Red Hills marks the official 4* start to the North American calendar every year, featuring a star-studded line-up and a notoriously tight cross-country track. 2020 marks the fifth year that the course will be designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, who has surely but slowly put his stamp on the course. East coast favorite Chris Barnard designs the show jumping, which will return this year to the final phase for both the Advanced and CCI4*-S divisions.
The general rule at this event is that time is king at Red Hills, and it is true that getting close to the time here will make or break your chances. However, the dressage has historically played a huge part as well; every winner save one of both the Advanced and CCI4*-S divisions since 2015 have been in the top two after dressage. Only Lauren Kieffer and Veronica have bucked this trend … they were third after dressage in the 2016 Advanced before taking the win.
Despite that, this year may be the year the streak is broken; the top contenders are all tightly clustered together and much will ultimately depend on how difficult the time actually is to make.
Look for Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti to lead the way after dressage. This pair is the only pair in the field to clock in an expected score over 70%. They’ve scored over 70% in seven of eight outings at this level over the last two years and while they don’t tend to flirt with the low twenties, they do have an extremely consistent record between 27 and 30 penalties.
QC Diamantaire moved up to the level in 2018 and really started showing promise on the flat last year under rider Sydney Elliott. Although he lacks consistency in scoring range, he broke the 70% mark twice in 2019 and kept his average for the year at a promising 31.3 penalties.
Jessica Phoenix will be back in the top five with Bentley’s Best as well, a horse who has an extensive A/4* career but was focused on Pan Am selection last year. This pair shows strong consistency, scoring between 29.3 and 33.8 in two thirds of their career starts at the level.
A full 35% of the field could put in expected scores over 65%, but spectators should make time to watch the flashy Hallie Coon and Celien and the reliable Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes.
Despite leading dressage, Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti are fairly likely to accumulate a moderate number of time penalties, enough to drop them out of the top five. Another pair likely to drop from the top five down a few places is Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes, who are more likely to put in a steadier round.
Meanwhile, two pairs that are likely to score well inside the top 10 on the flat will be propelled to the top two positions. Both Hallie Coon with Celien and Sharon White with Cooley On Show will be hot on the heels of the leaders after day one with scores expected of less than 34 penalties each. These two pairs won’t have the fastest runs of the day but a minimum of time penalties combined with solid day one scores will put them into a head to head battle for first on the final day.
Meanwhile, Sydney Conley-Elliott and QC Diamantaire has the ability to maintain a top placing; last year this pair picked up the pace in their last two outings, finishing within 15 seconds of optimum at Stable View 4*-S and Fair Hill 4*-L. This was the first time this young horse had been asked for speed, and he rose to the occasion nicely.
With dressage averages at sub-35, look for Brandon McMechan with Oscar’s Wild and Leslie Law with Voltaire de Tre on cross-country day to rocket up the ranks to inside the top five. Pairs like Caroline Martin and Islandwood Captain Jack and Charlotte Collier with Clifford M will use their pace to creep up into the top ten as well after being mid-pack after the flat.
Some of the better jumpers will be able to make some progress on the final day, with about 20% of the field expected to jump clear. Caroline Martin and Islandwood Captain Jack should make their way up into the top ten with a clear round; this horse hasn’t had a single rail in nine rounds at the A/4*-S level.
Both Hallie Coon with Celien and Sharon White with Cooley On Show will continue to duke it out for the top spot; less than a rail will likely separate this pair after cross-country. These two are almost evenly matched in this phase, with Cooley On Show jumping clear in 69% of his rounds at this level while Celien jumped clear in four of her six outings at this level last year.
It’s a bit of a coin toss between the top two pairs but ultimately I think the dust will settle with Sharon White and Cooley On Show taking home the win. While both good jumpers, Celien has consistently pulled a rail when cross-country is the last phase, including both of her rails in 2019. A clear round will clinch the top spot for fan favorite Cooley On Show.
FASTEST CROSS-COUNTRY ROUNDS
Nilson Moreira da Silva and Magnum’s Martini have the best speed rating in the field, finishing as either the fastest time of the day or within fifteen seconds of optimum in each of their last four outings at this level. If anyone makes the time this weekend, it will be them.
NEW TO THE LEVEL
Keep an eye out for Maya Black and Miks Master C, who finished fifth at Pine Top in the horse’s first Advanced start last month. Matching their scores across the board there consistently put them inside the top ten in my calculations. While it’s difficult to compare the two venues off one run, their dressage score of over 65%, cross-country pace that would put them in single digit penalties, and clear round in the stadium would propel them to a solid finish.
EXTENDING CLEAR JUMPING STREAKS
Only two horses in the field have never had a rail in their A/4*-S career, aside from the newcomer Miks Master C. Islandwood Captain Jack, ridden by Caroline Martin, has jumped clear in five A/4*-S starts and added another three clears in three 4*-L starts. Sydney Solomon and Early Review CBF have jumped clear in their four A/4*-S starts.
Sydney Solomon and Early Review CBF won’t catch your eye on the leaderboard after day one, but a solid record across the country and their excellent stadium record should help catapult them to a spot inside the top half of the field by Sunday.
- Hannah Sue Burnett is making her comeback one step at a time after injuring her pelvis in the fall. She and the 2017 Red Hills CCI4*-S winner Harbour Pilot will be testing the waters in the CCI3*-S division.
- Marilyn Little will bring RF Scandalous forward to contest the Advanced, likely looking for a solid cross country round to re-establish confidence and communication after a few hiccups in their win at the Wellington Eventing Showcase.
- Will Coleman has been quietly bringing back the talented Off the Record after his 3rd place finish at Tattersalls CCI4*-L last May and will also be contesting the Advanced division with him this weekend.
- The winner of last year’s CCI3*-L in Ocala, Flash Cooley, will be making his first Advanced start under Liz Halliday-Sharp.
- Lauren Nicholson (nee Kieffer) has her trio of 5* horses competing; Landmark’s Monte Carlo and Vermiculus will contest the 3*-S while Paramount Importance competes in the Intermediate.
- Kurt Martin‘s ride Delux Z will be competing in the Intermediate after taking 2019 off from competition.
Dressage takes place on Friday. Shelby Allen will be EN’s boots on the ground, bringing us all the action!