Cross Country Powerhouses of Kentucky 2018

Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

It’s cross country day at #LRK3DE! The cross country consists of 28 numbered obstacles (45 total jumping efforts when taking all the direct routes) across 6,295 meters of the Kentucky Horse Park. The horses will have to cover the distance under the optimum time of 11 minutes, 3 seconds, or they will incur time penalties, 0.4 added to their score for each second they are over. Click here for a full course preview.

Derek di Grazia of the United States has been the course designer here since 2011. Derek currently designs many courses in North America, including both Bromont CCI3* and Fair Hill CCI3*, two key qualifiers for this event. He has also been designated as the course designer for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. In years where the weather was nicer and the ground was good at Kentucky, as it was 2012-2014, the course averaged 22.8% of the field making the time. From 2015-2017, when the horses ran through rain or mud or both, only 5.53% of the field made the time.

The horses listed below fall into three different categories: horses who have been proven both consistent and fast at the CCI4* level, horses who are very fast when clear but could pick up a jump penalty, and horses who have stellar 3* form and speed but the 4* is a bit of a question mark. With the weather being clear, there will almost certainly be a larger percentage of horses who make the time compared to the past three years.

At four-star level, a cross country run that is clear and inside the time could potentially move you up many places, especially with the dressage losing some weight due to the removal of the coefficient in scoring. Here are the projections of horses who will make the biggest moves up the leaderboard tomorrow … or maintain their place at the top.

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Michael Jung (GER) and fischerRocana FST: Michael Jung is nicknamed Ze Terminator for his machine-like ability to get the job done, year in and year out. Rocana has an impeccable 3/4* record apart from two blips within the same 6-month period in 2015. She’s gone inside the time at five of nine CCI3/4* she’s completed, and once when she didn’t she was still the fastest time of the day.

Potential Hiccups: The possibility exists that she might have a couple of time penalties. Setting aside the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, she’s never had more than four seconds over optimum at any CCI3/4*.

Ride Time: 11:40 AM

Chris Burton (AUS) and Nobilis 18: Nobilis 18 has 8 three/four-star starts under Chris Burton and has only once ever had an issue, when Burto fell off at Badminton in 2016. While that does mean they only have a 4* completion rate of 50% in two tries, you can almost safely bet that this will be one of the quickest runs tomorrow.

Potential Hiccups: Fitness. Every British-based rider suffered a miserable spring and barely got any outings. This pair did incur 3.2 time penalties at Burghley in 2016, but on a year when no one made the time. Nobilis 18 also hasn’t run a CCI since winning that Burghley.

Ride Time: 1:08 PM

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Lynn Symansky (USA) and Donner: Donner and Lynn have completed more 4* than anyone in the field, including Rocana, and they’ve jumped clear at every one except for a grueling WEG in Normandy. What they haven’t done since 2013 is make the time.

Potential Hiccups: Speed. This is a Thoroughbred and he runs like a Thoroughbred, but Lynn has only put the pedal to the floor in two of their five 4* starts since WEG. A handful of seconds over the optimum (less than 10) is a possibility.

Ride Time: 1:40 PM


Oliver Townend (GBR) and MHS King Joules: In their international career as a pair, these two have never ever added anything in the cross-country phase if they’ve run clear. But they’ve had a stop in 3 of their 7 runs, including the horse’s only four-star attempt at Burghley 2016. If they go clear, they go inside the time.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps and fitness. As we’ve already discussed, this horse is a bit of a wild card as to whether he will make it over all the fences on the first try. On top of that, this horse is based in England, making fitness runs this spring quite difficult. He also only competed once at the international level in 2017 and none at all this year, leaving his runs very limited over the past eighteen months. He hasn’t started a CCI since the end of 2016.

Ride Time: 12:28 PM

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie. Photo by Miranda Akins/Photography In Stride.

Boyd Martin (USA) and Steady Eddie: Steady Eddie has been quite consistent cross-country … except for on Derek di Grazia courses. In 14 international 3/4* runs, he’s had issues at five of them, four of which were designed by Derek — twice at Fair Hill and twice at Kentucky. In fact, despite a clean, fast run at Burghley last fall, he’s 0 for 2 at Kentucky. However, he eventually did run around Fair Hill clear and inside the time, and after a confidence-building top 10 result at Burghley, perhaps this scrappy OTTB will conquer his demons this weekend.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps, particularly Derek’s jumps.

Ride Time: 1:32 PM

Pawel Spisak (POL) and Banderas: This horse hasn’t had a stop since the 2016 Olympic Games, but the pair are still a bit of a wild card. The horse fell at his first attempt at a CCI3* in Strzegom in 2015, and then fell again at his first 4* attempt at Rio. This will be the pair’s first traditional 4* start so hopefully the pattern won’t hold. They’ve twice jumped clear and inside the time at the Sopot CCI3* and also jumped clear with only 0.4 time penalty around the European Championships at Strzegom last summer, so it’s highly likely that they will go fast if they go clear.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps. As we’ve mentioned, two horse falls on a record can be a bit concerning, particularly at the horse’s first attempts at a new level.

Ride Time: 1:28 PM

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border at Blenheim in 2017. Photo by Libby Law.

Kim Severson (USA) and Cooley Cross Border: Cooley Cross Border and Kim Severson notably won Blenheim last fall and have conquered Fair Hill CCI3* twice, once within two seconds of the optimum time. Until Kentucky last year, this pair had a relatively clean record at the 3/4* level apart from a stop at their first attempt, but they suffered confidence issues after a re-route to Tattersalls last May. A clean run will likely be a fast run, although a handful of time penalties could stick.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps. After a fall of horse earlier this spring at Carolina, Kentucky will be a big test of Cooley Cross Border’s confidence.

Ride Time: 1:32 PM

Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Colleen Rutledge (USA) and Covert Rights:  This pair (along with Savannah Fulton and Captain Jack) are one of the only pairs to have a 100% clear XC rate at multiple 4* attempts, which of course is easier to do when that number is two. Still, one of those was Kentucky and the other was Burghley, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. After Burghley in 2015, Colleen picked up the pace with this horse and spent most of 2016 and 2017 proving that this horse has speed. That included their first clear CCI3* round inside the time at Fair Hill last fall.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps. It’s hard to imagine that this horse might be suffering a confidence issue after being so consistent at the level for so long, but a pair of uncharacteristic stops at Carolina and a missed flag at The Fork haven’t been an ideal lead up to Kentucky.

Ride Time: 1:36 PM

Phillip Dutton and Z. Photo by Jenni Autry.


Phillip Dutton (USA) and Z:  In 11 3* starts, Phillip and Z have only had one issue, a rider fall at Fair Hill in 2016 when the horse jumped huge into the first water and sent Phillip out the side door. This horse likes to jump and he’s proven it by finishing inside the time at both of his CCI3* completions, and no more than 12 seconds over the optimum time at his last five of six 3* starts, with the final one being a dismally wet Jersey Fresh last spring.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps, but only because it’s the horse’s first 4*. He has Phillip in the irons, so this is likely negated.

Ride Time: 11:08 AM

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Boyd Martin (USA) and Tsetserleg: Little Tsetserleg always reminds me of Thomas the Train, because he’s always quietly chugging along, getting better and better without people really taking notice. Aside from a rider fall in the horse’s first CIC3* attempt, Tsetserleg has been steady all the way, clocking in a solid clear round at his first CCI3* at Bromont and coming within 3 seconds of optimum at the second at Fair Hill.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps, and only because it’s the horse’s first 4*. Like Z, he has Boyd in the irons, so this is not a huge concern.

Ride Time: 11:20 AM

Waylon Roberts and Kelecyn Cognac. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Waylon Roberts (CAN) and Kelecyn Cognac: This pair has run three CCI3* together and they average 8.67 seconds under optimum time in them. They were the fastest time of the day in two of those as well, and in four 3* runs in 2017 they made the time in three of them.

Potential Hiccups: Kelecyn Cognac is moving up a level and Waylon Roberts has only one 4* run under his belt. Still, these two are well prepared so the main question should be how fast they can actually get around.

Ride Time: 11:48 AM

Sharon White and Cooley On Show. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sharon White (USA) and Cooley On Show: This pair has 12 3* starts and 12 clear 3* cross country rounds. But after two stops in the horse’s first 4* at Kentucky last spring, they re-routed to the 4* at Luhmühlen, which was widely regarded as soft for the level. The difficulties of Kentucky are still an open question.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps. A questionable run here last year leaves unanswered questions that hopefully an extra year can resolve.

Ride Time: 12:04 PM

Will Coleman and Tight Lines. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Will Coleman (USA) and Tight Lines:  Tight Lines has been incredibly consistent at the three-star level, incurring no stops or falls thus far in his career. However, he incurred two stops last spring at Kentucky when he stepped up to the 4* level after less than a year at the 3* level. With another year under his belt, this Thoroughbred should be more of his rock and roll self. He’s made the time at both of the CCI3* he’s completed.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps. This is only Tight Lines second 4* start and another year at 3* should only have helped this horse.

Ride Time: 1:12 PM

Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Marilyn Little (USA) and RF Scandalous:  Marilyn and RF Scandalous had a very consistent record at this level until just after their first 4* completion at Luhmühlen, running into trouble with a rider fall at the AECs followed by a runout at the Ocala Jockey Club CIC3*. They appear to have moved past the trouble with two clear runs in 2018 at the CIC3* level. However, Kentucky will be their first big CCI4* test, as Luhmühlen last summer was considered soft for the level.

Potential Hiccups:  Time penalties, rider injuries, and fitness. Marilyn will be looking to put the 2017 issues behind her in an otherwise spotless record for this mare, though Marilyn is still battling a foot injury sustained at the Ocala Jockey Club in November. Additionally, Marilyn is based in Wellington, Florida for the spring, and has run a bit slowly at the spring CIC3*. Kentucky will be a true test of whether her fitness regimen is sufficient for RF Scandalous. This pair will also be trying to beat the clock, as the fastest time they have achieved at a CCI3* is 12 seconds over optimum, and at Luhmühlen last summer they were 17 seconds over optimum time.

Ride Time: 1:16 PM

Erin Sylvester and Paddy the Caddy. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Erin Sylvester (USA) and Paddy the Caddy: These two have been very consistent at the 3* level and the Advanced level, which they often choose to run instead. They haven’t had an issue on the cross country since summer of 2016, they’ve had eleven consecutive clear runs, and they’ve made the time and been 8 seconds over in their two CCI3* starts.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps. This is Paddy the Caddy’s first 4* start.

Ride Time: 1:24 PM

Caroline Martin and The Apprentice. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Caroline Martin (USA) and The Apprentice:  Separately these two have quite a bit of combined experience and The Apprentice himself has started two 4* and finished one with his previous rider Buck Davidson. They came out with an absolute bang in their first start together at 3*, winning Carolina on their dressage score before running clear around another two CIC3*, adding only a total of four seconds of time penalties. But they ran into trouble at the difficult Bramham CCI3*, incurring a stop, then The Apprentice didn’t make another international start until 2018.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps and injuries. This is only Caroline’s third attempt at a CCI4* cross country run, although her second should be earlier in the day on her Kentucky mount from last year, Spring Easy. The Apprentice only has a 50% clear rate in two runs at these levels. Caroline is also riding with an injured foot, incurred at Carolina from a fall on another mount.

Ride Time: 1:48 PM

Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Master Class:  This horse has a better cross-country record than his stablemate, but it’s also sparser. In nine CIC3* cross-country starts, this horse has been clear in seven of them, and was no more than 3 seconds over optimum at five of them. He was clear at his only CCI3* run, but had time. A clear run is in his reach but he’s green at the level.

Potential Hiccups: Consistency over the jumps and fitness. His last international run included a stop, but he has run clear at the national level this spring. He last ran a CCI in the fall of 2014 though, then ran once in early 2016 before another prolonged absence until 2017. This 4* has been a long time coming for this horse, and it doesn’t help that England has had a terribly wet spring.

Ride Time: 1:56 PM