It’s been quite pleasant to have a chance to watch the USEF Live Stream, provided by RideOnVideo this weekend. After a year of missing out even on live streams for the most part, it’s been a breath of relief for things to feel somewhat ‘normal’ again.
CROSS COUNTRY DAY ANALYSIS
Sometimes when a new course designer steps into a venue for the first time, the course ends up more doable and optimum time ends up more achievable than anyone realizes. Initially, it looked as if that be the case for this weekend, with a 100% completion rate at a North American 4*-L for the first time in at least five years and only two issues showing on the leaderboard.
Over the next few hours, that story changed several times, with penalties added and taken away multiple times, until finally this East Coast based writer called it a night and vowed to see if scores were final in the morning. In the end, the final tally appears to be two stops and five flags scattered amongst five pairs. For those wondering what a 30 represents, it appears to be two flag penalties, while a 35 is a stop and a flag penalty.
In the end, the flag penalty had significant impact on the top placings, removing Phillip Dutton from second and dropping him down the ranks on Fernhill Singapore. This rewarded Tamie Smith and Passepartout for being the only pair to finish inside the time, which unfortunately wasn’t as big an advantage as it usually is; the average finishing time of the field was only 8.73 seconds over optimum time, with is the second fastest average pace set at a North American 4*-L when more than 10 pairs start.
Needless to say, it was not hard to set a personal best pace today for the pairs who set out to do so, softening the advantage that a fast horse should have provided. Ultimately the bigger factor became the plethora of flag penalties ultimately awarded.
Long Island T, Luke 140, and Dassett Choice all greatly exceeded their speed expectations, posting personal best paces. Fernhill Singapore also was significantly faster than he has been previously, but unfortunately could not capitalize it as a victim of a flag penalty. Passepartout and Woodford Reserve both met expectations, which were to be among the fastest paces of the field; however they were not given huge advantages by their quick paces as they were joined by so many others.
Looking to the USEF Futures (view the team roster here), each team had a member who incurred a flag penalty (Cooley Quicksilver and 2 A.M.) but a second member of Team Erik had a stop (Jakobi). Unfortunately for Team Erik, the three members of Team Leslie also added only seven seconds of time penalties between them, giving them a respectable two-phase score of 117.9. Team Leslie will likely have trouble catching up today, currently sitting on a score of 166.6.
Galway Downs will be using Marc Donovan for the course design of the stadium today. Marc Donovan is a commonly used course designer for Galway, although not the only one they have employed at this venue. However, he has designed the course for this division back through 2014, and is well familiar with the changes that the venue has undergone in that time frame.
Although the venue held the stadium on grass for a couple of years, in 2019 they returned to their ring for footing, which is what we will see this year as well. Unsurprisingly, every winner in the last five editions of the 4*-L has added no penalties in this phase, except for one. This year will almost certainly be no exception, with a trio of top jumpers clustered right at the top. In the last five editions, 41% of the pairs have jumped clear, which is a lower clear jumping rate than Fair Hill and Rebecca Farm, but a higher clear jumping rate than Bromont, Jersey Fresh, and Ocala Jockey Club.
This field has several strong jumpers, so we may end up seeing a higher percentage of clears than is typical for this venue. With the overnight withdrawal of Fernhill Fortitude, currently 6 of the 10 remaining horses are expected to jump around with no rails.
SHOW JUMPING SPECIALISTS
Our first likely shot at a clear round will be the second horse in the ring, Emilee Libby and Jakobi. This pair is more likely to put in a clear round than not; they have 6 clear career rounds at A/4* out of nine total rounds, have jumped clear in four of six rounds when cross country was last, and added no jump penalties to their score at both of the previous 4*-L completions. Although an occasional time penalty plagued their steps early in the horse’s Advanced career, they seem to have sorted the pace and have jumped within time limits in their last four outings.
Cooley Quicksilver began his A/4* career in 2019 with an impressive string of six consecutive clear rounds at the level in venues as varying as Red Hills and The Fork at Tryon over to Wiesbaden and Millstreet. By the end of the year though, things began to change; in his last six rounds he has incurred rails in three of them, including two rails in his only 4*-L completion. He has also incurred 1-2 seconds over allowable time in four of his last six rounds. A rail or even a time penalty would be costly him and Liz Halliday-Sharp, and won’t let them climb the ranks like they ultimately would need to.
The East Coast pair of Phillip Dutton and the feisty Fernhill Singapore are perhaps our mostly likely pair to see a clear round today; they’ve jumped clear in an eye-opening 13 of 14 career A/4* rounds. Although this horse’s single rail on his record did occur when stadium was last, he has jumped clear on three other occasions for that phase order, including his only 4*-L completion. He is also unlikely to finish outside the time, putting this pair as a good bet to add nothing to their final score.
The maiden pair of Woodford Reserve and Erin Kellerhouse will be facing two firsts today; it will be their first time jumping after a 4*-L cross country and it will be the first time jumping at the A/4* level when stadium is the final phase. This pair has previously jumped clear in one 3*-L, but had two rails in the other. Regardless of whether they incur a rail or not, this is certainly a pair to watch for the future.
Immediately after our first set of first timers follows our second set of first-timers, Dassett Choice with Rebecca Brown. In five career A/4*-S rounds, they have jumped clear in three of them. Only their very first start at the level has let them experience jumping stadium as the final phase; they jumped clear but incurred 8 time penalties. Time penalties have continued to impact their final result in the phase, as they have incurred at least four time penalties in three of their five rounds.
Likely to be jumping out of order is Boyd Martin‘s third-placed horse Long Island T, who has generally been a one or none sort of horse. Only in two rounds out of 14 has he produced more than one rail; however it should be noted that both of those times occurred when stadium was the final phase. Having said that, at the CCI4*-L level the horse has incurred only one rail in two finishes. It could go either way today, but an average of 0.7 rails when stadium is the final phase indicates that a rail is more likely than not.
Putting the pressure on the top will ultimately come down to Tamie Smith and her ability to take a catch ride and produce a clear round. Passepartout is a good partner to have for this phase; he’s jumped clear in every FEI he’s competed in since moving up to the 3* level and produced 2 of 3 clear rounds with Kaylawna Cook before securing a win in his first 4*-S with a clear round under Tamie. The only caveat on his record is that when he did produce two rails under Kaylawna, it happened to be here at Galway in July. It will be a nail biter without much previous history to guide us, but there’s no reason to believe that this pair won’t produce a clear round.
Luke 140 will be another horse that, similar to Woodford Reserve, has not yet completed a 4*-L, nor jumped stadium last at the A/4*-S level. However, this horse has not added a single penalty of any type in the stadium phase in his FEI career as a pair with Boyd Martin, nor has he incurred a single rail or time penalty at this level in four runs, even when Phillip Dutton catch-rode him through the summer. It’s not a guarantee, but seeing any penalties on the board for this horse today will certainly be a surprise.
PREDICTIONS – FINAL
Division Winner: As mentioned yesterday, the horses likely to be at the top were Luke 140 and Passepartout, both of whom are excellent in this phase. Boyd Martin was able to maintain the pace he needed keep his place atop the leaderboard with Luke 140; he now has about 5 seconds of grace in hand over Tamie Smith, but no rails. However, he won’t need it and will hold the lead from start to finish this weekend.
USEF Futures Team Challenge: Precluding a surprise elimination either at the jogs or the stadium phase today, Team Leslie (Passepartout, Dassett Choice, 2 A.M.) will win this going away tomorrow with a score between 120 and 130 penalties. Team Erik (Cooley Quicksilver, Jakobi, and Quidproquo) dug themselves too big a hole to climb out of and will finish with a score in the vicinity of 180.