For those of us in the crowd who cannot do math in our heads (ahem, me) the last few show jumping rounds of the $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing Festival at Bruce’s Field, presented by Taylor Harris Insurance Services, made the leaderboard a little murky. The magic figure eight ball of eventing could’ve read “reply hazy, try again.” For all the mathematicians in the room, it was a quick reshuffling of the final order.
Riding earlier in the second group, fifth-placed Liz Halliday-Sharp already had two down with former winner Deniro Z. Phillip Dutton, who went fifth from the end, bettered his odds aboard Z with a double clear round which pushed him to the top five. Fourth-placed Buck Davidson saw four come down for Carlevo, dropping him from the hunt. All looked well for Miks Master C, a newer ride for Liz Halliday-Sharp, but Liz tactfully rode to control the horse’s massive stride and ended up two seconds over the time.
Boyd Martin then only had to beat himself, as he already delivered a faultless round with Fedarman B, but Tsetserleg saw two rails drop.
Then finally, the crowd let out a collective groan when the pole above the water tray toppled for dressage winners Doug Payne and Starr Witness. Fortunately, Doug has an engineering degree, so once he finished within the time he knew he had kept himself in the leading position.
“She’s just getting a lot more comfortable at the level, and clearly stronger every day through what would have been more difficult aspects of the course in the past. She was very, very good through the whole triple bar to the triple line. Got a little unlucky, I think, with my rail, but it’s all good,” he said.
Doug is primarily an event rider, but has spent increasing amounts of time in the pure show jumping world. “The level of carefulness and scope is certainly different, but the margin for error at the FEI levels jumping is very, very small. Honestly, it’d be the same on a horse after a long cross country, the margin is quite small. Getting practice and being more comfortable, both in a charged environment with a lot on the line, and certainly the consequences of mistakes when they’re bigger is a little bit greater, so there’s just pressure to make yourself get better, and you can’t help but get better if you’re in the ring a bunch. We’re lucky enough that, over the winter, I was showing probably nine horses at jumper shows.”
The 12-year-old KWPN mare (Chello III VDL – Carmen, by Veneur), who is owned by Laurie McRee, Catherine Winter and Doug Payne, now sits on 23.9 points ahead of the final phase.
Two-time GPE winner Liz Halliday-Sharp will be our penultimate rider tomorrow, sitting in second place with Debbie Palmer and Ocala Horse Properties’ 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Mighty Magic – Qui Luma CBF, by Flyinge Quite Easy 958).
“He’s just got this giant stride, and actually I a little bit rode the horse that I used to have, and he’s so much more trained and polite now. He used to be, if I’d let him loose early on, he would just bucked off with me. Actually, I added too much into fence 2, when I could have just gone 1 to 2, and that would have taken care of my time, but I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to let him loose here because then I’ll be screwed.’ But actually, I should just ride the horse I have now because he’s actually wonderfully polite, much more adjustable and just a very different horse,” Liz said.
Her two-phase score of 24.6 give Doug just one second of breathing room on tomorrow’s cross country, and there’s no way she’ll let him have the win easily.
Liz has got not one, but two in the top five. The Monster Partnership’s Cooley Quicksilver laid down a classy clear to keep the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Womanizer – Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond) on 27.9
They are joined in the top three by the event’s most recent winners, Boyd Martin and Fedarman B, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Eurocommerce Washington – Paulien B, by Fedor) owned by the Annie Goodwin Syndicate. This pair remain on their dressage score of 25.6.
“Yeah he’s a legend, mate. I want to touch some wood, but he’s never had a pole down in a show yet, he’s a phenomenal jumper. Thrilled to be back here in Aiken in front of all of Annie’s family and friends and the syndicate,” Boyd said.
Phillip Dutton, who was awarded the key to the city of Aiken in 2020, holds fourth place with his Tokyo and World Equestrian Games partner Z. The 15-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Asca Z – Bellabouche, by Babouche VH Gehucht Z), owned by Evie Dutton, Ann Jones, Suzanne Lacy, Caroline Moran, Tom Tierney, Patricia Vos and David Vos, are on 26.3 — just six seconds away from our leader.
Riding for Jennifer Mosing and Sterling Silver Stables, Will Faudree jumped from 12th to 6th with a clear round after this influential phase aboard Pfun, a 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tadmus – Celerina, by Cento).
Colleen Loach has leaned into pure show jumping in the last year, and her Grand Prix practice paid off today after FE Golden Eye breezed around Michel Vaillancourt’s track. For her efforts, she was awarded the Richard Picken Style Award. The 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Goldfever 3 – Cascade, by Contendro I), who is owned by Peter Barry, Amanda Bernhard and Colleen, sits seventh on 28.6.
“Last summer when I ended up not going to the WEG, there were a bunch of show jumping shows around in Ontario and I didn’t really want to event him, so I started doing some smaller Grand Prix, and he actually won a few of them. It’s great practice, great education as an event rider,” she said. “[The atmosphere] is pretty similar — maybe even a bit more nerve wracking. We did our first 1.50m a few weeks ago, and it looked quite large walking the course I must admit.”
Of course, jumping an Advanced show jumping track must feel smaller in comparison, but as Colleen says, “you still have to ride well.”
Running under USEF rules meant that any competitors who had five or more rails faced compulsory retirement and will not be permitted to continue. Three pairs saw their weekend end under the rule: Colleen Rutledge & Covert Rights, Dan Kreitl & Carmango, and Buck Davidson & Erroll Gobey.
The 29 remaining entries face Sir Mark Phillip’s cross country test tomorrow. Keep your eyes peeled for a guided tour with EN tomorrow. The first horse leaves the start box at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, and you can watch it all on Horse & Country.