Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night blew their three-star personal best out of the water today at the $100,000 Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event, scoring 34.0 to top the leaderboard with a 6.5-penalty cushion at the conclusion of the first phase here in Reddick, Florida.
The score of 34.0 is the second best of his career for “Blackie,” a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by Deborah Halliday, and the third best of Liz’s international career, according to EquiRatings. Liz and Blackie were the only pair to crack the 30s in the CIC3*, with Marilyn Payne and Mark Weissbecker presiding on the ground jury.
“I think it was one of the very best tests he’s ever done,” Liz said. “Especially in the heat, he can get pretty lazy, but he stayed with me and kept trying. I think he really enjoyed himself and had a good time, which meant that I enjoyed myself!”
This is Blackie’s first run back since Blenheim, where he finished sixth in the Event Rider Masters CIC3* section, adding only cross country time penalties to his dressage score. EquiRatings put him up as one to watch at the Ocala Jockey Club, and he looked fantastic today dancing in the brilliant autumn sunshine.
“We changed how we do things with him this year,” Liz said. “We found he ran great at Blenheim without having many runs. We try to keep him feeling as fresh as possible. He was the best he’s ever gone at Blenheim, so we’ve not run since then. I’ve just been (cross country) schooling him. Hopefully he’s going to be in the same fighting spirit he was at Blenheim.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s CIC3* show jumping, Liz said she is feeling confident. “He jumped really well at Blenheim. That was a couple months ago of course, but that was probably one of the toughest tracks we’ve jumped. He’s feeling great in his body and good in himself. That’s usually when he jumps a good round. It’s down to me giving him a good ride.”
Liz arrived 10 days ago in Ocala, where she will be based at Horsepower Equestrian for the winter season. She’s already added a new horse since then in 3-year-old Seattle Sangaree, who raced six times and retired from the track in June. Spoiler alert: He’s adorable!
Hannah Sue Burnett has a stronghold on the next two spots on the leaderboard, sitting in second place with Cooley Dream on a three-star personal best score of 40.5 and third place with Harbour Pilot on 41.4.
With her usual coach David O’Connor away on FEI business, Hannah has been training with Karen O’Connor in the lead-up to Ocala. Cooley Dream, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by Jacqueline Mars and Mary Ann Ghadban, tends to perform better at venues with atmosphere, and he perked up right away today as he entered the ring.
“He can be a bit quiet and enjoys more of a party atmosphere. I knew that all the flags and people would help me get more out of him in the ring,” she said. “Karen O’Connor helped me fix the test this last week with all three of (my horses). She always makes a really big difference. She’s really good with the details and makes me ride really accurately. That definitely showed up today.”
Hannah stepped Cooley Dream back to the two-star level this season after things did not go to plan at Carolina International CIC3* in the spring, and he is stepping back up to three-star level for the first time at the Ocala Jockey Club this weekend.
“This summer we took him to England and had a little bit of downtime,” Hannah said. “He feels better than ever. Every time I cross country school him he’s really forward. In the show jumping he is jumping through his body really well. I’m excited to see how he wants to run.”
Harbour Pilot, a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned and bred by Jacqueline Mars, produced a lovely test to sit just 0.9 penalties behind his stablemate in third place. A break in the extended trot cost them some marks, but “William” settled beautifully after to produce a competitive performance.
“He was more nervous than I anticipated. I went early so I didn’t ride him twice (this morning) and he got a little tense,” Hannah said. “I know him so well and I’ve gotten a lot of confidence in the last couple of years; when things start to get tense I can convince him that he wants to be quiet again, which is exciting.”
Hannah withdrew William from Blenheim after having three rails down in show jumping, and since coming home to the States she has been working with David O’Connor to develop a strategy to keep the colored poles in the cups.
“The show jumping is tough with him because he can be so strong,” Hannah said, “We’ve been working with different bits and different ways to make him softer in the bigger atmosphere.”
Ultimately Hannah said she returned home from England a better competitor after spending the summer there. “My goal was to practice competing and practice putting myself under pressure all the time with the best in the sport — and get comfortable with it. I think it’s hard for Americans. We’re given grants and given expectations to go over to events that we’ve never seen before and do better than we’ve ever done before. I think we as a country have to get used to that pressure all the time.
Looking to the rest of the leaderboard, Katie Ruppel and her own Houdini sit fourth on 43.1. Phillip Dutton has three rides in the top 10 in his first competition back since breaking his collarbone in September, with John and Kristine Norton’s I’m Sew Ready sitting fifth on 43.4. Click here to view full scores.
Looking to how the CIC3* compared to the the expected averages for the field, scores trended -1.87 penalties lower than the marks we usually see for these horses and riders. The morning session trended -2.07 penalties lower than the expected averages, with the afternoon sessions trending -1.59 lower. Overall, 20 pairs scored below their expected average, with 11 scoring above. Shout out to EN stats wizard Maggie Deatrick for tracking expected averages throughout the season.
Female riders are dominating the three-star so far, holding the top four spots on the leaderboard, which is fitting considering today was Ladies Day at the event. Karen O’Connor, Jennie Brannigan and Bonnie Mosser all spoke during a special lunch, which focused on the unique challenges women face in equestrian sports.
If you’re just tuning in to EN, the CCI2* competitors went yesterday in dressage. Lauren Kieffer and D.A. Duras, owned by Debbie Adams and Jacqueline Mars, lead on 36.7. Click here to read yesterday’s CCI2* report.
In the CCI1*, Leslie Law and Beatrice Rey-Herme’s JKF Vogue lead on 39.4, with Allie Knowles and Katherine O’Brien’s Business Class in second place on 40.20, and Clark Montgomery and Leah Massa’s Summer Bay in third on 41.4. You can view photos from the CCI1* in the photo gallery above from the one and only Shannon Brinkman.
We have a slight schedule change for tomorrow. The updated times are CCI1* cross country at 8:45 a.m.-12:38 p.m., CCI2* cross country at 1:05 -3:20 p.m. and CIC3* show jumping and 4-5:08 p.m. CCI2* cross country and CIC3* show jumping will be shown live on EQSportsNet.
Be sure to watch videos of all the action across both days of dressage on Thehorsepesterer’s YouTube channel. EQSportsNet is also posting videos on their Facebook page. Stay tuned for much more from #OJC3DE! Go Eventing.