By the Numbers: Tryon International 4*-L, Cross Country Day

Coverage of Tryon International this weekend is brought to you by Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE). Diversity and inclusion in all equestrian sports are important, and we’ll be bringing you tidbits on what this new organization hopes to accomplish.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan.
Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

This weekend has felt almost as exciting as a weekend at Kentucky, with so many top competitors and a large field to watch all day. I’ve greatly enjoyed the live commentators, letting me listen in even while working and unable to fully focus on the dressage tests going on.


On the surface, yesterday proceeded much like Thursday, with very few real surprises in the scoring. That is a testament both to the quality of the judging and the consistency of the pairs who rode in an echoing, empty, imposing stadium; despite the lack of crowds, the atmosphere remains electric. Being able to bring out, at minimum, a test that meets expectations in a moment that matters is a critical skill and the riders this weekend have displayed it in spades.

On Thursday, 33% of the pairs finished within a point of their expected dressage score; of the 39 pairs who competed today, 38% did the same thing. Yesterday’s overall dressage average of 34.17 is only 0.21 penalty points below the expected average of 34.38 showing once again the consistency of the performances and the judging. Overall for the two days dressage, the expected overall average differed from the actual overall average by just over a tenth of a point.

What is extremely fascinating though, is that now that judge percentiles have been made available, an additional story has unfolded. Although the overall dressage averages from the three judges appeared consistent, it is clear that a difference of opinion was consistently occurring based on the views each judge had. The three judges varied by more than 5.0 percentages points on 17 tests, or 21.5% of the field, which is significantly higher than the average variance of 13.7% you might see at a 5* field who have that large of a gap between scores. Similarly, the number of riders with differences of 3.0 percentages points or more was 48, or 60.8% of the field, compared to a more typical 42.5% that you might see in a 5*.

Initially, this could seem alarming but let’s look further. It turns out that the judge at M consistently scored tougher throughout the divisions, awarding the lowest percentages to 64% of the field and ultimately only rewarding 9% of the field with the high score. And the judge at E scored almost the reverse, awarding the highest percentage of the three judges to 68% of the field and only being the toughest judge on 6%. At C, the judge was fairly balanced throughout, giving the highest percentage to 26% of the field, the lowest to 36%, and remaining the middle score on the remaining 38% of pairs.

Only one other pattern emerges; although M was tough on the majority of the field, she did utilize the higher end of her scoring scale more readily than the judge at C. When looking at those who scored in the twenties, the judge at E maintained his habit of awarding the highest percentages but the position of the judges at C and M switched. For the top end of these scores, C awarded the lowest percentages of the three for 63% of the 19 sub-thirty pairs, and was the highest for only 5% while M was evenly split between being the highest, middle, and lowest percentages.

So what does this mean? Ultimately, it means that the differences in judging compensated quite nicely for each other overall. This is not normally the case when variances as large as these appear but explain why ultimately, the judging appeared to overall be quite even across the board.

Moving on to the actual results, we saw quite a bit of play in the results near the top, although as expected, RF Scandalous remained untouchable. Those who entered the top five were the usual suspects, with Deniro Z, Tsetserleg, and Danito all performing expectedly stellar tests. One horse to keep an eye on who did 3.2 points better than expected is Islandwood Captain Jack; it may not seem important now but with the jumping phases yet to come, those three points might make a world of difference to their final placing. RF Cool Play, Stella Artois, and Laz Paz are also all horses who did themselves a world of good by edging themselves into the twenties.

RF Scandalous and Marilyn Little will enter into cross country with only a cushion of 7 seconds over Deniro Z, and only 16 seconds over Tsetserleg. It likely won’t be sufficient to deter Deniro Z no matter the scenario, but if the clock is easy to make, it might be just enough to stay ahead Tsetserleg.


Although Captain Mark Phillips has designed for Tryon since the inception of the venue, the course itself has undertaken several metamorphoses, starting from a track that was made partially of footing combined with grass and evolving to the track on a former golf course that is utilized today. It should be noted that this course is different than the track utilized at the World Equestrian Games, beginning at the stabling area and concentrating many of the jumping efforts south of one reservoir while looping up to circle a second.

In the only long format held at this venue, 88.9% of the 81 pairs who started completed the course, 66.7% finished clear, and a whopping 19.8% finished inside the time. Admittedly, the field at the World Equestrian Games is the cream of the crop from around the entire world, but even so these completion rates are all significantly higher than the world-wide rates for the 4*-L over the last half decade.

In the entire field, seventeen horses have made the time at least once at the 4/5*-L levels; two horses (Indy 500 and Palm Crescent) have done it on two occasions, another two horses (Harbour Pilot and Landmark’s Monte Carlo) have done it on three, while Z has done it five times.

The optimum time for the course is 10:00, the typical length for a course at this level. A course map is available in the here, with the pairs jumping 43 obstacles in 28 numbered combinations. The word on the street is that the course is struggling to drain all of the heavy rain that fell through Thursday morning; if that is the case, the riders should be prepared for time to be significantly harder to catch than it was at WEG.

One term I’d like to introduce to the readers is what I define as the speed rating, or SR. Speed rating is the number of seconds over either optimum time or, if no pair achieves optimum time on that day, the number of seconds a pair has come in behind the fastest round of the day. This calculation is showing up more and more when defining the overall pace of a horse; it is helpful when looking at time penalties to determine which courses ran fast and which were plagued by time penalties. This rating allows direct comparison of paces of the two types of courses.


Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

The Thoroughbred blood of Blackfoot Mystery has helped him meet the pace in this three completed 4/5*-L courses under Boyd Martin; he’s put in an average speed rating of only 5 seconds between a run at Fair Hill, Kentucky, and Rio. With a qualification for Tokyo on the line, you might think Boyd would be conservative in his pace but ultimately he’s more likely to go out with a vengeance to prove this horse still has what it takes. As second out today, he’ll almost be in the same position as he was four years ago, when he served as pathfinder for the US team. Coupled with a strong dressage score for the horse, a speedy round will help him edge closer to the leaders.

Tamie Smith and EnVogue. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

EnVogue has a relatively brief record at the A/4* levels, but under Tamie Smith, she has enjoyed setting the fastest time of the day in four of her five cross-country runs. That includes setting the mark of 39 seconds under optimum time in her first 4*-L start at Galway, which was only her second start at the level at the time. Speeds like this often indicate a horse who doesn’t need to change gears much to set-up for a fence, resulting in a smooth round that looks slower than it is. These two will be a good pair to watch to compete for fastest time of the day and should move up as long as the time isn’t too easy to make.

Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

This event looks like it could be Marilyn Little‘s to lose right now, but a lot will depend on today’s course and how hard it is to make the time. This rider will go out on a mission with RF Scandalous who is typically run at a conservative pace at the A/4*-S level. This mare’s weakness is her pace though; her best pace out of her four completed 4/5* long formats has been twelve seconds over the time with an average pace of 18.25 seconds over optimum, and at each of these four courses multiple other riders made the time. Her dressage prowess gives her an edge, so she can absorb up to 5 seconds of time penalties before relying on others to also incur penalties, but if time is difficult to make this pair will drop down a few placings.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Leamore Master Plan has demonstrated a few new tricks this year, one of which is the capability of breaking the 70% mark on the flat, demonstrated in a very timely manner on Thursday. He and Ariel Grald also demonstrated a new trick at Great Meadow earlier this summer, demonstrating their ability to clock in the fastest round of the day without making much of an effort. The pace has been a bit of Achilles’ heel for this young horse as Ariel took her time to make sure they both were secure for the level; now experience and confidence may pay off and let these two press faster than their average speed rating of 23.33 seconds at completed clear 4/5*-L.

Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Rubens D’Ysieux. Photo by Miranda Akins/Photography In Stride.

It will be the first long format attempt for Sara Kozumplik-Murphy and Rubens d’Ysieux since they’ve returned from their hiatus; history shows their speed rating sitting at 27.2 seconds in five clear runs at 4*-S/L. Their 2019/2020 record also indicates a steadier pace, so look for this pair to be aiming more for a clear round than racing the clock.

Maya Black and Miks Master C. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Maya Black is back at the level again, this time with the promising Miks Master C who displayed the considerable progress he’s made throughout his first year at Advanced to put in a solid score. Still, this pair would need to pick up their pace to make much progress in the ranks; they’ve been averaging 19.6 seconds as a speed rating in five completions, which might hold them steady after dressage but won’t make up much ground.

Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135. Photo by Abby Powell.

The young Woods Baughman impressed on Thursday with C’est La Vie 135, and will looking to do so again today. In three clear finishes at the level, these two have a speed rating of 24.33 seconds; however that includes a hefty outlier of the horse’s first Advanced at Millbrook in 2019, when they finished nearly a minute over the optimum time. Although limiting their starts in 2020 to only two, they finished at nearly identical paces in both, only 10 or 11 seconds over optimum. Having said that, the first 4*-L is notable more difficult for first-time riders than the typical starter and Woods will need to be at his best to simply beat the odds; only 29% of first-time riders on first-time horses finish the course clear. Getting close to the time will likely be secondary.

Boyd Martin and On Cue. Photo by Jenni Autry.

On Cue chose an opportune time to put in a personal best in the dressage and as so, earned her way into the conversation of who might be good to watch on cross-country. At face value, she and Boyd Martin have accumulated double digit time penalties in more than half of their 4*-S starts, but a deeper dive indicates a large number of those occurred at events where no one made the optimum. This pair overall has a speed rating of only 12.67 seconds and have twice finished as the fastest pair of the day at the 4*-S out of five runs. In the mare’s only 4*-L start, she clocked in only four seconds over optimum. It’s likely that On Cue will move up the ranks today, as long as the clock is not set to be too easy.

Doug Payne and Starr Witness (USA). Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

This weekend will be a big ask for the Pan Am team horse Starr Witness, who has only three runs at the A/4*-S level. In their two clear completions, they averaged a speed rating of 17.5 (no one made the optimum at either event), including setting the fastest pace of the day in the mare’s first Advanced back in February at Pine Top. While she has completed two of three courses clear, she did have two stops at one fence at this venue at Blue Ridge Mountain two months ago. Doug Payne is likely to have nipped this issue in the bud, but ultimately a completion might be more valuable to this pair than a top placing.  Doug isn’t known for playing it safe though, so look for him set out on this mare with a goal in mind.

Sara Mittleider and La Paz. Photo by Hope Carlin.

West Coast pair La Paz and Sara Mittleider may not be quite in stalking range yet, but they’ll be able to move up far enough the ranks today to be a contender for the top ten tomorrow. It’ll be a good test for this horse to experience a bit of muddy turf, as he’s already proven himself on the dirt tracks of the west. This pair has clocked in the fastest round of the day already once this fall at the inaugural Advanced at the Florida Horse Park; they also finished inside the time at last year Galway Downs 4*-L, culminating in a win. Their speed rating averages at 14.5 seconds for six starts at the 4* level but it remains to be seen if they can match or exceed that when facing more adversarial conditions.

Lynn Symansky and RF Cool Play (USA). Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

After a stellar dressage test yesterday, RF Cool Play has moved himself into contention with Lynn Symansky. This horse has a fairly thin record at the 4* level, despite having completed two 4*-L divisions; he has only competed in two Advanceds, one 4*-S, and one 4*-L. Part of this was due to his focus on the Pan American games last summer, spending most of the year at the I and 3* levels to prepare for the team outing, then being competed very conservatively after the pandemic this year. Regardless, this horse has a squeaky clean cross-country record but a speed rating of 20.4 seconds, something that would need to be surpassed in order to maintain their current placing.

Tamie Smith and Danito. Photo by Hope Carlin.

Tamie Smith doesn’t bring horses east for an also-ran, and in Danito she has a real shot for a top placing. This horse has finished in the top three in 4 of 5 completions at the A/4*-S level, helped along by this horse’s talent in the dressage phase. On first glance, Danito has had a good portion of time penalties on his record, finishing an average of 22.33 seconds over optimum in his three 2020 starts. However on closer inspection, he actually finished within 14 seconds or less of the fastest pace of the day, as no one caught the optimum time in any of the A/4* shows he competed at this year. After a strong dressage test, this pair will be looking to maintain their top placing by finishing close enough to optimum to maintain their advantage.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

As the second place horse, all eyes will be on Deniro Z and Liz Halliday-Sharp as they set out on course. These two have clearly set their sights on Tokyo and have gone out on their 2020 courses with a vengeance, clocking home with the fastest time in their most recent two runs after taking a leisurely pace in June in the horse’s first 2020 start. Their average speed rating at the 4*-S level has been 11.5 seconds, but they haven’t been able to match that success at the 4/5*-L levels yet, with their time penalties ranging from 11 seconds over optimum at Luhmuhlen, through 26 seconds over optimum at Boekelo, up to 86 seconds over optimum at Burghley, all events at which at least one pair made the time. If they want a spot on the Tokyo team, they’ll have to prove they can maintain the quick pace they show at the short format over the length of a long format course. If they can make time today, they should go into the final phase in the lead position; if not, they’ll have to hope they are fast enough to avoid being overtaken by Tsetserleg, Danito, or Starr Witness, all of whom are only 5 seconds behind.

Phillip Dutton and Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

It’s easy to think of Z still as the green protégé in the string of Phillip Dutton, but since an appearance as part of the 2018 US WEG team, he’s been the big man on campus. This horse has six completed runs at the 4/5*-L levels, and has been inside in all but one of them….the 2018 WEG appearance at this very venue. While a flag penalty scuttled his hopes for his first big win last fall at Fair Hill, he still finished inside the time, the fifth time he has done so. It should be noted that the only time the horse did not make time, he was the anchor member of a team that already had to contend with two horses with stops; Phillip Dutton had to be prepared to get home with a clean round rather than search for individual success. This pair will likely prove that it was the circumstances rather than the venue that prevented them from finishing inside the optimum time.

Caroline Martin and Islandwood Captain Jack. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Caroline Martin is nowadays a rider with a significant amount of experience at this level, and with Islandwood Captain Jack, she has a horse who steps up to the plate when running the long format. This pair has a speed rating of only 2.67 seconds in three 4*-L completions; in the horse’s first start at the level, he finished only 7 seconds slower than the fastest time of the day, on a day when no one caught the optimum time. In his two subsequent runs at the level, he accumulated a total of only one second over optimum. Although he may not be high in the minds of people after dressage, after a considerably improvement in that phase giving him a little extra boost he’ll be one to watch by the time stadium rolls around.

Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

An extremely experienced competitor, Landmark’s Monte Carlo excels in the cross-country phase, particularly at the long format. Although he hasn’t made the time at each of the eight clear 4/5*-L cross-country rounds he’s finished, he and Lauren Nicholson have never been more than five seconds over the optimum time and have three times finished completely inside optimum. Consistency is the name of the game for these two, who will be expected to post a similar pace today. Look for these two to blast up the ranks on the strength of his pace, culminating possibly in a top ten position going into the final day.

Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Stella Artois holds the highest hopes for Jennie Brannigan‘s string today; in three completions at the 4*-L level, this mare has put in a consistently quick pace, finishing no more than 12 seconds over optimum and getting as close as only one second over optimum. Although they have yet to hit the time at this particular format, they come close enough that Stella Artois ought to be significantly improve her placing today..

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg (USA). Phtoo by Shannon Brinkman.

Getting down to the final four horses of the day, we next go to Tsetserleg and Boyd Martin, who have had the advantage of running over this course before, albeit over an altered track. In four clear 4/5*-L, Tsetserleg has finished an average of 6.5 seconds over the time; if you discard the outlier of his first 4*-L completion in 2018, when he finished 18 seconds over optimum, he has averaged only 2.67 seconds over optimum. Not only will Boyd be out to remind everyone that this horse is the current reigning USEF 5* national champion (since the 2020 event was abandoned) as well as the reigning individual and team gold medalist from the Pan Am games, but will also be out to set the record straight after a green stop stopped American hearts all over the country at this venue in 2018.

Doug Payne and Vandiver. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Doug Payne too will be setting out with a bone to pick on Vandiver; despite all their success at the 4*-S level, this horse just hasn’t quite been able to replicate it at the long format. To earn a spot on the plane to Tokyo, he first needed to prove that scoring over 70% is a consistent way of life, taking a step towards that yesterday by breaking that barrier for the first time at a 4/5*-L. The next step will be cross country day, where he needs a fast and clear run to live up to his consistency at the 4*-S level. In 2019, this pair picked up the pace at the long formats they did, accumulating only one second over optimum in two 4/5*-L completions; unfortunately they sandwiched those around a horse fall at Burghley in a troublesome combination and followed up by being one of the several victims of a flag penalty at Fair Hill. Bad luck is bad luck, but the Tokyo slots are few and far between, so this pair will be looking to match their effortless pair of A/4*-S runs from 2020, where they first finished only one second off the fastest time here at Tryon and followed it with two seconds off the fastest pace at Stable View.

Buck Davidson and Carlevo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of our final two pairs, Buck Davidson and Carlevo will struggle to match anything close to the pace of the leaders; in five clear 4*-L runs, Carlevo has averaged 33.2 seconds over optimum without any sign of improving on that. While a clear round is unlikely to be a problem for this horse, his pace is liable to take him down the ranks quickly.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

As the horse with the most longevity at the level, Harbour Pilot has served as a bit of an enigma in this phase. He and Hannah Sue Burnett won the horse’s first outing at this level way back in 2012 on the strength of a round inside the optimum, then replicated the pace in two of their 5* runs since, at Kentucky in 2014 and then at Luhmuhlen in 2017. But as frequently as they’ve had fast and clear rounds, they’ve had issues, with three stops, a frangible pin, and a rider fall on their long format record. They also have clocked in a handful of also-ran clear rounds, ranging from 12 second speed ratings up to 33 seconds. Without any consistency, it’s extremely difficult to tell what this pair will do but one thing is certain; they’ll need a top level performance today if they want to earn a spot on the plane to Tokyo.


Division Winner: Since it is looking more and more like the time is not going to be the walk in the park that the 2018 WEG was, it seems quite possible that this competition will not end up simply being a dressage and show jumping show. If that’s the case, Phillip Dutton and Z will finally get that accolade missing from this horse’s resume: a win at the 4*-L level. Phillip will have to hope that the time is either extremely difficult or impossible to make, and then ensure he sets a pace in that is at least 6 seconds faster than Tsetserleg and 11 seconds faster than Deniro Z’s pace. The harder the time is tomorrow, the better it will be for Z.

Phase Two Leader: Deniro Z will have the edge after tomorrow if time is doable but not easy to make. Liz Halliday-Sharp will be out on a mission and certainly has the advantage over RF Scandalous; ultimately the question is how much of an edge will she maintain over Tsetserleg, Danito, and Starr Witness.

Making the Optimum Time/Fastest Time of the Day: EnVogue is likely to be the quickest pace, with Z, Landmarks Monte Carlo, and Islandwood Captain Jack all giving her a run for her money.

The Surprise: Mama’s Magic Way and Will Faudree could set a surprisingly pace and paired with their low thirties dressage score (3.8 points better than expected), could be somewhat of a dark horse heading into tomorrow.

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