Dramatic Land Rover Kentucky Cross Country Rearranges Both Leaderboards

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Shelby Allen.

The cross country gods certainly make sure they made up for lost time today, as a very dramatic cross country shuffled both the CCI5* and the CCI4*-S leaderboards. As the day ends, the top four in each division look completely different than they did yesterday. It will be Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, who sat fifth after dressage, to take over the top spot on the CCI5* board, stopping the clock two seconds over the time for a two-phase score of 27.3. Tamie Smith and EnVogue lead the CCI4*-S on a score of 35.0. More on the 4* shortly.

Ballaghmor Class has never finished outside the top five in five-star competition, and his performance this afternoon in the rain puts him well into position to ensure that streak continues tomorrow. After Oliver picked up 6.4 time penalties with his first ride, Cooley Master Class, he carved off some more seconds with “Thomas”, though a hairy moment at the Rolex Grand Slam and some slipping around cost some extra seconds. It was a round that we’ve come to anticipate from this pair, though, and their combined experience served them well to move them ahead of the rest of the field – though Oliver won’t have much room to breathe.

#LRK3DE Leading Cross-Country Ride – Oliver Townend on Ballaghmor Class

The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5* presented by Mars Equestrian reported a shift in the lead after today’s challenging cross-country run. It’s Great Britian’s Oliver Townend on Ballaghmor Class who will head into the final show jumping phase in the first-place position with only .8 penalties added to their dressage score. Boyd Martin (USA) and On Cue currently sit in second place, while Tim Price (NZL) holds onto the top three with Xavier Faer.Thank you to the USEF Network for the video coverage.

Posted by United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) on Saturday, April 24, 2021

Truth be told, Oliver came home a bit crestfallen at his rides today – he would’ve preferred more stylish, more smooth rides, but having lost a shoe early on with both Ballaghmor Class and Cooley Master Class (who added 6.4 time to drop into eighth place on a 30.5) forced him to modify his plans to just keep the horses feeling confident and on their feet.

“For me today was the toughest cross country course for a long long time at the five-star level,” Oliver said. “It’s right up there with the very toughest in the world…It’s my job to have the horses prepared and to be as prepared myself as possible…I cant see the Olympics being tougher than this. Even from a technicality pint of view I thought that’s as tough as you can get.”

“(I’m) still very emotional about how amazing they both are in terms of they both literally gave me their heart and soul today,” he reflected. “Cooley Master Class didn’t have a smooth trip at all, but every time I gave him a squeeze he put his head down and did what he could.”

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Sally Spickard.

With his shoes in tact, Oliver says Ballaghmor Class would likely have come home well inside the time, but the slipping caused by the loss prompted Oliver to do what he could to protect, finding straight lines to “go like a bat out of hell” wherever he could but otherwise just focusing on keeping his feet. It would prove to be enough for the lead, but he’d perhaps like to get those rides back to smooth them out.

“The amount of gear changes the (Ballaghmor Class) has done around there in comparison to most of the others and to still be close to the time for me makes him as special as he is,” Oliver continued. “I feel a bit sad for him because I’d love to be stylish and ride around as I want to ride, but it was rough and tumble and start and stop and just try and keep his feet.”

Boyd Martin and On Cue. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Hot on the leader’s tail is the top-placed U.S. rider, Boyd Martin with Christine Turner’s On Cue (Cabri D’Elle – On High, by Primitive Rising). This 15-year-old Anglo-European mare has a massive task today in her five-star debut but she ends the day as Boyd’s lone remaining ride after he parted ways with both Long Island T and Tsetserleg. She would also pick up just two seconds of time in a supremely impressive round that threw any and all predictions any of us made out the window (honestly, it’s rather fun when that happens) and will go into Sunday’s finale in second on a score of 27.8.

“I think riding this event for over a decade, this is one of the hardest cross country courses that I’ve seen designed here,” Boyd commented. “It’s a whole different ballgame if you go out there trying to make the time or if you’re just trying to get around.”

Not having the best of days with his other two rides and electing to scratch Luke 140 from the CCI4*-S after a rough tumble with Tsetserleg TSF (Luke is aimed at the CCI4*-L at Jersey Fresh next month as it is), Boyd’s still thrilled with the debut efforts of On Cue.

#LRK3DE Cross-Country with Boyd Martin and On Cue

A solid #LRK3DE cross-country round for Boyd Martin and On Cue, the closest of the American contingent to go double clear. They’ll carry a score of 28.2 into tomorrow’s show jumping final 🇺🇸Thank you to USEF Network for the videos!

Posted by United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) on Saturday, April 24, 2021

“She’s a lovely horse…got an awesome gallop, good jumper and this year she’s given me a great feeling in the prep events,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned watching guys like Tim (Price) and Oliver (Townend) is if you want to win you’ve got to have a crack at it – you cant save them, you cant take an option. In my opinion I’d rather fail trying to win it than just tippy-toeing away.”

This plan “sort of worked one time today but didn’t work the other two,” Boyd said with a wry laugh. “But that’s the sport and there’s no shame in going for it. The big ones like this, if I want to win this one day you got to throw caution to the wind and it’ll be what it’ll be.”

In fact you have to go down to eighth place to find a rail in hand, meaning tomorrow’s show jumping will certainly be an all-out nail biter.

Derek di Grazia’s track caused its fair share of problems (which might be an understatement), and the optimum time of 11 minutes on the nose proved difficult for all but three pairs in the field to manage. All four riders producing double clear efforts were overseas entries: Tim Price and Xavier Faer (28.2), Harry Meade and Superstition (29.6), and Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam (30.3 – 6th).

Tim Price and Xavier Faer. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Third placed overnight will be New Zealand’s Tim Price and Xavier Faer (Catherston Liberator – Faerie Dazzler, by Catherston Dazzler), who finished third here in 2019 and betters his two-phase score by 2.7 penalties. Xavier Faer, who is owned by his breeder Trisha Rickards as well as Tim and Nigella Hall, will stay on his dressage mark of 28.3 thanks to his double clear effort today and will be eager to put the show jumping pressure on the top two tomorrow. He’s a consistent show jumper with no rails predicted by Maggie Deatrick in EN’s Ultimate Form Guide, while Ballaghmor Class and On Cue each have slightly more rails on their record and each have one rail predicted tomorrow.

A fun note on Xavier Faer: he is related to Jonelle Price’s superstar Faerie Dianimo on the dam side – both horses were bred by Trisha Rickards.

Harry Meade and Superstition. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Perhaps the best story of the day has been Great Britain’s Harry Meade, who some may not have known before today has suffered a rash of fairly horrific injuries in recent years, among other troubles. Last fall, he suffered a head injury in a fall at Thorseby that left him contending with a severe concussion and resulting neural fatigue.

The incredible resilience and dedication of Harry has brought him back to the five-star level this weekend, and today’s double clear effort aboard the 12-year-old British Sport Horse Superstition (Satisfaction FRH – Cordalame) is the absolute icing on the cake.

Superstition, owned by Harry as well as Mandy Gray makes his five-star debut this weekend, but he’s got a couple of wins at the four-star level to his name and now builds on that experience with a gutsy performance all around the testing track. They’ll remain on their dressage mark of 29.6 to move from equal 17th (if that doesn’t show you the caliber of competition this weekend, I don’t know what will) into fourth tonight.

“He’s a game little horse and it’s his first five-star,” Harry said after his ride. “The theme of the course was big, bold, attacking, jumping, plenty of really decent jumps into water. He’s not had a great run out since we’ve had all our events canceled in England and the two he’s had he jumped really stickily into the water. So I just thought I’ve got to fill him with confidence and really just pump him up and he got jumping really well and felt super. The further he went, the more he grew in confidence and went out a boy and came home a man. Up on his minutes the whole way, he’s never gone this distance, never done a five-star.”

Harry says he could probably have gotten in 30 seconds under, but he elected to take the longer route at the Mighty Moguls at 26 and brought him home six seconds under the time. He calls Superstition a “worrier, very much an internalizer,” so he’s focused on keeping the gelding breathing and letting go in his warm-ups, aiming to keep his heart rate low so he goes out of the box with a fresh mind. The system clearly works, and Harry’s got himself a newly minted five-star horse on his string this weekend.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. Photo by Shelby Allen.

“What a phenomenal horse, isn’t he?” Liz Halliday-Sharp reflected after her ride aboard Ocala Horse Properties’ Deniro Z, who finishes the day as the second highest-placed U.S. horse, moving from eighth into fifth with 2.8 time penalties added and a two-phase score of 30.2. “He just keeps getting better and he fought for me the whole way. He was just 100% with me and I’m just over the moon with him.”

Knowing Deniro Z (Zapatero – Zonne-Trend, by French Buffett xx) as a big, bold and forward horse, Liz’s plans for the day didn’t change in the face of the oncoming rain. “That’s what this track wanted,” she said. “My plan was to make all the distances no matter what. I think this course rewards you just going in and attacking it.” Liz was looking for a strong finish from the 13-year-old KWPN gelding – “that’s kind of what we want is for them to come back a stronger five-star horse and I think he’s shown that so I’m thrilled.”

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Dressage leader Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous jumped a clear round but unfortunately picked up 71 seconds of time, electing to get home safe. Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, second-placed after dressage, had an unfortunate frangible pin activated at the Park Question coffin at 24, but, as Tamie said after, “he doesn’t know he had a frangible pin” – she’s all out thrilled with “Lexus'” efforts in his long-awaited five-star debut.

Thanks to the difficulty of the time – and the track, in general – those who jumped clear were rewarded with large jumps up the board. Notable among these move-ups are Jonelle Price and Grovine de Reve, who shot up from 20th into equal sixth place with Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam, who move up from 21st. Jonelle also earns the Biggest Mover award for jumping a whopping 34 places from 46th into 12th with the superstar Classic Moet, who remains on her dressage score of 35.2. Runner-ups for the Biggest Mover award goes to – drumroll – not one, but two of our all-star Rookies this weekend: our own Ema Klugman and Bendigo (61 to 31) and Emily Hamel and Corvett (56 to 26), who each had incredibly stellar debuts at the level and have a whole lot to be celebrating tonight.

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Shelby Allen.

In terms of completion and clear ratings, this course, with 61 total starters in the CCI5*, saw 45 pairs complete (73.8%), 40 of which were clear (65.6%). The four riders making the time made up 6.6% of the starters. Several high-profile pairs sadly came to grief at various points around the track, including early ninth-placed William Fox Pitt and Oratorio II.

A total of seven pairs were given a Mandatory Retirement for a horse fall; no serious injuries to horses or riders have been reported in either division: Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes, Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie, William Fox Pitt and Oratorio, Zoe Crawford and K.E.C. Zara, Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride and Favian, and Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois, and Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg. This is a big increase in the horse fall rate – we’ve had a total of seven horse falls at Kentucky since 2015. 11.5% of the starters were given Mandatory Retirements, six riders (9.8%) were eliminated for Rider Fall, one pair (1.6%) retired on course, and two (3.3%) were given a Technical Elimination for missing an element. You can view a few more stats from the day in our At A Glance here.

In terms of the horse falls, we saw three of them come at the Mighty Moguls, two logs on a related distance at fence 26. Tim Price and Boyd Martin commented in the press conference that the ground really fell away after the second log – and riders had to aim for a corner to the right on landing. Mike Pendleton, William Fox Pitt and Boyd Martin all had their falls here. Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride fell at fence 13, the Park Gates, which were clipped but the MIM clip was not activated in the fall. Zoe and K.E.C. Zara fell at the Triple Scoop at fence 22. Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes missed their spot to the second hedge of Pete’s Hollow at 17 and very nearly had a rotational fall. Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois seemed to peck on landing after jumping into the Rolex Grand Slam Challenge at fence 19.

Tamie Smith and En Vogue. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Tamie Smith Leads CCI4*-S

To say that the CCI4*-S rode more like a CCI5*-S or the CCI4*-S Olympics – take your pick – would be accurate considering the results of the cross country, which ran after the five-star this afternoon. The division was originally slated to run cross country first but was changed in light of the weather forecast.

Which means that the four-star riders got a good brunt of the weather, and a tricky and technical track didn’t help matters. The last out of the box, and after a not so successful run aboard her first ride, Danito, Tamie Smith laid down a round aboard Ruth Bley’s EnVogue that she said felt almost easy. Despite some time added (no one managed the optimum time of 6 minutes, 46 seconds), Tamie will take a leading score of 35.0 into tomorrow’s show jumping.

“It definitely rode very tough and big,” Tamie said. “On EnVogue, it was a blast. I was originally entered in the (five-star) and I decided to drop her down and do another four-star long instead. Obviously she just zipped around and was awesome and I was a little bit like, gosh I wish I would have kept her in (the five-star)! But he slow was is always the fast way.”

It was a big ask for EnVogue (Earl – Laurena, by Lauries Crusader), who also ran in the mud at Tryon last fall – and it’s that run that Tamie credits with helping the 16-year-old Hanoverian mare grow into herself and find some more confidence.

Alyssa Phillps and Oskar. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Tamie won’t have a rail in hand over second placed Alyssa Phillips and Oskar (Coriando – Nicole, by Marlo), who were one pair who actually looked to be having a bit of fun out there and were rewarded with a rocket jump all the way from 15th into second on a score of 37.9 and the fastest round of the day with 5.6 time penalties accumulated. Colleen Loach and Vermont, who were second after dressage, remain in the top three with a score of 41.8. Doug Payne and Starr Witness (42.1) as well as Liz Halliday-Sharp and the young talent Cooley Moonshine (42.5), equal third after dressage, also turned in excellent rounds with time to remain inside the top five.

Colleen Loach and Vermont. Photo by Shelby Allen.

“I’m so happy to be done with it!” Alyssa said after her ride. “He fought really hard for me. It’s the hardest course I personally have ridden. (Oskar) is not all that experienced at the level. He’s gone around a couple four-stars but this is the toughest he’s ever seen. He really fought for me at all those combinations. It wasn’t easy, it rode super hard. Jennie Brannigan, my trainer, gave me some words of wisdom out of the start box so I just rode aggressively and I didn’t pull.”

“You know your horse,” Jennie told Alyssa as she warmed up. Just keep kicking, she advised. “I couldn’t do it without her,” Alyssa said.

In total, 18 of the original 40 pairs were eliminated or opted to retire. Just 14 pairs came home clear of jumping penalties, making this one of the toughest CCI4*-S tracks we’ve seen in recent memory. Weather certainly played a factor, but the intensity of the track made for a stiffer challenge than what might have been seen elsewhere at the level. As the day progressed, it became clear that just a clear round would be sufficient to hold a placing or move up, and most pairs prioritized getting home over going fast.

We’ll see both the CCI4*-S and the CCI5* horses trot up tomorrow bright and early at 8 a.m. EST. Show jumping will then commence at 10:45 a.m. with the CCI4*-S jumping first in reverse order of standing. We’ll then start the CCI5* show jumping at 1:30 p.m. EST with the first group, followed by the top 20 beginning at 3 p.m., all in reverse order of standing.

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