Liz Halliday-Sharp Leads the CCI4*-L After Cross Country at MARS Tryon International

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Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Everyone always says it’s not going to be a dressage show and, usually, everyone is always right. That was certainly the case today as just three pairs who were in the top ten at the conclusion of dressage remain in the top ten after a great day of cross country. Time was influential over Captain Mark Phillips course today and shuffled the top of the leaderboard enough to keep things quite interesting with 8 out of the 69 starters able to catch the time. Ultimately, it was Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z  who came out on top at the end of the day and will hold the lead on a score of 26.1 as we head into the final phase tomorrow.

Liz made light work of the course with the 12-year-old KWPN gelding, who is owned by the Deniro Syndicate and Ocala Horse Properties. The pair cruised home just a few seconds over time, adding 1.6 time penalties to their dressage score.

“I am a little mad at myself that I didn’t make the time, but that’s not his fault,” said Liz. “He’s actually just been so incredibly polite this year. I nearly ‘whoa’d’ a little bit too much in front of two combinations and he just came back so fast. Honestly, I think every fence and combination rode how I planned it and the horse was phenomenal and he didn’t make it feel hard. He finished very fresh. From a standpoint of my horse going forward, I feel like it was a great day because he finished feeling like, ‘Oh, that was easy!’ I’m thrilled with him.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Dressage leaders Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous ran into trouble early in the course and picked up a runout at the B element of fence 7AB, Bridgett’s Squirrels, and ultimately opted to retire later on course after a second runout.

Despite their lack of runs throughout the season, Liz credits her and Deniro’s excellent showing today to their partnership. “He hasn’t done a long format since Burghley last year and we haven’t run for eight weeks because Chattahoochee got canceled, which is a little bit longer than I’d like before an important four-star event, but he’s such a professional and I had a really good cross-country school before we came here,” she said. Watch their full cross country round here:

When it comes to how Deniro feels this year and how she thinks tomorrow will shake out, Liz says: “He feels ten times stronger this year and like a different horse compared to what he was before Burghley last year. I think it taught him a lot. He tried his guts out on the last day there for me. I’m hoping for a clear round tomorrow, and he’s more than capable of that. If I ride him the right way I know that’s possible. I just need to look after him tonight, put a plan in place, and then execute said plan!”

Body Martin and Tsetserleg. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Liz and Deniro won’t have too much wiggle room to hold their lead tomorrow, as Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg, who were in third after dressage on a 26.5 finished cross country in the exact same amount of time Liz and Deniro did, therefore also adding 1.6 time penalties to their dressage score. Boyd and the 13-year-old Trakehner gelding owned by Christine Turner end their day on a 28.1. Boyd will also occupy the 10th place sport overnight with On Cue, a 14-year-old Anglo-European mare also owned by Christine Turner. Their 4.8 time penalties collected on cross country bumps them down from 7th place after the dressage as they now score a 32.5.

Not very far at all behind Boyd and “Thomas” are his 2018 WEG teammates Phillip Dutton and the 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding Z, owned by Tom Tierney, Simon Roosevelt, Suzanne Lacy, Annie Jones and Caroline Moran. This pair came in two seconds under the optimum time of 10:03 and turned in one of the seven double clear rounds we saw in this division today. Their lovely round bumps them up from an equal 12th to sit 3rd over night on a score of 28.8. Phillip also sits in 22nd with OTTB Sea of Clouds, who came in one second over time and moved up from 62nd after dressage.

Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Following these three big names currently at the top of the leaderboard is 24-year-old Woods Baughman who has taken over the fourth place spot with his family’s C’est La Vie 135, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding known as “Contendro” around the barn. Even with the abbreviated season this year, Woods and Contendro are continuing to have a great run after being crowned the USEF CCI3*-L National Champion at Fair Hill International last fall. This year they’re making a formidable showing in the next division up and proving that they belong there by also running double clear. Their clear run moves them up 10 places from 14th to 4th after dressage. They sit on a 29.1, just three-tenths of a point behind Phillip.

Doug Payne will sit on a score of 29.2 heading into show jumping with his long-time partner, the 16-year-old Trakehner gelding Vandiver who he and his wife Jessica Payne own alongside Debbi Crowley. Known to always chase the clock, Doug and Vandiver came in just one second over the optimum time and therefore add 0.4 time penalties to their dressage score. They would have remained equal with Phillip and Z had they too gone double clear, but they’ll sit in 5th instead which, granted, is still well within striking distance tomorrow.

Doug was one of three riders with three horses in this division and planned to add time to both his younger horse’s scores to give them confidence-building qualifying runs. Quantum Leap, a 9-year-old Rheinlander gelding, severed as pathfinder for the division and leapt from 43rd to 29th after cross country. His second ride, the eye-catching Starr Witness, sat 4th after a lovely dressage test yesterday, but in addition to adding 21.6 penalties of planned time, the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare  who is owned by Doug, Catherine Winter, and Laurie McRee also activated a frangible device somewhere along the track adding an additional 11 penalties to their score and now sits in 41st.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Another fabulous showing from what might be considered the next generation of riders came from Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan, the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by Annie Eldridge. This pair impressed at the Kentucky and Burghley CCI5*s last year where they made huge leaps up the leaderboard, and at Great Meadow earlier this year where they clocked the fastest round of the day. They continued to be impressive today and even clinched the fastest round title again, breezing through the finish flags in 9 minutes 45 seconds. Ariel joined Holly Hudspeth and Tim Singer in the commentary box after her round and told them that she wasn’t necessarily gunning for the fastest time, but “Simon” was feeling his oats and felt like he could go on and do a whole other course after they crossed the finish line.

Sydney Conley Elliot and QC Diamantaire earned another one of today’s double clear rounds, as they finished three seconds under time. Sydney told EN that she believes their run at Fair Hill International last fall, where they finished 4th in the CCI4*-L, set her and “Q” up with a great foundation coming into this year.

“As with everyone, this year has not gone as planned so Q hasn’t had a ton of runs this year. Going into cross country day I’m always concerned about fitness and especially with the shortened season we’ve had this year, but he finished full of running,” Sydney told EN. “He ran his little heart out and kept going even when I made a mistake. He really surprised us.”

Sydney Conley Elliot and QC Diamantaire.

Sydney and the 10-year-old Oldenberg gelding owned by Carol Stephens just barley missed hitting a coveted sub-30 mark in phase one, but their fabulous showing today means they’ll remain on their dressage score. That score of 30.6 puts them in a competitive 7th place headed into show jumping tomorrow where Sydney hopes they can turn in a clear show jumping round just like the one they finished their Fair Hill weekend with last fall. As for the future, Sydney says given how well Q ran today she doesn’t see a reason they shouldn’t aim for a five-star next year, pending the whole pandemic situation, of course.

Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois, a 10-year-old Holsteiner X Thoroughbred owned by the Stella Artois Syndicate, were looking for a crisp trip with a smooth finish. They tackled the course superbly and finished clear of jumping penalties, but they didn’t quite make the time; coming in 5 seconds over optimum and therefore earning 2 time penalties. That puts them on a 31.2 at the end of the day and bumps them up from 15th to 8th, which is still a placing certainly well worth savoring.

Rounding out the top 10 is Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way a.k.a “Mason”, a horse who I often mistakenly refer to as a mare, but is in fact a 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Jennifer Mosing and Sterling Silver Stables. Sorry Mason, it’s nothing personal! Maggie Deatrick was correct in her prediction that Will and Mason could come out early with guns blazing and show everyone that the time was achievable, and they were indeed the first double clear trip that we saw today. That clear round means they stay on their dressage score of 31.7 and move up from 30th place to 9th.

In addition to Marilyn and “Kitty”, several pairs who had occupied the top ten spots on the leaderboard ran into trouble on course today. Tamie Smith and Danito, who had been sitting in 4th after dressage activated a frangible pin at the A element of the coffin complex at fence 15. Those 11 penalties plus 17.60 in time sees them drop out of the running and into 39th. Buck Davidson was sitting in 6th place after dressage with Carlevo, but their 5.6 time penalties were enough to drop them into equal 11th, shared with Will Coleman and Don Dante who came in just a second over time and moved up from 33rd.

Hannah Sue Burnett withdrew the 8th placed Harbour Pilot after she had retired Lukeswell on course earlier in the day. Maya Black and Miks Master C, who sat 9th after dressage, were having a cracking round until they reached the drop into the MARS Sustainability Bay, fence 19, where the horse pecked on landing and sent Maya for a splash. Several other riders took a swim at this spot as well as they became unseated after large drop. Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Rubens D’ysieux were in 10th place after dressage and were nearly home clear after a fabulous round, but caught too long of a spot to the second to last fence and took a tumble which ended their weekend early.

The biggest mover award goes to Zoe Crawford and K.E.C Zara whose double clear cross country shot them up a whopping 50 places on the leaderboard from 76th to 26th.

An exciting finish is certainly in store for tomorrow as we’ll see our next CCI4*-L National Champion crowned. The final horse inspection will take place and 8:00 AM ET and show jumping will get underway at 10:30 AM. Keep it locked right here for the most comprehensive coverage from Tryon!

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