It’s a bit surreal to sit here and type this, as Red Hills was the final event in 2020 where things were still “normal”. A scant 10 days later, things shut down all over the world and with it a proper event season. This year we balance carefully the need to keep functioning and the reality that the virus is not yet gone, so our thanks to all the dedicated show organizers who have gone above and beyond in figuring out a way to run these valuable prep events while balancing finances without spectators.
As the first 4* start of the year for North America, Red Hills provides a true test with a notoriously tight cross-country track. Mike Etherington-Smith enters his sixth year as course designer for the venue, long enough to have established his stamp on the track. Chris Barnard also returns this year to design the stadium courses.
While time is a factor here, the dressage is equally important at this venue; the winner of the CCI4*-S division has been no worse than second after the dressage phase for the last six consecutive years. With a handful of strong dressage performers here this weekend, this is unlikely to be the year that streak is broken. In particular, keep an eye on Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous, who won this division back in 2018.
After phase two, we are unlikely to see our leader change hands. RF Scandalous often competes with Marilyn Little in the jumpers and it shows; the pair has only had two rails in 17 rounds at the A/4/5* level. Colleen Loach‘s pair of Vermont and FE Golden Eye are also clear in two for two stadium rounds at the level, while FE Coldplay incurred one rail with Clayton Fredericks at Great Meadow. Similar performances from these young horses would scramble but leave most of the top five intact.
Passepartout has incurred only two rails in his career in five rounds at this level, but under Kaylawna Cook, he has jumped two clear rounds out of three. A single rail would likely help this young rider maintain a spot on the leaderboard. However, we may see EnVogue take a bit of a tumble, with stadium as her weakest phase; despite a strong ride from Tamie Smith, this mare has had two rails down in five of her seven rounds at the A/4* levels.
Keep a sharp eye on Colleen Loach‘s experienced horse Qorry Blue d’Argouges, as well as her fellow Canadian Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes. Along with Kim Cecere with Landmark’s Monaco, these pairs all have the ability to score sub-35 and follow it up with a likely clear stadium round; doing so will put these pairs all within striking distance to make a big move on cross-country day.
Despite RF Scandalous‘ weakness on cross country pace, her dressage abilities are strong enough that it’s likely she’ll be able to hold onto the win at the end of the day. She’ll have about 20 to 25 seconds to spot to her nearest competitor; based on the recent history of the track at Red Hills, that is probably sufficient to maintain the lead.
FASTEST CROSS-COUNTRY ROUNDS
As mentioned above, Landmark’s Monaco has blazing speed in this phase; in his three clear A/4*S rounds under Kim Cecere, he has either made the time or set the pace for the day.
NEW TO THE LEVEL
Colleen Loach has a pair of young horses at the level, and Vermont is the one to keep an eye on this weekend. In two A/4* starts, this horse as averaged sub-thirty on the flat, put in two clear jumping rounds, and averaged less than 30 seconds for their cross-country speed rating.
EXTENDING CLEAR JUMPING STREAKS
Fernhill Wishes and Karl Slezak currently own the longest clear stadium streak in the field. These two have put in seven consecutive clear stadium rounds, including two at the 4*-L level. The last time they incurred a rail was in September of 2018.
The experienced Clip Clop is a bit too aware of what is coming on subsequent days to put in a relaxed test on day one, but under the tutelage of Joe Meyer, he’s become quite reliable in the jumping phases. In his return to the level in 2020 after a 2019 hiatus, he’s had only one rail in three A/4*S rounds and has averaged a speed rating of less than 20 seconds off the pace. A similar move will shoot him up the ranks to put this pair within the top ten on the final day.
- The Advanced division of course sports a plethora of stellar horses to watch, including a trio from Jennie Brannigan, Kurt Martin‘s ride DeLux Z who returns to the level after a long hiatus,
- Former 5* horses OBOS O’Reilly, Fly Me Courageous, Cisko A are all getting to stretch their legs in the CCI2*-S with young riders.
- Former 4* mare Catalina is entered in the Prelim division as well.
Dressage takes place on Friday. Keep your eyes locked here for all of our coverage!