Welcome to the first edition of EN’s By the Numbers for 2015! Red Hills is the first CIC3* of the year for North America and is generally the first FEI event most of the big name riders attend as they get back into swing for the spring season. There are a couple notable names missing this weekend, but otherwise we have a full complement.
Today I’m going discuss who I think our top five finishers in the CIC3* will be, a dark horse who has a chance of proving that numbers are just numbers, a spoiler who is highly likely to sneak in and take the whole thing, and a sleeper who may or may not be in the top here, but might have the potential to develop into world class.
For those who need a refresher from last year, these predicted scores are not pulled from thin air, but are a result of the compilation of a very large database in which I now have recorded every single Advanced, CIC/CCI3* and CCI4* run from every single pair who has attempted the level in the United States since 2013.
This database contains not just bare scores but also who the cross country and show jumping course designers are, how long the cross country track is, the surfaces the dressage and show jumping are on, the condition of the ground, which dressage test is performed, and the dressage judges and their respective scores.
Currently, I deal simply in past performance averages. If the rider has experience with the course designer for either cross country or show jumping, or has performed the same dressage test before, I use an average of those scores to compile my final score. Otherwise, I simply use the average of their experience at that level. If the horse has no experience at the level, I do not rank them. This method does not account for improvement in the horse’s record, so I often will make an improving record the dark horse or sleeper.
For Red Hills, the dressage test will be 2015 FEI 3*-A, and it will be the first time that any of the riders will perform this test. The cross country course designer is Hugh Lochore and the show jumping course designer is Fuzzy Mayo.
Hugh Lochore designs for several venues on the East Coast, including Carolina International and Chattahoochee Hills. However, Fuzzy Mayo designs only for Red Hills in the U.S., so any prior experience the riders have had with his courses will be almost exclusively from previous years. This year there is a new show jumping arena, which may mitigate the effect the terrain has historically had for this phase.
1. Marilyn Little and RF Demeter: The last time Marilyn brought RF Demeter to Red Hills, she ended up with a rider fall on the cross country phase. That was two years ago. Since then, they have completed four CCI4* events and seven CIC3* events without cross country jump penalties. The race for the top spot will be close, but I expect this pair’s experience and consistency will win out in the end.
RF Demeter’s dressage average of 49.8 should put them solidly into the top 10, within five points of the leader. While Marilyn fell on their last attempt at the Red Hills course, these two ran double clear over the Hugh Luchore-designed Carolina course. Overall, they average only 2.0 time penalties across the country, so expect to see them climb the rankings as they put in one of the quickest rounds over the twisty Red Hills track.
While Demeter has a perfect show jumping record when show jumping is held before cross country, she usually incurs between one and three rails when the show jumping phase is last, though she jumped clear at Burghley in her last FEI event. Even with one rail adding to their score, Marilyn can still secure the win with a score in the mid-50s.
2. Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night: Liz has already made a splash on this side of the Atlantic with her two top horses, and this weekend will be no exception. She’ll be putting the pressure hard on Marilyn, and I predict a nail-biting finale.
Fernhill By Night is quite strong in the dressage phase and averages an excellent 45.5, which will be good enough to be on the top. Liz tends to be very choosy about when she goes for time, averaging 10 time penalties with this horse as a result. With Red Hills known for time penalties, I suspect we will see closer to Fernhill By Night’s average time than his best time.
This horse is quite a careful jumper and averages clear rounds no matter the conditions, but does occasionally occur a time penalty. Regardless, a clean jumping round out of this pair will put the pressure on Marilyn, who will likely end up with only one rail in hand. Liz and Fernhill By Night will finish in second, less than a point behind Marilyn.
3. Liz Halliday-Sharp and HHS Cooley: HHS Cooley is less experienced than his stablemate, but it doesn’t make him any less talented. His international experience should serve him well in the atmosphere at Red Hills. With the horse just coming off an injury that kept him sidelined for most of the 2014 season, we’ve yet to see Liz put the pedal down.
An average on the flat of 47.8 ought to place this pair inside the top five after the first phase. HHS Cooley is a very efficient cross country horse, averaging only 4.4 time penalties across the country. However, he is typically less careful, incurring one rail and 2 time penalties on average in the show jumping. While a final score in the high 50s won’t leave him breathing down his stablemate’s neck, he won’t be giving Fernhill By Night much room either.
4. Kelly Prather and Blackfoot Mystery: Kelly and this horse made a splash last fall when they virtually came out of nowhere to lead a huge field at Plantation Field CIC3* after the dressage. They’ve maintained a fair amount of consistency in this phase and could certainly crack the top five this weekend if they continue to build on their experience in the jumping phases.
Blackfoot Mystery averages a 48.4 in dressage, which should be good enough for the top 10. While they have no experience on Hugh Lochore courses, they average only 5.6 time penalties on clear cross country rounds. The horse does tend towards averaging one rail and one time in show jumping, although these two haven’t yet tried out a Fuzzy Mayo course. A score just under 60 ought to allow them to just sneak into the top four.
5. Ellen Doughty and Sir Oberon: Ellen and Sir Oberon haven’t had the best of luck at their most recent FEI events, but they will be looking to turn that around this weekend. At Red Hills last year, this pair put in one of the best performances in their career, placing third amongst a star-studded field, and will be looking to replicate that performance this weekend.
These two average a 50.2 for dressage, which will put them right in stalking range of the leaders. Last year, they came home clear across Hugh Lochore’s course with 10 time penalties, which will shuffle them a bit in the rankings. They did put in a double clear over Fuzzy Mayo’s challenging course last year, and a repeat effort will see them round out the top five.
THE DARK HORSE
Buck Davidson and Copper Beech: Copper Beech may have had quite a good summer and fall last year, but his performance early in 2014 keeps him out of my top five. The only blip on his cross country record occurred at Red Hills, and Buck subsequently ran him carefully but slowly on his next course, scoring a clear round but racking up 22.8 time penalties. These are his only two attempts at Hugh Lochore’s courses, and a similar effort will keep him out of the top placings.
However, Buck picked up the speed with Copper Beech by the late spring and has maintained a clear record with single digit time penalties ever since. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Buck looking for a competitive round instead of an educational one, and it’s highly likely we will see Copper Beech in the mix on the final day.
Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda: At first glance, it seems rather improbable that Jennie and Cambalda have not made an appearance in my top five here. However, the numbers worked out this way for two reasons. First, Jennie used this show in both 2013 and 2014 as Cambalda’s first run at the level for the year, likely holding to a slower pace than her average.
This, combined with the characteristic twisty track, means her two runs over the Red Hills course are the two slowest of the past two years. Secondly, the only two times since 2012 that Cambalda has not jumped a double clear in stadium were over Fuzzy Mayo’s Red Hills courses.
The relocation of stadium from the grass to footing will likely result in a typical double clear for Cambalda, which would be enough to bump this pair into the top five even with a steady cross country round. If Jennie decides to push for a pace more typical of their average, they stand a good shot at winning with a few points of breathing room.
Lauren Kieffer and Czechmate: Czechmate is pretty green to this level and is attempting his first CIC3* this weekend. He has the propensity to develop into a world-class prospect for Lauren, with flat scores averaging under 50 in FEI terms and a consistently clear cross country record. Show jumping appears to be his weakest phase right now, but it is steadily improving, as he most recently put in a clear round at Rocking Horse — and jumped two clear rounds at the $15,000 Eventing Prix Invitational this week.
Lauren is currently taking this horse fairly steadily around the cross country, choosing education over ribbons. It’s unlikely we will see her press for time from this horse yet, especially with Red Hills’ reputation as a difficult course for the level. She will likely make sure his education continues and aim for a steady qualifying round instead. Still, when this horse develops fully, he will be formidable.