EN Makes Their Picks for the MARS Maryland 5 Star

2022 Maryland 5 Star winners Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s time for Team EN to put on their collective fangirl hats and decide who’s most likely to take the win (and a few other arbitrary titles) this week at the MARS Maryland 5 Star, presented by Brown Advisory.

MARS Maryland 5 Star: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream] [Tickets] [5* Form Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Maryland 5 Star is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products.

Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise. Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Overall Winner: Technically, mine could fall into three categories — I think this week goes to the indomitable Piggy March, who rides her debutant Brookfield Cavalier Cruise and represents Great Britain. Though she rode him briefly as a young horse, 2023 is technically Piggy’s first ‘proper’ season on the gelding, who was initially produced by Harry Meade, then went to Tom McEwen for 2022. Both Piggy and Tom are steadfast members of Team Brookfield, and it’s not at all unusual for them to swap the yard’s horses between one another and work collaboratively to ensure each horse ends up with its perfect match, and so while a new partnership like this might be a mark against many horses and riders at a five-star, in this case, you can rest assured that there’s a wealth of knowledge, experience, and empathy behind it all. And, of course, results: in 13 FEI starts, the gelding has nine top-ten finishes, and has won at two-, three-, and four-star level. He’s scored in the 20s in 12 of those 13 starts, has never had a cross-country jumping penalty in any of them, and has never had more than one rail — and those are reasonably uncommon, too. He wouldn’t necessarily be the speediest horse in the world, though he’s not at all what I’d call slow, and if Maryland’s time continues to be as gettable as it has been, that’ll be another boon to this exciting young talent and his much-loved rider. Go get ’em, Piglet.

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair): I’m a huge fan of Phillip Dutton‘s game, gutsy Azure, who I first fell for when she went round the Seven-Year-Old World Championships with Ireland’s Esib Power aboard. They were also excellent at Aachen in 2021, where they finished in the top ten, and after that, Phillip took over the ride. They’ve spent the last eighteen months getting to know one another and this season, that’s paying dividends, with a top-ten finish in the CCI4*-S at Kentucky, another in the CCI4*-S at Stable View, and a win in the CCI4*-L at Bromont under their belts. I think the mare has every chance of impressing enormously on her five-star debut this week, even if her first-phase scores aren’t quite ready to fend off the big guns yet.

Top International Pair: Other than Piggy and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise, of course, I think it’s got to be New Zealand’s Monica Spencer and Artist, who have all the chops to lead the first phase and have just had a bit of bad luck in the other two, but this week, I think, is the one in which all three phases come together at the right time. Plus, as an ex-racehorse lover, I can’t not put this incredibly cool horse up as one of my picks!

Biggest Climber: It’s a hard one to call, this, because Maryland’s time isn’t super influential – although perhaps we’ll see that change this week. If it does end up being hard to get, it’s Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue — the fastest pair at Badminton this spring and the Tokyo Olympics — who’ll take this honour. If, though, showjumping ends up being the more influential of the two, I’m handing this one to Arielle Aharoni and Dutch Times, who will start the week on a mid-to-high 30s mark and then deliver two smart clears. This is their first five-star, and they’re not, like insanely quick, but they are very consistent now after a string of learning experiences, and even though they retired after activating a frangible device at a four-star last month, I’m not holding that against them. Their showjumping, too, needs mentioning: they haven’t had a rail in over three years.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Overall Winner:
For me – but not quite according the EquiRatings stats – Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent are gunning for the win here this week. EquiRatings have them down as second favorite behind Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise, but I tend to go with a healthy mix of stats and feels, and my feels are telling me that this exceptional mare will be adding a 5* win to her accolades by the time all’s said and done.

She comes with an educational run ‘round Luhmuhlen under her girth, with Oliver crediting the experience she gained there for her faultless performance at Blenheim, where she won the 4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds. She finished on her impressive 24.7 dressage score that weekend, the only competitor to keep a clean sheet across the three phases. From 16 FEI starts, she’s been on the podium nine times, only finishing outside the top 7 on three occasions. That’s some enviable form and a sure sign that there are big things to come for this young mare, sooner rather than later if my feels are anything to go by. Oliver’s no stranger to the Maryland podium already, having been runner-up with Cooley Masterclass in 2021 and then third last year with As Is. It goes without saying that he’ll be hoping to add Champion to that list this year.

Cooley Rosalent took to the skies for the first time when she set out on her journey from the UK to Maryland, and I’ve got a feeling she’ll make the return trip as a 5* winner.

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair):
I’m sticking with the British contingent and touting Piggy March’s Brookfield Cavalier Cruise for top rookie. Obviously a Badminton and Burghley winner is anything but a rookie, but Piggy topped the podium at the two British 5*s with her veteran super mare Vanir Kamira, and comes to Maryland with the talented young gelding for his first go at the level. And, really, who better to steer a first-timer ‘round a top-level track?

They won on their first time out together, then followed up with a second place in the 4*-L at Bramham, where they finished on their dressage score of 30.8, the horse’s only first phase score outside the 20s in his thirteen FEI runs. And his impressive form isn’t limited to between the white boards. He’s had a clean sweep across the country and is pretty speedy too. Follow that up with careful show jumping and you have the makings of an excellent 5* finish, which I’m pretty sure will come this weekend.

Top International Pair:
Well I’ve kinda wrapped this category up with my first two picks, but I’m going to shout out Monica Spencer and Artist here. EquiRatings have them down for a healthy chance of a top-3 finish and my feels are telling me that the stats are probably right!

With plenty of 4* experience – and success – under their girths in New Zealand, and having a World Championships team bronze medal to their name, they make their second 5* start looking for their first completion after unfortunately parting company on the cross country at Adelaide. That was surely just a blip though, and they’ll be ones to watch this week right from the off. They put down a dressage score of 24 at Adelaide, and a 25.6 in Pratoni, and are rarely out of the 20s in the first phase at 4*. Their cross country form is just as impressive; bar the fall at Adelaide and a 20 on their first international run, there are zero jumping penalties on their record. Like many eventers, they’re often clear on the final day, sometimes not – whilst it must be frustrating for the riders, it’s a truth of the competition that makes it exciting to the end. We’ll have to see how they fare on Sunday, but this is a pair that’s on the up-and-up and it’ll be great to see them take their shot at Maryland.

Biggest Climber:
It’s not often I’ll let a team picks post go by without saying a little something about my favorite event horse of all time LCC Barnaby. I just love this gelding – partly because I had a pony called Barnaby, partly because he reminds me so much of my Barnaby (although we weren’t quite at the same level), but mostly because he’s just such a game guy and so much fun to watch.

A veteran of the sport at seventeen, with no fewer than twelve 5* starts in his eleven year eventing career, Barnaby’s a frequent flier and familiar face on the top-level circuit in the US and Britain. He had his career-best score at Marland last year, finishing just outside the top ten, and added another top 20 5* finish to his previous five at a particularly tough Badminton in the spring. It’s no secret that Barnaby does not come to events to do dressage, which stands him in good stead for a leaderboard climb when he gets to his favorite bit of the competition, although he did put down an PB of 30 in the 4*-S at Plantation Field a couple of weeks ago, so perhaps there is something to the adage that things get better with age. But Barnaby’s all about the cross country, and for me, there’s no better sight than an event horse who really and truly relishes his job, ears pricked, eyes on the flags, and loving every single second. So, whether he’s the biggest climber or not, I’m very much looking forward to enjoying watching this guy as he gallops along, and feeling very envious of Lillian Heard Wood for getting to ride him.

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht. Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Overall Winner:
So the Equiratings lot reckon Piggy March has the best shot at taking the title here this year, and Oliver Townend is hot on their heels with Cooley Rosalent on a 24% win chance. Indeed, Oliver’s previous form here includes a third last year on As Is, and a second 2021 with Cooley Master Class, so really, all he needs is a win to finish the job off nicely. BUT. While I am not denying that both Piggy and Oliver have incredibly good chances of taking the top spot, I am going to add a little bit of sentimentality into the mix, and back the legend that is Mr William Fox Pitt for the win. This would give him an incredible FIFTEENTH 5* title and although the record  for the most 5* wins is already his, it would be super cool to see him extend his lead over Michael Jung and add another title  to his already extensive list of accolades. 11 year old Grafennacht showed true grit  and determination on her 5* debut  at Badminton this Spring, and to my way of thinking, William would not be bothering to make the trip across the seas if he didn’t think this feisty little mare had a serious chance of hitting the jackpot this weekend. William is one of the greatest riders of all time, and a win here – 8 years after his last 5* win – and confirm his place in the history books once and for all…

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair):
Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Well, not that easy – this is a field littered with rookies, but for me, two in particular stand out.  Jacob Fletcher (husband of Cornelia Dorr-Fletcher if you need extra trivia) and Fabian for the US, and Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise who have made the trip from Blighty to contest their first run 5*. That in itself speaks volumes – there are closer 5*’s that Piggy could have chosen (Pau springs to mind, which is just a ferry, rather than a plane, ride away), so she must think that the horse has a reasonably good chance at pulling off a very good result indeed. As such, I am putting my money (or at least I would if was a gambling girl) on them to finish the best of the first timers. The Equiratings Predicition Centre certainly agrees – at last glance they had them top of the list, with a 29% win chance, and a massive 52% chance of a podium place. This is no doubt in part to the prowess and skill of Mrs March, herself a multiple 5* winner, but the recent form of ‘Fletcher’ certainly helps. He won the CCI3*-L at Blair Castle last year under Tom McEwan, – his first attempt at a 3*L. Piggy took over the reins this year, and together they have already pulled off a 2nd place at the horse’s first CCI4*-L at Bramham earlier this year. It is easy to see why Piggy has  made the trip across the pond to Maryland for his first 5*, and it’s not just to make up the numbers. The Paris Olympics are looming ever closer, and if Piggy and Fletcher can continue their recent form and add an impressive 5* debut to their ever growing list of achievements, it  will stand them in incredibly good stead as far as the selectors are concerned. Watch this space – these two are the next big thing. You heard it here first.

Top International Pair:
There’s a lorra, lorra International entries lining up here this weekend, and I have named 2 of them already here, but to save myself from sounding too repetitive, I am going to throw another name into the mix…that of Monica Spencer and Artist. Originating from the far and distant land that is New Zealand, Monica and ‘Max’ have been based in the US  for a couple of months now,  in preparation for Maryland. They burst onto the international scene last year when they made their team debut at the World Championships in Pratoni. There, they were seriously impressive in the first phase, scoring an impressive 25.6 and a speedy clear cross country saw them in the top 10 going into the show jumping. Sadly a few too many poles on the final day saw them drop back down that leader board, but  they will have no doubt been putting the work in to prevent that happening again, so they  have a serious chance of taking a place on the podium. I do love a Kiwi, and these two have the form to back up my choice….Admittedly, they have to surpass the likes of William and Piggy to earn the title of Top International Pair, but let’s face it. anything is possible when it comes to Eventing. Plus, this a seriously classy pair, so it’s not without the realms of possibility that they do just that.

Biggest Climber:
My instinct tells me to go with Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue, a pair renowned for shooting up the leader board after cross country. Badminton this year was a perfect example of this; lying 34th after dressage, they finished in eventual 3rd place, thanks to a fast spin across country – something that  has become somewhat expected of ‘Salty.’  However, the course at Maryland has not been one that is renowned for having a tricky time to get (though that could well change this year), so the speed that has allowed them to climb so high after cross country may not prove as powerful as it usually does. So instead, I shall put my money on the recently married Cornelia Dorr-Fletcher, who comes forward with her feisty little mare Daytona Beach 8. They finished 10th on their 5* debut at Burghley, back in 2022, despite lying waaaaay down the pack after dressage (50th, to be precise).  This was not all due to cross country prowess either – a sterling performance on the final day saw them climb another 6 places – so trust me on this, if anyone is capable of scooting up that scoreboard after dressage, it is these two. Admittedly, their second 5* run at Kentucky didn’t end quite so well, thanks to a pesky 20 penalties cross country. Still Daytona pulled a clear out of the bag on the final day – as is her usual style – so if they go double clear again here at Maryland, they will be guaranteed to fly up the leader board. Honest.

Zach Brandt and Direct Advance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Overall Winner: 
Because I love a good comeback story, I’m going to go wild here and pick dark horse Zach Brandt and Direct Advance. Only their third five-star together and their second attempt at Maryland, a win this weekend would be a true Cinderella story for the pair who retired on course last year. Zach and the 12-year-old gelding have been together since “Rosco” was four-years-old. They’ve developed a strong partnership over the last eight years, almost out of necessity, as Rosco is known to be a bit, ahem, spicy and hard to handle.

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair):
Let it be known, I’m Team OTTB all the way, so it should come as no surprise that I’m picking Mia Farley and Phelps as my Rookie pair. Their typical dressage score is in the low-30s and I’m pretty sure that the words “run-out” and “refusal” aren’t even in Phelps’ repertoire. This pair is typically pretty on-the-nose when it comes to hitting the optimum time, and typically come in with no time faults, even at their first ever CCI4*-L at Tryon. I think we’ll see the benefits of Phelps’ Thoroughbred heart coming in handy throughout the weekend.

Top International Pair:
How can you not choose William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht for this category? After the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare’s gritty performance on a less-than-ideal track at Badminton earlier this year, I’d be willing to bet that Graffenacht and WFP are going to outshine the US and international field. I’m always here for a pair with a great partnership. And, as it says in our form guide, Will refers to “Lillie” as “the reason he’s still eventing.” Clearly, these two have a great relationship that pulls them through when the going gets tough.

The one international contender that I think will be nipping at their coattails is Cooley Rosalent, as the horse has had a stellar season so far.

Biggest Climber:
I expect Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier to once again pull their hat trick of jumping up the leaderboard on the second and third day. Typically the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare scores in the high-20s and low to mid-30s in the dressage phase, which, of course, is still loads better than I could pull off. However, the day one leaders at Maryland have historically scored in the low to mid-20s.

Despite a usually tepid start on day one, “Cav” is a jumping machine. She maintained a record of no obstacle faults on cross country throughout the 2022 season and racked up a mere handful of time faults. It’s the same story for the show jumping phase; Cav went double clear on day three for the entire 2022 season.

While 2023 hasn’t been quite as fault-free as 2022 for this pair, I expect last year’s Blenheim to serve as the road map for this weekend in terms of their performance. Caroline and Cav jumped from ninth place after day one to wind up in third overall.

Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.


Overall Winner & Top International Pair:
I can never truly tell the size of William Fox-Pitt’s mounts, but I believe Grafennacht is a little(?) mare that will go far. The sweet “Lillie” seems to be a real favorite of William’s with a pretty clean record, and is due for her first big win! Only two seconds away from the win at Boekelo in 2021, the mare does tend to hold on to a bit of cross country time, which may be to their disadvantage. This is, however, her first time across the pond, so should the field here in the US be slow enough for her, I think they have a good chance of clinching the title.

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair):
Piggy March is on a roll right now, and I expect to see her continue rolling right up to the finish flags here at Maryland. Brookfield Cavalier Cruise has been nothing but flawless since Piggy has been in his saddle, with only two rails on the ground this year. Long formats seem to be his forte as well, as he hasn’t been over the cross country time in any as of yet. The pair won the 4*-S at Thoresby Park this spring against a pretty competitive field, and Piggy has racked up no less than three other 4* wins this year as well. As both Piggy and “Fletcher’s” first foray here in Maryland, I hope they leave with a solid record under their belt (and girth), and fully expect them to lay down another excellent score.

Biggest Climber:
Our Irish contingent here in Maryland are quite famous for their cross country prowess and speed, so we can all expect to see Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue shoot up the rankings come Saturday. Their dressage scores aren’t always star-studded, typically hovering around the mid-30’s, but this little grey is powered by a diesel engine out on the course. As the fastest of the day at both Badminton’s flooded grounds and the Tokyo Olympics, “Salty” leaves no turf unturned when he takes to the field. While this would be a disadvantage to my predicted winning pair, after hearing many riders last year sharing similar feedback on the course clocking a bit slow, I have heard a few grapevine whispers that said feedback has been addressed this year – which would only serve as an advantage to this speedy set.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Overall Winner: Doug Payne and Quantum Leap

I debated for a long while on who to put forward as my winner pick this weekend, and I’m going to go all USA here to pick Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. This is a horse who’s only gotten better with age, succeeding his stablemate and Olympic veteran gracefully and now taking his place as the top (event) horse in Doug’s barn.

I feel almost as if Quantum has flown fairly under the radar as he’s notched more 5* events. Save one green runout at his first Kentucky (2021), this horse is an all-out cross country machine, and he’s also proven he can get tantalizing close to the optimum time here at Maryland, with six seconds of time in 2022 and three seconds of time in 2021. Yes, the time here hasn’t historically been the toughest, but you can bet Ian Stark will have been rubbing his palms together as he built the 2023 track, and it remains to be seen whether this year will tell a different tale.

So all of that to say, I think this could be Doug and “baby Quantum’s” weekend to shine. It’s a bit of an “always the bridesmaid” story — top ten at Kentucky this year and Maryland last year, third and USEF National 5* champion at Kentucky in 2022 — and the door is wide open for this pair to finally claim a 5* victory, and one for the U.S.-breds to boot!

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair): Arielle Aharoni and Dutch Times

This is a pair who has seriously prepared for this step up to the 5* level. It’s quite frankly very rare, in my opinion, to see a pair take as much time as this one has to move up. And I get it: there’s a balance between mileage/experience and saving a horse’s legs for bigger things. But the move to 5* is no thing to sneeze at, and in my mind it’s better to be over-prepared than under.

Arielle Aharoni and Dutch Times have been competing at the Advanced and 4* level since 2019, completing 4*-Ls at Bromont, Morven Park, and Tryon (well, more than just completing — they were second in the 4*-L at Bromont this year and finished in the top 10 at Morven Park last fall), as well as a slew of serious 4*-S and Advanced tracks. Their time at the level didn’t come without its growing pains, but Arielle’s stuck with it — and she’s beginning to reap the rewards of time well spent. At Bromont, she earned a personal best dressage score of 32.9 and surprised even herself by moving up to the podium after stellar clear cross country.

Originally, Arielle’s goal was Kentucky next year, but she felt the systems were green for a debut this week instead. “If I want to do that [move up to 5*], I should be able to take all the straight routes and you know, not think about worrying,” she said at Bromont, noting that she’d gone out of the box with a plan to really test her and Dutch Times’ preparation.

My hat is off to you, Arielle, and I hope you smash it.

Top International Pair: Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise

This may be a 5* debut for Brookfield Cavalier Cruise, but if we know Piggy, we know this horse will be well set-up for a strong start to his top-level career this weekend. He’s got a stellar cross country record, finishing all six of his 4* starts without cross country jumping penalties and just a handful of single rails here and there. He’s got just one 4*-L under his belt, the hefty one at Bramham, where he finished second on his dressage mark. So while this will certainly be a step up, it’s likely to suit this pair’s efficient style across the country, ability to score well on the flat, and propensity to leave the poles in the cups.

Biggest Climber: Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue

Colorado Blue left Tokyo with a new fan club member (me, if that wasn’t obvious) after stepping in from the reserve role to seriously impress in his first championship. “Salty” is an all-out cross country machine (one irritating blip at Burghley notwithstanding) who can be counted on to climb on up those standings — case in point, his top-10 finish at Badminton after starting the weekend on a mid-pack 34.9. Full disclosure, I put Austin and Salty on my Eventing Manager team, so it’s safe to say I’m fully invested.

Cornelia Dorr and Daytona Beach 8. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.


Overall Winner: Doug Payne and Quantum Leap

It’ll be an interesting weekend to watch, with plenty of qualified partnerships running, but I’m going to pick Doug Payne and Quantum Leap for my Overall Winner pick.

Doug and Quantum know each other well, as Quantum has been in Doug’s barn since he’s been a yearling. This long-term relationship has served them well, with a remarkably clean cross country record, outside of an uncharacteristic penalty at their first 5*, and often helps them up towards the top of the leaderboard. While the duo has yet to see a 5* win, they’ve been close, finishing in the top ten at four of their five 5* starts, including winning the 2022 Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing Reserve National Championship presented by MARS Equestrian in Kentucky. This could be their weekend.

Top Rookie (Horse, Rider, or Pair): Arielle Aharoni and Dutch Times

I’m going with a Rookie pairing – this will be a 5* debut for both Arielle Aharoni and Dutch Times.

Arielle and Dutch have essentially grown up together, with Dutch joining the family as a weanling, when Arielle was only 8 years old. Over the years, they have seen fourteen 4* finishes, Grand Prix Show Jumping rounds, and a recent second place finish in the 4*L at Bromont. While this might be their 5* debut, this duo is certainly experienced, both in the Eventing and Show Jumping disciplines.

Top International Pair: William Fox Pitt and Grafennacht

William Fox Pitt’s experience and Grafennacht’s effort will make this an exciting pair to watch. Described as “a bloody good trier”, “Lillie’s” drive with William’s expertise makes this partnership one to leave an impression.

We’ve seen some dressage scores in the low 20s from them, and we can expect William to give a masterclass across the country. While we might see some faults in the show jumping ring from this pair, the experience and grit they bring with them gives them my pick.

Biggest Climber: Cornelia Fletcher and Daytona Beach 8

While we’ve heard about some trouble in managing Daytona’s dressage nerves, we’ve seen Cornelia Fletcher and Daytona Beach 8 shine in the jumping phases, often leading to an impressive climb up the board.

After their impressive leap from 50th after dressage to a 10th place finish at their 5* debut at Burghley in 2022, I’m keeping a close eye on this pair to see how they tackle the jumping phases over the weekend!

MARS Maryland 5 Star: [Website] [Entries, Schedule & Times] [Live Scores] [Live Stream (North America)] [Live Stream (Outside North America)] [Tickets] [5* Form Guide] [Digital Program] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Maryland 5 Star is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products.

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