Wow, it feels surreal to type out the letters CICO3*! This is the first time that a Nations Cup leg has ever been held outside of Europe, and Great Meadow has stepped up to the plate to offer a world class venue to test the waters. The entry list is a who’s who of American-based names, especially as this event is also the final outing for the U.S. Olympic team.
Within two short years, Great Meadow has gone from small unofficial final run for the U.S. team before the World Equestrian Games to a premier showcase venue. With the Brits sending over three horses to compose a full team, we’re certainly getting a taste of what this event could be in years to come. The international contingent is a bit thin this year due to the Olympic Games as well as the date falling a week before the Nations Cup leg at Aachen, but there’s great promise for future European contenders.
It should be noted that the Olympic team riders (and others listed) will be using this as a preparatory run prior to Rio and might choose to run their horses quickly or slowly depending on what best suits their mount’s needs. Some of the team horses will likely not be pushing for time, while others may need a quick run, so don’t be surprised or dismayed if the U.S. Olympic team members aren’t at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
The dressage test will be 2015 FEI 3*-B. The cross country course is designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, whose credentials are unparalleled. Marc Donovan increases his show jumping footprint on the East Coast by adding Great Meadow to his repertoire this year.
1. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen: Not for nothing was this pair given a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, as they are the only active U.S. pair to consistently score in the 30s on the flat. These two generally follow that strong dressage score with a tidy show jumping round and have been increasingly quick and consistent across the country.
Loughan Glen averages high 30s on the flat, but in his only time performing this particular test, he delivered a jaw-dropping 33.8 at Blenheim last fall. A very careful show jumper, Loughan Glen can still have the occasional rail down, which reflects in his overall average. Clark tends to run this horse fairly close to the pace for most of his runs, and we’ll likely see a quick turn of foot come Sunday. Look for this pair to finish near their average of 3.6 time penalties, clinching the win in their brief return to U.S. soil with a score in the low 40s.
1. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn: Phillip and Fernhill Cubalawn have been the definition of consistency for the past couple of years, notching in top placing after top placing without getting the big W. It’ll be tough for anyone to beat Clark and Glen this weekend, but it’s likely Fernhill Cubalawn will notch his highest placing since his first run with Phillip in 2014.
Fernhill Cubalawn averages a 47.8 on this particular test, which is right in line with his overall average. He excels over Marc Donovan courses, generally jumping clear and sometimes with one time penalty. In his only run over a Mike Etherington-Smith course, Fernhill Cubalawn smoked around double clear at Plantation last fall. This is another pair that tends to stay close to the time each time out, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see a slow run come Sunday. Phillip and his Olympic partner should finish in second on a score in the high 40s.
3. Marilyn Little and RF Demeter: Marilyn has been quiet on the eventing circuit this spring, returning her focus to her show jumping roots save for an appearance at Rolex Kentucky. Despite a fall there, this horse is absolutely dominant at the CIC3* level, finishing in the top five in 10 of their 13 CIC3* starts since 2013.
These two are another pair who are very consistent on the flat, averaging a 48.3 on this particular test. Marilyn puts her stadium skills to good use on RF Demeter and trends towards double clear rounds over Marc Donovan courses. While this pair hasn’t seen a Mike E-S course yet together, they are one of the quickest pairs out there, averaging only 0.8 seconds over the time. RF Demeter should earn another top placing with a score less than half a point behind Fernhill Cubalawn.
4. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive: Fernhill Fugitive is sometimes in the shadow of his other four-star stablemates, but don’t forget he was poised to have the best finish of them all at Rolex heading into show jumping, one of his strongest phases. An incredibly uncharacteristic show jumping round spoiled that placing, and this weekend he’ll have to prove that Rolex Sunday was the exception, not the rule.
Fernhill Fugitive has really dropped his dressage average over the past 12 months, averaging a 48.4 on this test. His average over Marc Donovan courses leans towards having one rail. At Red Hills, he blazed over Mike Etherington-Smith’s course with the fastest round of the day, adding only 0.8 time penalties to his score to take the CIC3* win. If he replicates that effort here, we’ll likely see him inside the top five on a score in the low 50s.
5. Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville: Sinead and Tate were listed as alternate for the U.S. Olympic team thanks to their extremely consistent performances at the top levels of the sport. After taking a year off following the 2014 World Equestrian Games, Manoir de Carneville returned with a vengeance at Rolex this spring and will likely look for a strong fall schedule unless they are called up to travel to Rio.
Manoir de Carneville can certainly turn it on for the first phase, and his average of 46.6 on this particular test should put him right in the thick of things from day one. This is another horse who does average one rail over Marc Donovan’s challenging courses, but a swift pace across the country on Sunday should make up for that. Despite not having recently run a Mike E-S course, these two average only 4.8 time penalties. Sinead should round out the top five with a score in the mid 50s.
THE DARK HORSE
Lauren Kieffer and Meadowbrook’s Scarlett: With Lauren named to the U.S. Olympic team on Veronica, there’s a good chance we’ll see Veronica’s legs being saved for Rio with a bit of a slower pace across the country. That leaves a clear path for Meadowbrook’s Scarlett to step up as Lauren’s top finisher.
This young mare will likely be stalking the leaders in the first phase but is highly capable of putting in a double clear show jumping round. Follow that up with a strong tendency to go swiftly across the country — she’s only once racked up more than four time penalties at this level, but that one time was on a Mike Etherington-Smith course — and it’s highly likely we’ll see this mare jumping up into the top five come Sunday.