Up next in our fall schedule is the final CCI4*-S on the east coast, held at Stable View. These folks have got their coronavirus protocols down to a science, with numerous documents online and plans for everything. Although this is only their third year hosting a 4*, this year will mark the fifth year the show has run. At 42 starters this will officially be the biggest field yet for the venue, which has made huge investments in improvement each year.
Captain Mark Phillips has been the course designed here since their inception. East coast favorite Chris Barnard will make his way to South Carolina to design the show jumping course.
Every prior Advanced or 4* division here (including the Advanced run this summer) has been won by either Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton or Buck Davidson. That streak will officially be over this year, as none of these three have entries in the 4* division. All but one winner was either the fastest round of the day or made the time on cross country.
Doug Payne‘s Pan American team horse Starr Witness recently re-iterated that yes, she is in fact talented on the flat. Although this mare has only two starts at this level, both have come in the sub-26 range. Only a few other pairs in the field even have the ability to catch her, but there are a couple.
One of those horses is Fernhill By Night, who broke the 75% mark at The Fork at Tryon in the spring of 2019. Although he has more recently been hovering in the 70% range, this horse is certainly one who has a record of scoring sub-25 multiple times in the past. His rider, Liz Halliday-Sharp, is on a hot streak herself, having won the only two 4*-S on this side of the country that have been held in the fall season thus far.
The experienced Covert Rights also comes forth for this division under Colleen Rutledge. Although their personal best of 22.2 is certainly eye catching, they more recently have averaged at a mark just over 70%. In their last six outings, they’ve scored sub-30 in five of them, floating slightly above only at Fair Hill last fall with a 30.7.
We can’t leave this conversation without mentioning another of Doug Payne’s rides, the experienced Vandiver. His recent score of 23.1 at Blue Ridge horse trials blasted his previous personal best out of the water by more than 4 points. It could be a case of Doug versus Doug at the end of the first phase.
There’s a serious set of good jumpers here this weekend. Nearly a third (27%) of the horses are expected to jump clear, with another 43% expected to have only one rail.
Fernhill By Night has really perfected his jumping technique as he’s gotten older, jumping clear in 11 of his last 13 rounds where show jumping was held prior to cross country. This dates back to the middle of 2017 and includes venues all over the U.S. and Europe. But Starr Witness is no slouch either, jumping clear in two for two of her rounds at this level. In fact, you have to go back to Starr Witness’ very first FEI in 2018 to find a rail on her international record … but it was at this very venue, in the CCI3*-S (then CIC2*).
Vandiver has the possibility of taking a rail, but mostly likely will jump clear; this horse had an excellent record of jumping clear at the short format level until he hit an odd patch at the beginning of 2019 where he pulled a single rail at three consecutive shows. That pattern was fixed by Kentucky that spring, and in four rounds that the 4/5* level, he hasn’t had a rail since.
Show jumping can be a difficult phase for Covert Rights, although a clear round at Fair Hill last fall, followed by a clear round recently at his first 2020 start at Great Meadow hopefully shows those demons have been laid to rest. A couple of rails for this pair would send them tumbling down the ranks after phase two in a field of good jumpers.
Meanwhile, Texas-based Dassett Choice under Rebecca Brown will be ready to capitalize on any mistakes the dressage leaders make. This horse jumped clear in three of his four rounds at this level so far.
The final horse to keep an eye on is Celien under Hallie Coon. She has fairly consistently been a one-or-none horse in the last two years and a clear round would put this pair right up in stalking range of the leaders.
A few horses will use the jumping phases to start creeping up the leaderboard; Quantum Leap (yet another Doug Payne ride) and Caeleste (under Will Faudree) are two of those to watch.
Starr Witness is green enough that it’s still difficult to tell what she’ll do at this level; although she went clear at her first Advanced at Pine Top earlier this year, she put in two green stops at a bank out of water in the middle of a combination at Blue Ridge. Doug Payne is likely to have sorted any issues between now and then but with a very important FEI qualifier needed, a clean round will likely be priority number one.
Instead, Vandiver will likely lead the way for the Payne group of horses, with Doug well able to push the pace easily on his experienced campaigner. These two might not be the very fastest pace in the field, but they’ll be within a few seconds of them.
Meanwhile Fernhill By Night is one that Liz Halliday-Sharp picks and chooses as to when to go for time; after a disappointing dressage score in his last outing, Liz chose not to press him. As a rider on a hot streak, it’s a good bet that she’ll choose to go for the time this weekend, now that the horse has had a chance to stretch his legs. While they are likely to add a few seconds onto their score, it should be enough to contest for the top position.
There are a good number of fast horses in this field who also have the chops in the dressage and show jumping phases; Covert Rights is one that we’ll see fly up the ranks again even if he’s incurred a rail or two. He and Colleen Rutledge have a good chance of setting the fastest pace of the day, so it’ll be to their advantage if the optimum proves hard to catch. If they can manage a good day in the stadium, they’ll be right there contesting for the win on the final day as well.
Dassett Choice will slip out of the top five based on time penalties — this pair will be looking for a qualifying round in order to head to the CCI4*-L at Galway, so will looking for a clear round above all. Meanwhile Celien and Waylon Roberts with Lancaster could both take a crack at the top five based on their cross country pace, asl long as their stadium rounds have gone their way.
Doug and Liz are both coming off recent wins, and it will ultimately come down to these two. Liz Halliday-Sharp has locked up two consecutive 4* though, against hugely competitive fields, and with Fernhill By Night having a dressage time near the end of they day (instead of first thing as he contended with at Great Meadow), this horse will ultimately edge out the win by the skin of his teeth.
FASTEST CROSS-COUNTRY ROUNDS
Covert Rights is the fastest horse in the field at this level over the past two years. In six runs, they’ve made the time three times, been within five seconds of the optimum (or the fastest pace when optimum wasn’t obtained) another two times, and only on this horse’s return to level after a 12-month hiatus did they have close to ten seconds over the fastest pace … also on an occasion when optimum was not obtained.
LONGEST CLEAR JUMPING STREAK
Ann Goodwin and Fedarman B are sitting tight with clear rounds in all six of their attempts at the level. The striking white-faced horse has added a few time penalties but hasn’t hit a single rail yet.
NEW TO THE LEVEL
This spot would would ordinarily have been filled by Starr Witness, but it would have been neglectful to not mention her as a true contender. Instead, this section highlights Direct Advance, who made his first Advanced start with Zach Brandt at Chattahoochee Hills last month. A steady cross country pace kept them out of the ribbons there, but adding a clear round over a course that rode quite tough to a dressage score in the low 30s and a clear show jumping round is something worth keeping an eye on.
Joe Meyer and Clip Clop are likely to make the biggest moves of the weekend, utilizing a swift cross country pace and a likely one rail show jumping round to climb the ladder in leaps and bounds.
- You’ll see a familiar face in Fernhill Fortitude with a new pilot. Rebecca Brown now has the ride on this experienced campaigner.
- Former Tim and Jonelle Price ride (yes, both of them) Kindred Spirit II is entered in the CCI3*-S.
- Starr Witness isn’t the only Pan Ams veteran out and about this weekend; Boyd Martin’s 2015 Pan American horse Pancho Villa will compete in the Open Training.
Dressage will begin on Thursday while show jumping for the 4*-S is to be held on Friday. On Saturday, the division will finish up with cross country.