While we sadly won’t have the new 4*-L here at Morven Park to look forward to, we do have a stacked field coming forward for the Advanced this weekend. Although the field has been split into two divisions, we’ll still get to see quite a few prominent head-to-head match-ups in the lead-up to our only two 4*-L of the year at Tryon and Galway. Today we will preview the A division while tomorrow morning we will look towards the B.
Tremaine Cooper has been the course designer for cross country here for a number of years and makes a reappearance this year as the show jumping course designer as well.
Morven has historically been a course where it is extremely tough to make the time; only three pairs out of 84 starters have done so since 2015. Only one of those, Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border, managed to also finish on their dressage score. Although none of the horses here have previously won, three winning riders return this year with multiple rides: Jennie Brannigan, Buck Davidson and Caroline Martin will all aim to become repeat winners with multiple rides across the two divisions.
In the A division, Long Island T under Boyd Martin is the clear standout, with an average of 25.2 over their three outings together in 2019. This will be the horse’s first start of 2020 at this level. Carlevo and Buck Davidson could potentially catch them on a good day; their two year average for the level sits at 28 penalties. But their two most recent scores have just missed the 70% mark, so they will need to return to the form they displayed at Blenheim last fall.
Allison Springer has occasionally broken the 70% mark with Business Ben, but most often sits in the low 30s. In fact, this pair has scored exactly 31.1 in each of their three 2020 A/4* outings, which takes the cake for consistency. Finally, Sharon White and Cooley On Show make an appearance. They’ve won their only two outings this year at this level, taking the win at the only 4*-S in North America just before the world shut down and adding another win at Five Points early last month. At Five Points, they cracked into the 20s in dressage for the first time since 2018, but they very consistently score in the low 30s overall.
Interestingly enough, Long Island T is a horse who has better show jumping results when stadium falls to the final phase, with clear rounds more than 50% of the time and jumping clear in his last three outings with Boyd when the cross country is first. This horse has more recently struggled slightly in this phase when stadium is first, incurring a rail or two in his most recent two outings with the phases in this order. A rail at Morven this weekend would leave the window open for another to take the lead.
Carlevo has jumped clear in seven of his nine rounds at the A/4*-S level in the last two years, incurring only one rail and one time penalty up … until his most recent outing. He added three rails and two time penalties in his latest round, a shocking departure from his usual form. Sometimes we just have a bad day in the office, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Buck return this horse to his typical rail-free form.
Cooley On Show has been on top form in this phase for a while; he and Sharon haven’t had a rail since March of 2018. That is seven consecutive clear rounds at the A/4/5* levels, both long and short format. Expect this pair to narrow the gap with the dressage leaders.
Unfortunately, Business Ben has struggled with tension in this phase and while a clear round is within his capabilities, he more commonly incurs one to three rails. That will leave the window open for Will Coleman to sneak up the ranks with Tight Lines, who has jumped seven consecutive clear rounds at this level dating back to 2017, and TKS Cooley, who has thus far been rail-free in four rounds at this level in this career.
There are no true speedsters in this field, at least not for the short format. While horses like Tight Lines and Cooley On Show have more than proven themselves capable of hitting the optimum at a long format, their riders tend to reserve that speed and take a slower pace at the A/4*-S levels. So over a course like Morven Park, where time is difficult to catch at the best of times, this field is likely to all incur some significant time penalties.
Carlevo and Long Island T have a typical average pace nearly identical to one another, both coming in around 20 seconds slower than either optimum time, or the fastest horse of the day if optimum time isn’t obtained. This would keep them neck and neck with one another if the first two phases have gone as expected, but would open the door for a faster horse to overtake them.
That horse could very well be Cooley On Show, who as previously mentioned, is coming off two consecutive wins at this level. Despite reserving most of his speed for the long formats, Sharon still brings this horse in at an average pace that is swifter than the majority of the field. It will be down to the wire, and those extra few seconds might make a difference between winning or settling for a spot in the top three.
Two pairs to keep an eye on in this phase as well are FE Lifestyle under Jennie Brannigan, who in four complete runs at the level have stayed within 16 seconds of either optimum time or the fastest time of the day, and Buck Davidson with Jak My Style, who have averaged a slightly more sedate pace over their last two runs but who have also achieved top placings a few times thanks to their turn of foot.
Sharon White and Cooley On Show have been quietly chipping away with wins at shows off the beaten path. This will be the first time in a while they see a match up against some of the bigger names in the country, and while it isn’t the fully stacked division that the 4*-S divisions on the east coast have seen this fall, it will still be a very competitive contest at the top. This pair will use the pace of Morven Park to their advantage and paired with a strong stadium record, make their way to the top.
FASTEST CROSS COUNTRY ROUND
Ema Klugman and Bendigo have really made themselves a force to be reckoned with based on their jumping prowess over the last two years. These two have had six clear runs at this level in 2019/2020, and have been within five seconds of the fastest cross country time in five of them, including putting in the fastest pace at this venue in their division last year. They’ve made the optimum in their two 2020 starts at this level as well.
LONGEST CLEAR JUMPING STREAK
Tight Lines has jumped clear rounds in his last consecutive rounds at the A/4*-S levels. He also hasn’t had a time penalty in any of those rounds, leaving him with a penalty-free record in this phase.
Bendigo has been the absolute master of flying up the ranks in this 2020 fall season. He has finished on his dressage score in both of his 4*-S starts this season, something replicated only by Deniro Z, who won those same starts. Two weeks ago, he was the biggest mover of the 4*-S division, moving up a whopping 38 places out of 53 starters. Back in August, he moved up even more, jumping 41 places out of 68 starters. Obviously he won’t be able to move up that many spots in a division with 21 starters, but we are still likely to see him and Ema Klugman make a huge leap between the first and last phases.
- Old friends such as Obos O’Reilly, Captain Jack, Fly Me Courageous
- Kurt Martin is bringing out his five star ride Delux Z to contest an Intermediate division.
- Steady Eddie is making his first start since the shutdown in the Intermediate with Mike Pendleton.
- Boyd Martin will get his first start of the fall aboard WEG mount and Pan Ams gold medalist, Tsetserleg, also in the Intermediate.
Dressage and show jumping will be held Friday, while cross country will begin on Saturday.