Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z were the best of the bunch in today’s conclusion of the Buckeye Nutrition CCI4*L dressage at the MARS Tryon International, earning a 24.5 to slot into second behind day one leaders Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous.
The top-ranked U.S. rider in 2020 thus far, Liz has made the most of the unusual season, and the 12-year-old KWPN gelding owned by the Deniro Syndicate and Ocala Horse Properties has won each of his international starts this year. This is the first long-format event this pair has contested since finishing 15th at Burghley in 2019.
You don’t often hear a dressage ride described as “attacking”, but the top rides this week have separated themselves early on with a bold introductory centerline and a forward flow throughout the remainder of the test. Liz’s test with Deniro Z was one such example.
“(Deniro Z) always tries very hard, sometimes a little too hard – he nearly offers me a little too much sometimes,” Liz said. “I’m really pleased because he’s made a huge step forward even from the beginning of this year. A few bits (of the test) could have been better, but he really went for it which is what we wanted.”
Liz says she would have liked to get in one more cross country run at Chatt Hills last month, but the Advanced division was cut short due to heavy rainfall. But Liz also knows she can count on Deniro, who has proven his mettle around a longer track already. She credits some productive schooling sessions in her preparation as the final deposit of confidence for this weekend.
For a time, Liz says she had to work with the bold gelding to tamper down some initial excited aggression out of the start box. “Ever since Burghley, he’s gotten more polite,” she explained. “He isn’t strong, he just has a giant stride and so much power, so it’s about managing and adjusting the stride pattern.”
Capt. Mark Phillips’ cross country track tomorrow will run in the reverse direction from previous events, which will put its notorious long hill at the beginning of the course rather than the very end. This downhill shot will contain three fences to help riders assess their rideability early on.
Liz says her intent is to keep her ride tomorow efficient and rhythmical. “The ground here is always undulating, so you want to maximize where you can. I’m hoping to go out with a nice rhythm and meet everything in balance; he’s had plenty of experience in the mud, so it’s a good time to tap into that experience tomorrow.”
As cross country road trips often go, Tamie Smith experienced a short delay during her trip from southern California to North Carolina. After a friend’s horse who was traveling with Tamie became ill en route, the crew stopped in Alabama for a few extra days to give the other horses a break from the haul and a chance to stretch their legs. Tamie was gracious enough to teach a clinic during the delay, and eventually the team arrived in Tryon with horses that came off the trailer ready to compete.
Drawn early in the order, Ruth Bley’s En Vogue earned a 29.2 from the judging panel yesterday and will be well within striking distance of a higher position tomorrow. Danito, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding also owned by Ruth Bley, wasn’t about to be outdone by his stable mate today, scoring a 26.6 to improve on his first CCI4*L start at Galway Downs in 2019 and tie with Doug Payne and Starr Witness for fourth position.
“It’s a really exciting time because I have a really great group of horses,” Tamie told EN. “I haven’t really traveled this year; we went to Rebecca Farm (in July), but I haven’t measured myself up to everybody this year. Danito would be a potential contender for Tokyo, so I wanted to get out of mine and his comfort zones. There’s nothing like getting out of your home base, so I figured I would take one group to Galway and one to Tryon. It’s good for me to get to another venue.”
With two horses heading out of the start box at two very different times during tomorrow’s cross country, Tamie says she’s prepared to watch the ground and how it holds through the day. Both horses are excellent gallopers across the country, a skill that will come in handy for what is expected to be a tight optimum time of 10 minutes.
“The course looks big and bold and galloping, which will be fun because we haven’t had a lot of that this year,” she said. “The skinnies are very skinny and the last water is quite significant. I feel like both of my horses are very much prepared for this track.”
Four other pairs would jostle their way into the top 10 today: Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg (26.5), Buck Davidson and Carlevo (27.4), Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot (27.9), and Lynn Symansky and RF Cool Play (28.6), tied for 10th with Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Rubens D’Ysieux.
Sara Mittleider is another rider whose original plans for 2020 were diverted due to the ever-changing pandemic. She had intended on contesting the inaugural CCI4*L at Morven Park with La Paz this fall, but the cancelation of the event forced her to reevaluate. She elected to head to Florida from her home farm in Idaho, basing near Leslie Law for lessons in preparation for Tryon. Even so, her prep for this weekend was still interrupted; a heel grab at Stable View Oktoberfest kept “Muki” out of competition, so he was routed instead to a final Advanced outing at Ocala and a combined test at Chatt Hills (the Advanced division was cut short due to rain) instead.
The 10-year-old Hungarian Sport Horse owned by the La Paz Group showed none of his typically present tension in the ring today, and Sara said she’s tickled with how well things came together today. Their score of 29.5 is the best of the gelding’s young four-star career and places them within the top 20 after the first phase. “He was super confident coming in, which I haven’t ever felt from him before,” Sara commented. “He’s really quite nervous, but he just marched in and came to life in the best possible way, so I was just tickled. It was probably one of his best tests, especially at this level.”
A couple of green bobbles would keep Sara and La Paz from threatening the very top scores, but this weekend will be anything except a dressage competition. With plenty of experience competing in the wet Pacific Northwest, Sara says she’s looking forward to the challenge tomorrow, mud and all. “He’s more experienced with mud than I think people give him credit for,” she said. “He’s fit as he could possibly be, and we had a great run around in the rain (in Ocala last month), so I’m optimistic.”
Woods Baughman remains the highest-placed CCI4*L first-timer with C’est La Vie 135 on a score of 29.1. The top rookie score of today’s dressage was Megan Sykes and Classic’s Mojah, who will take 23rd place overnight on a score of 31.6. We featured this pair last year on EN after they turned in a competitive performance in the Fair Hill CCI3*L Championship to cap off their season.
How did the judging for the CCI4*L pan out? The judging panel consisting of Gretchen Butts at C, Robert Stevenson at B, and Helen Brettell at M showed an average 3.8% variance in their percentages. The highest variation was seen in Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way’s score (9.38% variance), while the lowest was found in that of Caroline Martin with Islandwood Captain Jack (.62% variance). Of course, each judge has their own angle of viewing the tests, so some variation is to be expected. Helen Brettell at M was gave the lowest marks to 64% of riders, contrasted with Robert Stevenson at E, who gave the highest score for 68% of the field. President of the Ground Jury Gretchen Butts, at C, was evenly split, giving 36% of the riders the low score, 26% the high score, and 38% the middle score. Interestingly, despite this variance the overall scoring skewed quite close to the scores predicted by EN’s Maggie Deatrick, who ran these numbers for us upon conclusion of the division.
Looking to the slightly less crowded but just as star-studded CCI4*S division, it will be Erin Sylvester Kanara and Paddy the Caddy who lead the way on a dressage score of 24.6. Jenny Caras and Trendy Fernhill (27.0) will take second, followed by Lillian Heard and CharmKing (27.4).
The CCI3*L is led by Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS on a score of 25.7. Rounding out the FEI divisions, it is Sara Kozumplik Murphy with Otta B Quality leading the way in the CCI2*L on a score of 25.2.
We’re in for a spectacular day of cross country action tomorrow, with the CCI2*L horses heading out on course bright and early at 8 a.m. EST. The USEF Network will be live streaming the Buckeye Nutrition CCI4*L beginning at 10 a.m. with trailblazers Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. You can glance at the latest schedule here and ride times here.
The optimum time for the course, which consists of 28 numbered fences and 44 jumping efforts, is 10 minutes. Expect to see softer going – though the decision to delay cross country from today for some divisions to tomorrow was undoubtedly the safest option – with the potential for further deterioration as the day wears on. With that being said, the grounds crew and organizing team at Tryon deserve our applause for their tireless work at making the course as ready as it can be for the day ahead. You can view maps of each level’s cross country track here. Abby Powell will be running live updates for the CCI4*L here on EN for anyone unable to watch the live stream.
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As always, we’re thrilled to have Shannon Brinkman Photography as the official show photographer this weekend. Please enjoy some more of her stunning work: