It’s the last day of my preview mania, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Part III today is the CCI3* division, which is not quite as massive as the CCI2* division, but the numbers are still impressive. With 49 pairs entered, the competition will be fierce. As usual with Fair Hill, a lot of the combinations are using this weekend as a measure of their possible ability to tackle Rolex in the spring. Those who conquer the massive cross-country course and recover the next day are usually well placed, and those who don’t have the whole winter to stew over it. It’s not known as a three-and-a-half-star for nothing.
The horses are already on the grounds, and jogs are held later this afternoon. I now officially know more than I probably ever should about all of the 128 competitors and their horses, and I’m passing the reins to Jenni, who will be your reporter on the ground this weekend.
Nora Battig & Steppin’ Out: I’ve been quite impressed with Nora and her mare every time I’ve seen them out this year. They are new to the Advanced level, but they are lovely on the flat and good through the jumping phases. Fair Hill will be a great challenge for them, and they’re likely missing some experience in order to be really competitive, but they should have a good round nonetheless.
Susan BeeBee & Wolf: Wolf is one of those horses that walks by and you wonder if you can steal his mane late at night and clone him. Susan rides this incredible athlete this weekend in their second CCI3* this year, as they completed the Bromont CCI3* in 14th place. They were also 10th last year at this CCI2*, so they know the lay of the land. Wolf has all the talent in the world and the potential to be a real world beater; it’s just a matter of getting him to quietly put all the pieces together in one weekend.
Emily Beshear & River King: Emily got this horse last fall as a second string backup to her four-star horse Here’s To You, and she has improved his dressage quite a bit, and they are a great cross country pair. Unfortunately, this horse does well until the last day, and then he has a very hard time keeping the rails up. Emily is a total perfectionist, and I’m sure she will figure out a way to change their communication in show jumping, but I’m not sure it will be in time for Fair Hill.
Jessica Bortner-Harris & Win The War: If you could describe Bug in two words, it would be “all heart.” In this way, he represents the OTTB breed perfectly, and Jessica knows it. The relationship between this horse and rider is what pulls them through the weekend. While the flatwork doesn’t always pan out the way Jessica would like, Bug will happily lope through the jumping phases. As long as Jess can hang on when he launches into the air — and (ahem, Jess) aim for the skinny side of the corners this time — she’ll finish well.
Tim Bourke & Luckaun Quality: Tim’s had a great move up to the Advanced level with this horse, and the pair seems more than ready for this next challenge. Their dressage is certainly not something that Tim enjoys, but this big Irish bay gelding jumps around huge courses like it’s nothing. They will enjoy a nice move up the leaderboard after the jumping phases.
Jennie Brannigan & Cambalda: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If she’s not first, she’s second. Jennie and Ping have had a helluva year, with one thing after another coming to bite them in the butt. They bounced back with a brilliant finish in the competitive CIC3* at Plantation, and I expect to see a similar performance from them here. I think a win for these two would be well deserved!
Jan Byyny & Inmidair: Jan and JR have all the qualities to make it into the top five at the end of the weekend. They have the most experience together of almost any other combination, and they have all the ability in the world. JR is a freak of nature jumper, and — God willing, he doesn’t act silly on the first day — he can lay down a brilliant dressage test. This is my personal favorite pair to root for this weekend.
Kate Chadderton & Collection Pass: Cole is an incredibly careful, scopey jumper, and Kate clearly has an eye for the small bay Thoroughbred type. This pair began their Advanced career in earnest this year and have had several top placings at horse trials; they finished 11th at Cole’s first CCI3* at Bromont. While he is sometimes a little naughty in the dressage, he can make up for it by cruising around the jumping phases like he has springs attached to his legs.
Will Coleman & Conair: This stunning chestnut is a new ride for Will, as he just got him this summer from Rodney Powell in the UK. Joey is a beautiful mover and has quite enough scope for the level, and Will seems to think a lot of him. They’ve only had three competitions to get to know one another, but they seem to get along well. We will see if this weekend is when they put the pedal to the metal or if Will uses it as an educational run for bigger things in the future.
Courtney Cooper & Who’s A Star: After moving up to Advanced early this spring, Courtney and Tag had a great finish at Jersey Fresh CCI3*, finishing in third place with clean jumping efforts. Courtney is super proud of this homebred, but unfortunately since coming back from Bromont they have lost their mojo on cross country. They’ve had multiple problems and then were unfortunately amongst those who took a swim at Plantation in the CIC3*, so when Courtney competes this weekend, she’ll be looking to get her old confident horse back on the cross-country course.
Sally Cousins & Ideal Contini: Taz is Sally’s big-time horse, and he’s got all the athleticism to prove her right. They have the capability to score well on the flat, and Sally could jump a mule through a CCI3* double clean if she had to, so she’ll be doing that easily with Taz. I think she’s really hoping for a top-three finish this weekend, and if she can pull out the stops on the first day, we know she can turn and burn on the second and move up a few spots.
Sally Cousins & Tsunami III: Sally’s second ride, Sue, is distinctly less fond of the dressage but perfectly capable of jumping double clean from there on out. She usually benefits from the bigger events, as she can move up the leader board with ease after the first day. Sue is wonderfully experienced, as is Sally, and these two will be a good round to watch on cross-country day.
Buck Davidson & Park Trader: Kobe is one of Buck’s top horses, and although the pair had an unfortunate tumble at Burghley, Buck obviously feels confident enough in the horse’s abilities to take him directly to Fair Hill this weekend. Kobe is a brilliant jumper and can score well on the flat, but I think that he’ll stay just outside the top 10.
Buck Davidson & Petite Flower: Buck took this ride over from his student Caroline Martin earlier this year, and the mare has had the bare bones education at the Advanced level, with only one horse trials and one CIC3* on her record. She’s a wonderful mover capable of stunning the crowd on the flat, and she might be tiny but she can seriously jump. Unfortunately, she has a bit of an unpredictable naughty streak on cross country and is known for the occasional run out at big competitions.
Buck Davidson & The Apprentice: Dirk went with Buck to the Saumur CCI3* earlier this spring but was unfortunately eliminated due to an issue with jumping the wrong side of a flag. He’s come back from that just fine and run a few horse trials since then, placing well. They were fifth last year at Galway CCI3*, and seventh at the 2012 Bromont CCI3*. They have plenty of experience together at this level, and I expect a good performance from them.
Ellen Doughty & Sir Oberon: Ellen and Obie have had a spectacular season. Obie is an amazing jumper, and Ellen hopes to cruise around this course and qualify for a spring CCI4*. They are coming off a third-place finish at the Advanced AECs, and she will be thrilled with a solid performance in all three phases and a qualifying score. My money is on this pair to be well placed at the end of the weekend.
Phillip Dutton & William Penn: This horse is huge, and as I watched it at Plantation I was amazed that it’s canter fit in the dressage arena. I don’t think that he has the dressage scores to quite get in the top placings, but he’s perfectly capable of finishing the weekend in the top 20.
Phillip Dutton & Fernhill Fugitive: Yet another Fernhill horse to compete this weekend, this gelding is coming fresh off his win at Morven Park in the Advanced. This pair was also seventh at Bromont CC3* this spring and are poised to do well here this weekend.
Eliza Farren & Bantry Bays Dublin: This little Connemara cross does not relish his time in the dressage arena, but he was one of the few successful horses through the Plantation CIC3* water combination, so we know he can run cross country. This will be their first effort at this level, and Eliza will be happy with a nice clear round.
Werner Geven & Vandiver: Vandiver falls into the same category of horses that dislike the dressage phase, and he has a habit of finishing the cross country with a jumping penalty, so I’m sure Werner will be happy to get this horse across the finish line with a clean round on Saturday.
Werner Geven & Vilas County: Werner’s other mount for the weekend also has a hard time on the first day, but had a good round at Poplar CIC3* just recently and should be set up well for this weekend. This pair won’t be competitive, but they have the capabilities to get around just fine.
Katy Groesbeck & Oz The Tin Man: Katy and Oz were leading after the Advanced dressage at the AECs only to have an uncharacteristic blip on cross country. They were leading after cross country at Rebecca Farm CIC3* only to have more rails than usual on the third day and drop down a few notches. This pair is amazing, and they’ll be going to for the gold this weekend, ready to put all three phases together and kick some butt. I’d watch out for these two on the top of the leader board.
Sinead Halpin & Manoir De Carneville: Sinead and Tate really have nothing left to prove, and I bet they’ll be the pair to beat this weekend. They always score incredibly well in the dressage, and Tate barely puts in any effort to get around a CCI3*. Their weakest phase is show jumping, but Sinead has been working really hard all summer at jumper shows, and they have been jumping really clear lately. Unless somebody knocks them off their perch early in the game, you better watch out.
Helen Hayn & Aqua Tom: Helen and Tom are relatively new to the Advanced level and have only completed two this year, including a 28th place at the Plantation CIC3*. I’ve seen them briefly in warm ups this fall, and they have the rights stuff to get around, but their inexperience might show a little over this huge track on Saturday.
Libby Head & Sir Rockstar: Libby and Rocky are amazing over the jumps, and Rocky truly believes that he is a rockstar. However, he is also known for his antics in the dressage ring, so cross your fingers he doesn’t pull out his Lipizzaner moves and that he allows Libby to get through her first CCI3* as she deserves to do.
Lillian Heard & Share Option: Lillian and Whitey are great, and I consider them one of the most stylish pairs out there. They had a bit of an uncharacteristic bobble on cross country at Plantation, and Lillian just popped off after the water. They were fourth at Jersey Fresh CCI3* earlier this spring and can easily put together three good phases to be competitive this weekend.
Jon Holling & Zatopek B: This horse is really lovely, and Jon seems to really believe in him. I think he’s got all the makings of a top level horse, he just hasn’t been able to put them all together yet. He’s coming off a fourth-place finish at the AECs Advanced and has good results at the CIC3* and Advanced level all year, but now is his time to prove himself at the CCI3* level.
Jon Holling & Proper Timing: Jon’s second horse is newer for him, as this partnership just started last year. He’s a lovely horse and fully capable of putting in a nice dressage test that could very well be competitive here. He’s good on the cross country, but as this will be his first CCI3*, Jon might choose to not put the pedal to the metal. I think this will be a great educational experience for a nice horse for future.
Lauren Kieffer & Cosima: While Lauren had a rough go at Boekelo just a few days ago, she’s back in action this weekend with this beautiful mare. She’s had great results all year, placing fifth at Jersey Fresh CIC3*, third at Bromont CIC3* and winning the CIC2* at Richland. Last year, this pair was ninth in the CCI2*, so we know she can run in the mud. I have an inkling that Lauren will be ready to come back to the States and kick some butt this weekend, and Cosi might be her ticket to the front lines.
Caroline Martin & Titanium: Caroline has been enjoying the extra mileage at Advanced on Ty since she took the ride from her coach Buck last fall. Both of these athletes are well equipped to meet the challenge this weekend. They were fourth at the Bromont CIC3*, and this will be their first effort at the CCI3* level. Ty already knows his job, and it will be a great educational weekend for Caroline.
Rachel McDonough & Irish Rhythm: Rachel is fresh out of the Young Rider leagues and made a successful move up to Advanced this spring with this good jumping OTTB she brought up the levels. Riding for Canada, Rachel has some big dreams, and she wants this qualifying result badly. She won’t be competitive in the dressage phase, but this pair is known for their fast cross-country trips, and I don’t doubt they’ll make it through the weekend.
Robert Meyerhoff & Dunlavin’s Token: Bobby and Token completed this CCI3* last year in 18th place and certainly have enough experience at the level to get the job done. Token hasn’t been out since The Fork this April, so I’m afraid he’s bound to be a little rusty at the level.
Julie Norman & Consensus: This pair has not had a lot of experience at the level, but all three of their efforts at Advanced have been successful. With a second place and a win in their first two Advanced HTs, they seem to have a good partnership. This is their first effort at the CCI3* level, and Julie will be happy with a nice clear round to end the weekend.
Selena O’Hanlon & A First Romance: Selena seems to be suffering from some unlucky blips on cross country with this horse recently, and I hope that she’s got that all figured out for this weekend. I think that she won’t be quite competitive enough in the dressage, but if they get their ducks in a row, they will smoke the jumping phases together.
Selena O’Hanlon & Bellaney Rock: Selena and this big chestnut were fourth earlier this spring at the Bromont CCI3* and subsequently 12th at the competitive Richland CIC3*. They’ve been consistently tackling big courses all year and finishing in the upper echelons, and I don’t doubt that they can repeat that kind of performance here this weekend. This horse is a lovely type and lopes around the cross country like it’s nothing.
Doug Payne & Crown Talisman: Doug is really excited about this horse and rightly so. He’s a beautiful mover and a superb jumper, and Doug has taken his time getting everything just right. He just moved up to the Advanced level this summer, but he’s been getting better and better, finishing with a fourth at Plantation in the CIC3* and a second at the Morven Advanced Championships. I think this weekend just might be Tali’s time to shine, despite the fact that it will be his first effort at the CCI3* level.
Holly Payne & Madeline: Holly and Baby know each other inside out and, despite their small stature, can play with the big boys over these huge jumps, probably with their eyes closed. They won’t be able to catch those bigger moving horses on the first day, but if they smoke the cross country like I know they can, they should be able to move up quite a bit.
Beth Perkins & Sal Dali: This pair has been around Fair Hill a few times and even Rolex a few times, so they have enough experience to be able to finish the weekend in style. Beth has been in the saddle for longer than some of us have been alive and even competed at the 1974 World Games at the age of 18, where she finished sixth individually. While I don’t expect that these two will win the dressage, I think their combined experience should make this weekend go quite smoothly.
Katie Ruppel & Houdini: Katie’s had a wonderful season with this chestnut OTTB, placing fifth at Jersey Fresh CCI3*, second at Rebecca Farms CIC3* and fifth at the recent Richland Farms CIC3*. They’ve got the moves on the flat, the speed and honesty on cross country, and they have the ability to deliver a good show jumping round too. I expect them to be gunning for a competitive top 10 performance this weekend, and I think that’s not out of sight for these two.
Jimmie Schramm & Bellamy: One of my favorite pairs, Jimmie and Bells will be tackling their first CCI3* together this weekend, and as the pathfinders for the tough Plantation CIC3* a few weeks ago, they smoked the field, and I expect them to repeat that performance. Their dressage will put them in the mid range, but I expect their jump phases to propel them up a bit for a good finish on this incredible jumping horse.
Kim Severson & Fernhill Fearless: The combined talents of Kim on the flat and Sparky over jumps is enough to make anybody quake in their boots. I’ve never known any horse to have such an apt name as this one. Sparky eats cross country like cereal for breakfast and then prances home ready for more. I expect a top 10 finish from these two, but, you know, no pressure, Kim.
Caitlin Silliman & Remington XXV: Caitlin and Remi have really formed a bond recently, and after their wire-to-wire win of Jersey Fresh CCI2*, they’ve made the move up to Advanced in good form. While both of them separately have experience at the four-star level, this will be their first CCI3* together as a team. Caitlin is incredibly nice and a classy rider, and Remi can totally put together three nice phases to finish well.
Lizzie Snow & Coal Creek: In 2008, Devon won the Fair Hill CCI3* with the late Amy Tryon in the irons. This year he returns with Lizzie, who is one of the most stylish riders out there. While they did attempt this competition last year and retired on cross country, they have since done well at Bromont CCI3* in the spring. This pair can put in three nice phases and will be looking for their first clean CCI3* cross-country trip.
Kaitlin Spurlock & Expedience: Another young, up-and-coming rider, Kaitlin has really stepped up her game as of late. This little chestnut Thoroughbred mare is a real firecracker and lives for the cross country. They were 11th at Jersey Fresh CCI3* earlier this spring and will be looking to clock around with two clean jumping efforts, which is well within their reach.
Erin Sylvester & No Boundaries: Erin and Bucky are a pair you can count on to have an easy clear round in both jumping phases. They have in the past been plagued by Bucky’s attitude in the dressage, but recently have been able to put together some really nice tests, which resulted in their recent third-place finish at the Plantation CIC3*. A top-10 finish would not be out of the question for these two.
Sharon White & Wundermaske: Patch was all ready to go to Blenheim earlier this season before he had a fall at Millbrook that seems to have shaken his confidence. Sharon is a wonderful rider and a conscientious horsewoman, so I trust that she has him back in the good form that earned him a seventh-place finish at Jersey Fresh CCI3* this spring. This pair is capable of putting together three good phases for a nice top-20 result.
Dana Widstrand & Relentless Pursuit: Dana campaigned this horse at Advanced twice last year and finished the Advanced this year at Poplar in good standing, but she has spent the majority of 2013 at the lower levels. She is also coming off a tumble at Morven Park a few weekends ago, so as one of the less experienced pairs here this weekend, I’m sure she will be happy to get around the course.
Katie Willis & Polar Storm: Katie and Polar know how this whole game works, having been competing at the Advanced and three-star level for more than five years now. They’ve finished a fair amount of three-stars, but Fair Hill seems to hold some sort of grudge against them. Polar won’t be able to stay competitive in the dressage arena, but he can put on his big boy pants and jump around for Katie just fine, and I expect them to get the job done this weekend.
Amanda Wilson & Cool Decision: Amanda and this horse completed the CCI2* here last year and have since then moved up to Advanced level. They’ve had moderate success at the CIC3* level and will be hoping to stay calm, cool and collected this weekend for a qualifying score to finish.