For the first time in modern eventing times, the Kentucky 5*-L will be accompanied by a 4*-S division, making for a jam-packed weekend. Between the largest 5* field in five years and the presence of another fifty horses in the 4*-S, we are in for some exciting but long days ahead.
The field for the 4*-S is an interesting mix. Some promising young pairs are competing in this division because they are not yet qualified for the 5* level. Others consist of horses who aren’t ready for the 5*-L although may be competing multiple others in the marquee division. Some are more experienced pairs who have aimed at goals later in the year or haven’t been able to ramp things up in time to contest the 5* itself. Regardless, one thing many riders couldn’t pass up was the chance to ride at this venue during this competition, with all the pomp and circumstance (and pressure) that accompanies it.
The 4*-S will run in the traditional order of phases with stadium last, matching the 5*-L. One interesting thing to watch on Saturday is the weather; the 4*-S is scheduled to run cross-country first, with the 5*-L in the afternoon. However with the chance of rain currently 100% for Saturday, we could see things shifted around to allow the best ground for the 5* competitors.
There are a plethora of top level dressage competitors here this weekend but Tamie Smith continues to be the queen bee in this phase. The sublime Danito owns the only sub-25 dressage average in the field, as he exceeds the 75% mark in 50% of his tests in his time at the level. Not to be left out, his stablemate EnVogue with almost equal panache. She has broken into the twenties in all over her starts at the level save her initial foray at the 4*, recently putting in a personal best 4* mark of 25.0 at Stable View.
Also coming in on the lovely chestnut front is the impressive Starr Witness, who impressed last year in her freshman season at the level in this phase by breaking 70% at every show she competed at, then continued the trend into her sophomore year with three sub-thirty scores already this spring under Doug Payne. The lightly competed but always well-placed Luke 140 should also join the group near the top of the leaderboard; with Boyd Martin in the irons, he has been knocking about two points off each sequential A/4* test since October and last put in a personal A/4* best of 26.7 at Tryon.
The West Coast contingent has sent a strong group of horses this year and one pair in particular to keep an eye on is Erin Kellerhouse and the well-named Woodford Reserve, who will be competing less than thirty miles away from the distillery for which he was named. Despite both being new to the level in 2020, these two have been the picture of consistency, scoring in a range of only a couple points apart from 27.5 to 29.7 in all but one of their seven starts.
Liz Halliday-Sharp has one of the shortest drives to the Kentucky Horse Park, and Cooley Moonshine should benefit from being well-rested. The impressive black gelding is making only his fourth start at the level but impressed at Tryon in the atmosphere by solidly breaking into the twenties for the first time. Jenny Caras and Trendy Fernhill are also a pair to watch out for a sub-thirties score, consistently putting in marks ranging from 26.1 to 31.2 in all but one of their seven starts. Up-and-coming pair Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135 have shown that they aren’t just a flash in the pan as well, putting in similar marks in a three-point range around 29 after setting a strong impression at Great Meadow 4*-S last August with a 25.8.
For a bit of flash, the striking Rubens D’Ysieux could throw down a flashy test that contends for the lead, a solid test that sits just beyond the leaders, and anything in between; this is his first return to the Kentucky stadium since Sara Kozumplik-Murphy obtained the ride on him in 2016.
For the 5*-L, the time is gettable but data surrounding the impact of a short format is minimal. The only Advanced or 4*-S held at the Kentucky Horse Park in recent memory was the Advanced division at the American Eventing Championships, where the fastest time of the day still exceeded the optimum time by a whopping sixteen seconds. If it is similarly difficult to make the time for this division, the dressage scores on day one will take a backseat to the ability to make the pace on day two.
Of course, Tamie Smith is perfectly capable of doing that two, and all three of her trio of horses is used to pushing the pace under her guidance. EnVogue has historically been the fastest of her three pairs, with an almost perfect speed rating average of 1.75; in three of her four clear A/4*-S runs, she has finished as the fastest pace of the day. However since coming east for Tryon last fall, her jump record has suffered and stops and a TE in her last three consecutive runs at the level make her a big question mark for performance this weekend.
No such questions surround Danito, who has solidly proven himself reliable at the short format. Although this horse typically doesn’t set the pace, he does tend to finish an average of only 12.4 seconds behind those who do. Keeping that gap to a minimum would keep him in contention for a win. Tamie Smith’s final ride Passepartout could suddenly be a contender as well; Tamie steps back into the irons and with a record of two for two in setting the pace for the day, this pair could make an equally large splash as they did at Galway Downs last fall. However, Passepartout has struggled in the jumping phases this spring after returning to Kaylawna Cook and it will be an open question as to whether his troubles will linger under Tamie’s guidance.
Not to be discounted is Woodford Reserve, who has his own history of clocking in a fast pace at the short format; he averages only 7.5 seconds slower than the pace of the day. This will be this horse’s first foray east of the Mississippi though, and the rain and turf may combine to be a serious test for this pair.
Luke 140 has been shockingly consistent on pace, no matter what others do or who is in the irons; in five runs at A/4*-S under both Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin, he has clocked in 10.0 to 10.8 time penalties in four of them. Starr Witness, Trendy Fernhill, and C’est La Vie 135 are all expected to clock in double digits worth of time penalties, but keeping it in the mid-teens would keep them in contention for a top-ten placing.
While horses like Rubens D’Ysieux and Cooley Moonshine will likely take a slower tack and therefore fall from contention, several will be ready to take advantage of a tough-to-get optimum time. The chief of these are the full brothers Landmark’s Monaco and Landmark’s Monte Carlo, ridden by Kim Cecere and Lauren Nicholson respectively. The more experienced of the two, Landmark’s Monte Carlo has a history of making a cross-country run look smooth as butter and while he historically hasn’t been pushed for speed at the short format, he did notably set an astonishing pace of more than a minute faster than optimum at Red Hills. On the other hand, Landmark’s Monaco hasn’t fully found his feet at the A/4* level, but when he and Kimmy Cecere complete a clear round, they are either the fastest pace of the day or inside the optimum time.
Other horses who have proven they have the pace to make up some ground after dressage include Pan American horse RF Cool Play, ridden by Lynn Symansky, and Puerto Rican Olympic pair Castle Larchfield Purdy and Lauren Billys. RF Cool Play has been sparingly competed at A/4* but has made the most of his time there, averaging only fifteen seconds off the pace. The experienced Castle Larchfield Purdy has picked up the pace in recent years and in his last three outings has finished no more than 20 seconds slower than the fastest time.
If the West Coasters have successfully negotiated the mud and the hills with the same aplomb they handle the courses out in California, they’ll be sitting pretty come stadium day. Erin Kellerhouse will be in fine position if this is the case, sitting on Woodford Reserve who has incurred only one rail in seven A/4* rounds, including twice jumping clear when stadium was the final phase. That’s a good place to be in when your fellow Californians are more likely to have a rail than not; EnVogue has incurred two rails in each of three rounds jumped after cross country while Danito has yet to jump a clear round when stadium is last. While Passepartout has yet to have a rail under Tamie Smith in sanctioned competition, he has struggled this spring under Kaylawna Cook; Tamie may have her hands full just getting a solid completion on this horse.
That would clear the field for Landmark’s Monaco and Kimmy Cecere to continue their climb up the ranks as long as cross-country day went their way. These two have been a one-or-none pair at the 4*-S level, jumping clear in 67% of their rounds. Castle Larchfield Purdy and Lauren Billys are also a pair who have jumped clear in this format in the last two years more often than not; while a rail is possible, a clear is certainly within their grasp.
Three horses who are almost certain to jump clear are Starr Witness, RF Cool Play, and Luke 140. Starr Witness has jumped clear in six of her seven A/4* starts, including a long format completion. RF Cool Play has never added anything to his dressage score in a short format and has jumped clean in two of three long formats on top of that. Meanwhile, Luke 140 has not had a rail period at the A/4* level, including while being catch ridden in two of his A/4*-S starts. These are all horses expected to climb the ranks on the final day.
Quite frankly, this division is wide open, with a number of competitive pairs who could take the win and a number of factors that might come into play. On paper, it looks like Erin Kellerhouse and Woodford Reserve will have the edge, but contending with mud and rain on Saturday won’t be easy for this pair in their sophomore season at the level.
FASTEST CROSS-COUNTRY ROUNDS
If they go clear, Landmark’s Monaco is likely to set the pace for the day; in his three clear A/4*S rounds under Kim Cecere, he has either made the time or clocked in the fastest time.
Passepartout comes into this show with a bit of baggage after a rough spring, but it can’t be ignored that Tamie Smith finished in second with him at Galway Downs 4*-L last fall despite it only being their second second full competition together. If they come out with similar form to last fall, they’ll be one of several who could spoil a big win for Erin.
EXTENDING CLEAR JUMPING STREAKS
Luke 140 has jumped six A/4* rounds. Luke 140 has had zero rails. Currently he owns the longest streak of consecutive clear rounds in the field.
Five-star horse Clip Clop knows what the Kentucky Horse Park means, and while a relaxed test is a bit out of reach, he and Joe Meyer are reliable enough in the stadium phase and fast enough in the cross-country phase to move considerably up the ranks by Sunday.
Dressage begins tomorrow, with the 4*-S going in the morning. We’ve got multiple boots on the ground in Kentucky as well as a full complement of journalists covering remotely. Keep your eyes locked here for all of our coverage!