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The sun (and the corresponding heat) poked back out today to dry out the Kentucky Bluegrass, and riders competing at the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds were treated to much more pleasant conditions as competition continued into its second day. The schedule here is always a marvel of organization: you’ve got well over 1000 riders who entered and nearly just as many to organize into ride times, accounting for riders with multiple horses across divisions while you’re at it. You’ve got every recognized division running concurrently, and while you’re blessed to have a large amount of space at Kentucky Horse Park, you still have to sort out who’s going where and when. Suffice it to say, the hard-working organizers here in Kentucky (and the officials, grooms, volunteers — everyone who makes this traveling circus run smoothly) deserve a big hats off — and probably a lot of coffee, too.
We were treated to some cross country and some dressage today as the Intermediate and Preliminary divisions tackled Derek di Grazia’s cross country track while the Advanced and Training level competitors took their turns in the sandbox. As is to be expected, particularly at the championship level, this week will most certainly not be a dressage show and that concept was driven home today as a few divisions now have new leaders. Let’s check in with the division leaders after day two’s action:
$60,000 Adequan® USEA Advanced Final
Boyd Martin brings forward the Long Island T Syndicate’s Long Island T (Ludwig von Bayern – Highlight, by Heraldik xx), a 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding, as well as Christine Turner’s On Cue in the Advanced Championship, and it’ll be “Ludwig” who takes the overnight lead on a score of 24.1. Ludwig was tentatively slated to go to Germany for the Luhmühlen CCI5* in June, but Boyd said he elected to have the gelding stay home and work on regaining some lost confidence after a parting of ways at Kentucky in April. “I had a crash here at Kentucky and then he ran pretty well at Jersey (Fresh in May), but was still a bit rattled,” Boyd said. “So I actually made it quite easy for him for sort of six weeks in his preparation just did a nice, easy Prelim horse trial just a couple days after I got back from Tokyo. He’s a horse that thrives on confidence. I’ve got to do a masterful job.”
But today was an excellent way to start things off, Boyd says, and Ludwig’s experience is really beginning to show as the tests get more technical. “He’s such a seasoned experienced campaigner now that he can get through the tough tricky technical tests of the Advanced level without a mistake,” Boyd said. “He was really really good. I was thrilled with him.”
The Advanced cross country track, designed by longtime Kentucky five-star and Tokyo Olympic designer Derek di Grazia, will feature a few questions that will look familiar to followers of the April five-star. “I feel Derek di Grazia has built a solid track,” Boyd said. “He’s used a number of the iconic Kentucky five-star fences — the coffin and the mounds and the Land Rover water — and to me it’s a good, forward-riding looking course with spectacular footing.”
Second in the Advanced final is local rider Allie Knowles with Katherine O’Brien’s Business Class (Harlequin du Carel – Moxella, by Quick Star), an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding who most recently finished 15th in the CCI4*-L at Jersey Fresh earlier this year. They will be right on Boyd’s heels on a dressage mark of 24.6 — and if today’s tracks were any indication, we can anticipate the time being a determining factor for who will come out on top at the end of the day tomorrow.
Also notching a score under 25 with a 24.7 and third overnight are Buck Davison with another Katherine O’Brien ride in Carlevo (Eurocommerce Caresino – Ramatuelle, by Levernois), a 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding who finished 17th in his CCI5* debut at Kentucky this spring.
USEA Intermediate Championship
Holding on to their dressage lead and turning in one of just four clear rounds inside the time in the USEA Intermediate Championship will be Leslie Law and Steve Brown’s Lady Chatterley (Connor 48 – Jucy, by Mytens xx), a 10-year-old Holsteiner mare. The reigning USEA Mare of the Year absolutely breathed in the cross country today, never looking hurried or even like she needed to try very hard, quite honestly.
“She went great today,” Leslie commented. “She took it all in her stride, quite honestly, so that was really rewarding. She felt very, very honest and really on.”
Lady Chatterley was originally ridden by Leslie’s wife and fellow competitor Lesley Grant-Law, who brought the mare up from Training level on before handing the reins to Leslie nearly bang on two years ago. “I started riding her because she does have a little bit of a mind of her own,” Leslie said. “We had a few mixed results in the beginning. She got pretty consistent towards the end of last year. And then this year she’s been extremely consistent and she’s had great results.”
One thing the Laws identified that may have been affecting Lady Chatterley’s performance and comfort was some discomfort when she would come in season. “That might have been making her feel uncomfortable on some days when she went out on cross country. We’ve probably got that better managed now and perhaps the horse is feeling consistently well all the time, so I think that might be a big thing.”
There was one Mandatory Retirement in the Intermediate when Allison Springer and Vandyke fell at fence 18, but both horse and rider appeared to be uninjured.
Bates USEA Preliminary Amateur Championship
Arden Wildasin will find herself in a familiar position as she heads into tomorrow’s Preliminary show jumping in the overnight lead with Sarah Wildasin’s Southern Sun (Boherdeal Clover – Birdhill Lady, by Welcome Diamond), an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. She’ll only have a bit of time in hand for tomorrow’s finale as she will take a score of 24.2 overnight, just 1.4 penalties ahead of second place. Two years ago, Arden was first and second heading into show jumping; this year she’ll be in first and fourth after delivering some quick and clear cross country rides today.
“From being here two years ago with him to this year’s competition, he was worth his weight in gold for running around that,” Arden reflected. “So I was thrilled with him.” “Sunny” can be a bit on the looky side, particularly in show jumping, but Arden says he was very game today. “He is a spooky horse. But you have to know that and give him the confidence. He’ll jump, he’ll try his heart out. He’s definitely gotten more mature — I didn’t ride so well to some of the single fences, but he was like ‘dude, I got it!’, and that gave me confidence.”
There was one Mandatory Retirement in this division when Camryn Holcomb and Quite Breit fell at fence 12 — they could both later be seen walking off the course together.
Bates USEA Preliminary Rider Championship
Illinois-based Fiona Cotter and her own Miltown Malbay (Derg Showtime – Licknaun Rangef), an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding with whom she’s been partnered since 2018, will lead the Preliminary Rider Championship on a score of 32.1. They won their last outing at River Glen, which was also their first FEI start since 2019, adding just some time across the country to their dressage mark in the CCI2*-S.
Bates USEA Preliminary Horse Championship
Retaining their lead in the Preliminary Horse Championship will be another Lexington-based rider, Liz Halliday-Sharp and Ocala Horse Properties’ Shanroe Cooley (Dallas VDL – Shanroe Sapphire), a 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding who’s proven himself to have quite the knack for his job with a strong run of top placings in recent months.
“Today I sort of set out and I was a little bit slower than I planned early on, and then I thought today is not the day to have time,” Liz said after her rider. “Because I’ve had the odd little time faults on him, for obvious reasons as he’s a young horse. He’s just a brilliant horse, very brave. Probably the only areas that sometimes are quite perfect yet in his work — he’s just such a big horse so sometimes the adjustability isn’t quite where I need it to be, but that’s to be expected to be expected at six. He’s green still. But now he just always wants to do the job and he does try very hard.”
Bates USEA Preliminary Junior/Young Rider Championship
You might recognize the Junior/Young Rider Preliminary leader as a former Jon Holling ride in DHI Zatopek B (Lando – Scaramouche B, by Carlino), who is 17 years young and has become quite the accomplished schoolmaster at the level. He and Texas-based Vienna Allport looked keen and quick today, turning in a double clear effort to move up from fourth place to take the lead on a two-phase score of 28.3. Vienna began riding “Zak” in 2020 and has since stepped up to the Preliminary level, winning their most recent outing in July at Chatt Hills in Georgia.
“I’d walked the course and it was pretty difficult,” Vienna said. “I was really excited. I kind of went out of the start box a little bit late, so I had to make up on the first minute of the time, but he was really good. All the combinations rode really well — he’s perfect. But towards the end, I had to really make sure to go forward to make the time.”
“I got Zatopek last February,” she said of the Dutch Warmblood gelding. “So I haven’t had him for very long. I’ve only ever gone Training with my old horse and I got him and moved up to Preliminary in February in Florida. He had gone all the way up through Advanced with Jon Holling, and he’s really amazing. I’m starting to really figure him out. He’s always an amazing cross country horse. So I just had to get out there and do what we normally do, kind of forget about the leaderboard. He’s 17, so he’s kind of sometimes a little bit of a grumpy old man! But usually he’s sweet. He likes to cuddle.”
Vetoquinol USEA Open Modified Championship
Area IV’s Julie Wolfert, who’s well-known and much-loved in Kansas City (and beyond) with a thriving program, leads the way in the Vetoquinol USEA Open Modified Championship, a division that makes its debut at AEC this year, on a two-day score of 25.2. The five-year-old off-track Thoroughbred Namibia (Tizway – Kitty Tracks) is one Julie found in Florida three years ago. Julie’s enjoyed a few upper-level horses through her career — notably, she was named to the USEF Developing Riders/Eventing 25 list in 2014 with the late Buenos Aires — but she’s not had a superstar in her string for a few years. Could “Namib” be one to step into those big shoes?
Namibia did step up to the Preliminary level this year, in fact winning his last outing before this week at Catalpa Corner in July, but Julie says she’s enjoying spending some additional time at the Modified level as a confidence-building step filling the yawning gap between the Training and Preliminary levels.
“He’s a really cool guy and dressage is definitely his best of the three phases, which is a little uncharacteristic for a Thoroughbred, but I’ll take it!” Julie said. “He just has always been naturally forward and he’s always loved contact, where you can really put your leg on to hand and he’s very workmanlike as well. I was very fortunate that he’s not one of those Thoroughbreds that gets very anxious. He’s a little spooky, but he’s not anxious where he gets really tight in his trot work. He’s always very relaxed for that, he’s almost a kick ride.”
This is the first year that the Modified level — not a required level to move up to Preliminary but instituted as a stepping stone should it be warranted — at the AEC, and Julie says she’s personally a big fan of the level. “I just I love the level, because I feel like there’s a huge gap between Training and Prelim. This is just a nice little step up where I don’t feel like you’re overfacing the horses too much, but they still get a lot of technical questions that are offered. So that way we get very confident for the next level.”
USEA Training Amateur Championship
The Training level championships also got underway today, and Lauren Nunn and her own HSH First Impression, a six-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, are in early charge of the USEA Training Amateur Championship on a score of 26.7 following dressage. This pair finished sixth at the Modified level as their last prep for AEC at Cobblestone Farm over July 4th weekend.
USEA Training Horse Championship
The USEA Training Horse Championship 2021 will be led overnight by Lauren Lambert and Elizabeth Rader’s Biscotti (Benidetto – Hey Nurse), a 9-year-old Rheinland Pfalz-Szar gelding who stepped up to Training level last year. Lauren took the reins on Biscotti this spring, and they’ve since won two out of their three starts together.
USEA Training Jr. Championship
Another of our California rider, Shelby Murray, won the dressage in the USEA Training Jr. Championship, earning a 22.0 aboard Reverie GWF (Rotspon – Chatari), a 9-year-old Oldenburg mare originally piloted by Erin Kellerhouse. Shelby and Reverie GWF began their partnership last year and have since been on an absolute tear: they’ve won six out of their nine starts together, including their most recent run in the Training Three-Day at Rebecca Farm.
USEA Training Rider Championship
Closing the day in the Training divisions and taking the overnight lead in the USEA Training Rider Championship will be Area III rider Lauren Alexander and the 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Excel Star Over the Moon (Pollux de Muze Z – Ordell), who was originally sourced and campaigned by Courtney Cooper. This pair is also coming in hot off of a win in their final prep, taking the blue at Stable View and winning the Area III Training Level Championship.
Excel Star Over the Moon would be one with a few opinions of his own, and Lauren says she’s been able to work with him to come up with a good warm-up routine to keep him focused. “I’ve come up with a pretty good plan for him. When I walk him, he thinks he’s done, so I have to make sure I give myself enough time to get his attention back. So I don’t he doesn’t get a lot of walk breaks in the final minutes of our warm-up. He just has to trot and be focused on his job, or he thinks he’s done and it’s kind of hard to get him back on task.”
“I was really proud of him for going in there, it’s a pretty intimidating atmosphere,” Lauren commented. “I feel like we did the best we could do for where we’re at in our training. And so I was pretty happy with him. I was really proud of both of our canter transitions. It’s something we’ve been working on. He’s really big horse, so it’s hard to get him connected in those transitions and they’re kind of coming out of the corner on the straight. And so I was really proud of both of those and then also his medium canters are kind of his highlight because he’s such a big moving horse and can really show off his canter lengthenings.”
After the Area III championships in June, Lauren let the gelding have a lighter July and used the Stable View Eventing Academy earlier this month as an easy final prep. “I felt like we were really ready about six weeks ago,” she said. “So I kind of just let him kind of cruise through the last few weeks and kind of ramped it back up just in the last three weeks because I didn’t want to overdo anything with him leading up to it.”
We’ll be back tomorrow with live updates from the Advanced cross country, and I’ll also be popping in on Friday to do live updates from the live stream again for anyone who’d like to follow along. AEC is such a wonderful opportunity to get to know riders competing at all levels, so if you have a story we should know about you can tip me by emailing [email protected]. We’re also teaming up with Kentucky Performance Products to give away some buckets full of goodies — this is a nomination contest and you can learn more about how to enter during AEC week here.
Many thanks to official show photographer Shannon Brinkman for the gallery from today’s action! Don’t forget to order your photos from the awesome SBP team on site this weekend – you can find out more here.
And last but certainly not least, enjoy a sprinkling of Instagram posts from around the Kentucky Horse Park on day two at #AEC2021!