It’s been a crazy five months since our last By the Numbers, which shockingly enough was for the opening 4*-S of the North American season. Shortly after that, everything shut down tight and while we’ve had the odd Advanced run here and there, this weekend marks the first 4*-S in North America since Red Hills. It’s been a wild ride, folks, but we’re tentatively back in business … for now.
Great Meadow is now entering its sixth year, long enough to have hammered out the nitty gritty and really focus on bringing a premier event to the East Coast. This year will mark the second time David O’Connor comes forward as the cross country course designer after putting a strong mark on the course last year. Chris Barnard will also be marking his second year doing the show jumping, and as a perennial favorite for eastern venues, many pairs will be familiar with his courses. Show jumping will be held prior to cross country.
Of the five previous winners at this venue, three were in the lead following dressage. Interestingly enough, the other two winners were both in sixth place after the first phase. Four of the five winners jumped a clear round, and the fifth horse made up for it by finishing as the fastest time of the day on cross country.
Will Coleman and Off the Record are the only previously winning pair in the 4*-S field this week (they won in 2018), but Jennie Brannigan, who won the event twice on Cambalda, brings forth four competitive horses.
It’s hard to argue against looking to Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous to lead the way after the first phase. They own the best 4* average in the field and have broken the 75% mark in their last five consecutive A/4/5* outings. This pair has broken 80% in two of their last three A/4* starts. Are they beatable? Yes, especially with some of the other dressage powerhouses in the field. But they’ll need to have a bad day while someone else has a good one.
Liz Halliday-Sharp and her stalwart Fernhill By Night who could step up to the plate and have a very good day. This pair is fairly well-known for their consistency in the first phase, with a whopping 68% of their 45 career A/4* tests breaking the 70% mark. Breaking the 75% mark has come on fewer occasions, with six sub-25 scores on their long record, and one of those is sub-20. It’s impossible not to think these two will be giving strong challenge to the lightly competed RF Scandalous.
Meanwhile we can’t forget the indomitable Kim Severson and her partner Cooley Cross Border, who is back in business after a hiatus. It’s been a hot second, but last time we were watching them strut their stuff, they’d broken the 70% mark in eight consecutive A/4* starts. That includes a flirtation with the teens in early 2018, laying down a 20.8 at Carolina for a then-NA record at the 4* level. Guess who broke that record a few months later? (Yes, it was RF Scandalous.)
Quite honestly this field has been so condensed thanks to the cancellation of just about everything else that it’s impossible to talk about every horse who has a chance for a top five slot after the dressage phase. Liz Halliday-Sharp is full of ammunition with her experienced ride Deniro Z who fired off a quick 23.6 in the Advanced at Stable View two months ago and also brings forth the precocious Flash Cooley who has already broken 70% in just two starts.
You can’t leave Buck Davidson out of the conversation with either Carlevo or Copper Beach. Carlevo has been more on fire than his stablemate, breaking 70% in all but two of his sixteen A/4* starts since 2018. Copper Beach can occasionally catch fire and lay down a test in the vicinity of 73-75% but is equally likely to just miss the 70% mark.
Harbour Pilot and Hannah Sue Burnett regularly lead the field after day one when this pair is on a roll, and while they haven’t competed this year, a 26.9 in their last top level start at Burghley last fall might indicate all cylinders are firing. Another fan-favorite pair is Colleen Rutledge and her own Covert Rights, who can regularly eclipse the 70% mark during one of their hot streaks and who on their very best day clocked in a 22.2 on a hot August day in Michigan back in 2017. Meanwhile Phillip Dutton and Lauren Nicholson have brought Z and Vermiculus out to play, both of whom can be right up with the top players on a particularly good day.
The biggest wild card factor would be the time slots, with Fernhill By Night, Copper Beach, and Harbour Pilot all slotted into the first session on Thursday morning with RF Scandalous and Covert Rights going back to back in the second Thursday morning session. Cooley Cross Border and Vermiculus have more neutral Friday morning slots while Z and Carlevo sneak into early afternoon sessions. Deniro Z might end up with the edge as the very last ride of the day on Friday.
On Thursday, the only way to follow the actions is through live scoring but make sure to tune in Friday to the live stream to catch at least a few of the top rides.
If you’re looking for a huge shake-up on show jumping day, keep looking. Most aforementioned horses happen to be pretty good jumpers as well. It’s unlikely we’ll see too many changes from the top five, with RF Scandalous, Carlevo, Fernhill By Night, Cooley Cross Border, and Deniro Z are all more likely to jump a clear round than not. Of these horses, Liz’s pair are the two most likely of the bunch to take a rail, but even so they both have a clear rate of at least 75% over the last two years at this level.
Slightly further down the leaderboard is where things could get more interesting. Harbour Pilot hasn’t jumped a clean round at the A/4*S level since 2017, and while his last two outings produced only one rail, he has had three rails in three of his last seven outings overall. Covert Rights did jump a clear round at this venue last time but overall struggles to leave all the sticks up in this phase. The adorable Vermiculus has had two rails down in each of his three outings at this level in 2019 and 2020. These three horses will likely drop in the rankings after incurring penalties in this phase.
Meanwhile pairs who had been sitting just outside the top 10 like Phillip Dutton and Z, Emily Beshear and Olney Uncle Sam, and Liz Halliday-Sharp with yet another mount Cooley Quicksilver will capitalize on strong jumping phases to inch up the leaderboard into the top 10.
Another set of horses to watch will be Will Coleman and Off the Record, Erin Kanara (nee Sylvester) and Paddy the Caddy, Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore, and Will Faudree and Pfun. These pairs are all tend to score solidly in the low 30s on day one, which in a field this deep will be enough to push them down further than they’d normally be. But all of these horses have extremely solid jumping records paired with a strong turn-of-foot for the final day.
Others that might crop up but stay just outside the top 10 could include Hannah Sue Burnett on her other ride Lukeswell, and Jennie Brannigan on Stella Artois.
On Sunday, we should finally see a little movement amongst the top five. One weakness for Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous is the mare’s pace across the country; this horse has never made the time or been fastest across the country. An average pace that is just over 18 seconds slower than the fastest would open the door for another pair to snatch a victory.
Fernhill By Night may not seem like the fastest horse just by looking at him, but Liz Halliday-Sharp is pretty forthcoming about her intent to compete him only when and where he can win. That means their pace has sharpened up since 2019, finishing an average of 8.33 seconds over optimum or of the fastest pace of the day if optimum wasn’t achieved. A pace like that could enable these two to give the leaders a serious run for their money.
Cooley Cross Border is making his first start at the level since 2018, so while he and Kim Severson could match their previous pace and maintain a possible top three placing, it’s more likely we will see them take their time today and drop down a few places.
Carlevo and Deniro Z are both horses who could slip down the leaderboard a bit if they stick to their average pace, leaving an opening to compete for a top five spot. Phillip Dutton and Z and Emily Beshear and Olney Uncle Sam are two pairs who will take advantage of that opening.
Meanwhile, a horse who could benefit immensely from a fast pace is previous GM winner Off the Record, who will be steadily climbing the leaderboard all weekend with Will Coleman and should sneak into the top 10 even if time proves doable. If the time proves tough to make, look for this pair to contest for a top rank.
Will Faudree with Pfun and Tim Bourke with Quality Time will both be making advances up the leaderboard based on their horses’ show jumping skills and cross country speed, but unless they have a particularly good day in dressage or the time on cross country is particularly difficult to make (or both), they’ll end up sitting just outside the top 10 looking in.
It’ll be a nail-biter but in the end the time penalties on cross country will neutralize any day one advantage and Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night will do what they set out to do: win.
FASTEST CROSS COUNTRY ROUNDS
It’s easy to look for perennial speedsters like Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights or Will Coleman and Off the Record for this superlative, but actually Whitney Mahloch and her Thoroughbred Military Mind are most likely to set the pace for the day, so long as they clock in a clear round. In nine clear starts at this level, this pair has put in the fastest time at seven of them, which is quite mind-boggling compared to the record of most others.
There are a pair of newbies to keep your eye on this weekend. Will Faudree is bringing out the delightfully-named Mama’s Magic Way for the horse’s second start after moving up to the Advanced level at Pine Top this winter. This pair put in a 29.8 on the flat, jumped a clear show jumping round, and finished only 11 seconds slower than the fastest time of the day on cross country. Meanwhile, Phillip Dutton spent the spring helping out his buddy Boyd Martin, who had just moved Luke 140 up to Advanced at Pine Top. Phillip improved on Boyd’s finish at Pine Top by only half a point, but it was enough to take home the win at the Advanced at Horse Park of New Jersey in June.
EXTENDING CLEAR JUMPING STREAKS
Erin Kanara (nee Sylvester) seems like she can do no wrong in the show jumping phase with her experienced Thoroughbred Paddy the Caddy. These two haven’t had a rail since the fall of 2018, including jumping clear at two 4*-L and one 5*L. That’s seven consecutive clears at A/4/5* level, something few can duplicate.
Coming close to duplicating though is Kate Brown and the gray Victor Z, who have a perfect show jumping round thus far at the A/4* level. Although they haven’t yet put a long format round on their record, they’ve jumped clear (with no time penalties!) in all seven of their A/4* starts.
Ema Klugman and Bendigo won’t catch your eye on the leaderboard after day one, but will likely garner a second look after very strong show jumping. While they can vary from a fast pace to a slower one, even a solid round would bump them from near the bottom on day one up to solidly inside the top half of the field by the final day.
- The biggest news of the day is that Blackfoot Mystery will be returning to the 4* level for the first time since competing here in his final prep for the 2016 Olympics at Rio. Also interesting is that Phillip Dutton will be in the irons instead of Boyd Martin, which means you should keep an eye out for this pair to spoil everything.
- Previous double 4* winner here at GMI (2015 and 2017) Cambalda is also competing … in the CCI2*-S. He’s currently paired up with rider Maddie McElduff, so keep an eye out if he can become the first horse to win three times at this venue.
- Lynn Symansky is bringing out Pan American team horse RF Cool Play to dabble in the CCI3*-S.
Dressage starts today and you’ll be able to catch all the action starting tomorrow on the live stream. Unfortunately the live stream will not cover the pairs who go today, but keep an eye on EN as we bring you all the action!