9. Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery: Boyd hasn’t been paired up with this horse for very long, but in their short time together, they’ve already made a splash. With a top 10 placing at Plantation Field CIC3*, Boyd will be looking to cement his place with this horse as a frontrunner for the team in Rio.
This pair is averaging a 46.3 on this dressage test, which will put them near the top after phase one. Although they haven’t tackled a Derek di Grazia course as a pair, together they have averaged only 6.8 time penalties across the country. Stadium is still their weakest phase, and an average of two rails will drop them down a bit on the third day. They will likely finish just a breath behind Sara, with a score in the low 60s.
10. Ryan Wood and Frankie: Ryan Wood has quietly amassed a considerable Advanced string, and Frankie will lead his pack at the end of the weekend. Frankie is solid in all three phases, which will be needed to be competitive this weekend.
Frankie averages a 49.8 on this test, considerably better than his overall average. This horse does average 12.4 time penalties when attempting Derek’s courses, slightly slower than his typical pace. However, Frankie jumped double clear over Sally Ike’s Jersey Fresh course, which wasn’t a fluke for him. Look for Ryan to round out the top 10 with a score in the low 60s.
THE DARK HORSE
Maya Black and Doesn’t Play Fair: Maya and her little horse that could have been flying under the radar since they won Plantation Field CIC3* in 2014. Although they picked their way around their first four-star over a slick track, this pair has been busy proving that speed is not an issue, posting double clear rounds in three of four Advanced and CIC3* runs in 2015.
With the ability to score in the mid-40s or better in dressage and a show jumping average of only one rail, this pair could easily pop into the top 10 if Maya takes her off the gas.
Jennie Brannigan and Catalina: Jennie acquired the ride on this talented mare just this summer and has quickly proven she could be top class. Because of a wet Morven Park, Catalina is coming into Fair Hill quite green. However, in her first CIC3* at Plantation Field, Catalina proved she belonged, scoring a top 10 placing with a strong effort in all three phases. Keep an eye out for this one next spring and don’t be surprised to see her with another top 10 placing this weekend.
Joe Meyer and Sanskrit: In the past, Sanskrit would have been an absolute lock to be in the top five. With a tendency to score in the 40s on the flat, come home fairly quickly across the country and jump double clear in the stadium, it was a no brainer.
However, he has had only two starts in 2015, and he acquired an uncharacteristic stop both times. If Joe can return his old campaigner to his usual consistent self, these two will almost certainly be making an appearance in the top five.