Meet the Thoroughbreds of Kentucky CCI4*, 2018 Edition

It’s a new era for the four-star event in Kentucky, with a brand-new sponsor for 2018, and we’re all trying to get used to calling it “Land Rover” instead of … that other name.

But some things haven’t changed — we at the Retired Racehorse Project are again teaming up with Eventing Nation to tell you all you need to know about the Thoroughbreds who will be galloping across the rolling terrain at the Kentucky Horse Park the last weekend in April!

At press time, we’re expecting to see 16 full Thoroughbreds out of a starting field of 56 for the competition now known as the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. You can see in the chart below how that compares to previous years.

Of interest this year is that all but one of the Thoroughbreds were bred for racing, not for sport. Twelve of them actually did have racing careers, and not necessarily short ones — they have a combined 202 starts between them, with Boyd Martin’s mount Steady Eddie having the most (36).

Other interesting tidbits: 

  • Two of the Thoroughbred competitors were sired by Kentucky Derby winners: Kelecyn Cognac (by Fusaichi Pegasus) and Tactical Maneuver (by Thunder Gulch).
  • The oldest Thoroughbred competitor is Sally Cousins’ Tsunami, who is 19 years old.
  • The youngest Thoroughbred is 10 years old — Joe Meyer’s mount Johnny Royale.

If you’ll be at the event, make sure to stop by RRP’s booth (Tent Booth #91 outside the Covered Arena) to pick up an order of go for the Thoroughbreds, and some logo wear to show your OTTB pride! You can find all of the Thoroughbred-centric activities going on throughout the weekend here.

Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.


Rider: Leah Lang-Gluscic (USA)

Owner: CML Horses LLC

Breeding: 2005 gelding by Aptitude (A.P. Indy) out of Czarina Kate (The Prime Minister)

Racing name: A.P. Prime (KY)

Racing record: 31 starts (2-4-5), $20,175

Breeder: Dixiana Stables, Inc.

Leah Lang-Gluscic had one very important requirement when she was shopping for an off-track Thoroughbred prospect in 2010 — it needed to be along the six-hour route she was traveling from Illinois to Tennessee to buy a horse trailer. She found a CANTER Illinois listing for an attractive horse at a fairgrounds track in Martinsville, Illinois, who fit the bill, so she made an appointment to see him.

When she arrived at the shedrow on a snowy December day, she noticed one horse looking over a stall door right off the bat — “the most attractive, most beautiful face,” she recalled. She was sure she wouldn’t be so lucky to have that be the horse she was there to see, and that the trainer would be pulling something much less impressive out of a stall … but in fact, it was AP who was led out into the aisle, and Leah couldn’t believe her luck.

He didn’t jog sound because he had an abscess, and he was priced at $2,000, which was more than she wanted to spend. She haggled down to $750, and agreed to return the next day with her new horse trailer to pick him up.

AP was supposed to be a resale project, but after Leah competed him for the first time at Beginner Novice, she changed her mind. “At his first event, I came off cross-country and said ‘This horse is going Advanced,’” she said. She brought him up through the levels, doing a CIC1* in 2012 and then spending a full year and a half at Intermediate so his dressage and show jumping could catch up to his prowess on cross country.

They completed the Fair Hill CCI2* in 2013 and moved up to Advanced the next spring. They completed the Bromont and Fair Hill CCI3* events in 2014, and made their first attempt at Kentucky CCI4* in 2015, but withdrew before cross country. They returned to the event in 2016 and jumped their first four-star cross-country track with no jumping penalties, finishing in 33rd.

AP had about a year and a half off from competition after injuring a collateral ligament in the summer of 2016, but came back out at Preliminary at Rocking Horse this spring, and completed the Pine Top CIC2* and Carolina International CIC3* without cross-country jumping penalties.

Leah, of Freeport, Illinois, has traveled a somewhat unconventional road herself — she graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance and accounting, and spent two years working at an investment banking firm before she decided to quit her job, buy a farm, and become an eventing professional.

Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Savannah Fulton (USA)

Owner: Full Moon Farm Syndicate

Breeding: 2003 gelding by Numerous (Mr. Prospector) out of Lady Malone (Polish Numbers)

Racing name: Captain Frank (NJ)

Racing record: 19 starts (0-1-2), $11,937

Breeder: Gordon and Elizabeth Reeder

Woodge Fulton and Captain Jack made their four-star debut together at Kentucky last year, and you couldn’t miss them on cross-country by virtue of Fulton’s giant smile and the throngs of cheering students from Full Moon Farm (her parents’ busy lesson and boarding barn in Finksburg, Maryland) all along the course. They finished 35th with no cross-country jumping penalties.

Jack raced for trainer Doug Nunn, whose brother David was, at the time, married to Jamie Dancer, who shared a barn with eventing professional Wendy Lewis. (Wendy is the one who changed the horse’s name to Captain Jack, after her father, who was a boat captain.) When Jack retired from racing as a 5-year-old, Doug sent him to Jamie and Wendy to restart.

He didn’t necessarily look like he had four-star potential when he first started his new career, especially because he has an unorthodox jumping style. But Wendy said his heart and athleticism were apparent from the very beginning. “When you rode him, you felt like he could do anything, but to watch him, you wouldn’t think it,” she said.

Wendy competed him through Preliminary, and then when she got pregnant with her second child, passed the ride along to her working student Lucy Disston, who competed him through the two-star level before she also got pregnant.

Wendy’s trainer, Buck Davidson, took the horse on to sell after the 2013 competition season, but he was a tricky ride and hard to resell. Woodge was also riding with Buck and working with the horse, and was eventually able to put together a syndicate to buy him in late 2014. They moved up to Advanced in 2015, and did their first CCI3* at Fair Hill that October, placing 32nd.

After their successful run at Kentucky in 2017, Woodge and Jack made the trip to compete at Burghley, where they turned in another cross-country round without jumping penalties, but had to withdraw when it was discovered that he sustained a significant cut on a hind leg.

This spring, Woodge (who is just 22) and Jack placed 35th at the Carolina International CIC3*.

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.


Rider: Lynn Symansky (USA)

Owner: The Donner Syndicate LLC

Breeding: 2003 gelding by the French stallion Gorky Park (Gorytus) out of Smart Jane (Smarten)

Racing name: Smart Gorky (NY)

Racing record: 6 starts (0-0-0), $2,870

Breeder: Wilson Securities Group

Would you have picked 4-year-old Donner as a future four-star powerhouse?

Siobhan DeLancey tried Donner in March 2007 at Dresden Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, where he was bred and had been living in a field since retiring from racing in December 2006. Siobhan ended up buying Donner’s half-brother, Rudy, instead. (The breeder named that year’s foals after reindeer.)

Amateur rider Stephanie Gorman eventually bought Donner, and her trainer Tiffany Catledge took him to his first three events at Beginner Novice and Novice. Lynn bought him as a resale project in the summer of 2008.

The gangly, shaggy 4-year-old turned into the best-known American eventing OTTB of the moment. His accolades in 2017 included placing 22nd at the Badminton CCI4*, helping the United States win the Nations Cup at the Great Meadow International CICO3*, and capping the year with a sixth-placed finish at the Burghley CCI4*.

This is Lynn’s fourth trip to Kentucky with Donner, with their best placing being their debut outing in 2013 — they finished fifth, and Donner was not only the top OTTB finisher but was also named best-conditioned. They also competed in 2015 (12th) and 2016 (17th). Donner and Lynn were also part of the U.S. team at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games, and are aiming to make the team again this year with the WEG held on home turf at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina. 

Nicknamed “The Deer,” Donner is injury-prone in turnout, so he’s restricted to a paddock attached to his stall and gets hand-grazed twice per day. He doesn’t like to go on hacks, getting spooky and trying to bolt back to the barn, but can be ridden on the buckle in a ring. And he’s well known for performing acrobatics during the jogs at FEI events!

Donner’s dam, Smart Jane, was a successful racehorse, with three wins in 45 starts. She is by the well-known sire Smarten, who stood at Northview Stallion Station in Maryland for nearly two decades. Smarten earned $716,426 in 27 starts with 11 wins (including the Illinois Derby, Pennsylvania Derby, Ohio Derby and American Derby).

But it may be Donner’s sire who deserves much of the credit for his eventing success. Gorky Park was bred in France, but his sire and dam were American-bred. He raced in hurdle and steeplechase races and was imported to the U.S. and into the barn of legendary trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Gorky Park won the 1991 Continental Cup Steeplechase Handicap at Great Meadow in Virginia for Sheppard, and was retired shortly thereafter, standing at stud in Virginia and New York.

Andrea Baxter and Indy 500. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

INDY 500

Rider: Andrea Baxter (USA)

Owner: rider

Breeding: 2005 mare by Cromwell (A.P. Indy) out of Tensofthousands (Spend A Buck)

Racing name: My Gifted Indyanna (CA)

Racing record: unraced

Breeder: Clyde and Colleen Hunsaker

Andrea Baxter got her first four-star completion in Kentucky with Indy 500 in 2017, placing 35th after one stop on cross-country. (She made a previous trip to Kentucky in 2010 with Estrella, but didn’t complete the event.) Andrea and “Indy” also traveled across the pond to take a shot at the Burghley CCI4*, but were eliminated after a rider fall. However they jumped clear on cross-country at the Blenheim CCI3* a few weeks later to place 25th.

Indy took a circuitous route to becoming an international four-star horse. She was purchased as a weanling by Linda Miller, who obtained the filly when the farm that bred her was liquidated by owner Alex Trebek, of Jeopardy fame. Andrea looked at her twice as a retraining prospect, but decided against it both times. Then, when Indy was 4, Andrea had another horse sidelined with an injury and needed a new project, so agreed to take the mare on to resell.

After a couple of starts at Novice and Training, Indy ended up on the back-burner again in favor of Andrea’s other horses, so she decided to breed her to the Holsteiner stallion Linaro, and Indy produced a foal named Laguna Seca in 2010. (Andrea still owns the gelding, who is now eventing at Preliminary.)

Indy was back competing in spring of 2011, and they won the Galway Downs CCI1* at the end of that year. It was all upward trajectory from there — by the end of 2012, they were running Advanced. They successfully completed their first CCI3* together at Galway Downs in 2014, placing eighth. In 2016, they placed 14th at the Jersey Fresh CCI3*, sixth at the Rebecca Farms CCI3*, and sixth at Galway Downs CCI3*.

Andrea is based at her family’s Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California, where they run a CCI and hunter/jumper and dressage shows in addition to training, lessons and a breeding program. All of her eventing mounts have either been homebreds or Thoroughbreds she restarted off the track. Estrella, the mare that first brought Andrea to Kentucky, was out of Say Grace, a mare Baxter’s family purchased at the Barretts Thoroughbred Sale for $750. Estrella produced several foals of her own, and the fourth generation of sport horses from Say Grace was born at Twin Rivers in 2017.

Joe Meyer and Johnny Royale. Photo by Jenni Autry.


Rider: Joe Meyer (NZL)

Owner: Team Johnny Syndicate

Breeding: 2007 gelding by New Zealand stallion His Royal Highness (Grosvenor [NZ]) out of the New Zealand mare Chivaney (Tights [USA])

Racing name: Chivas Royale (NZ)

Racing record: 8 starts (0-0-0), $175

Breeder: John Wheeler

The youngest Thoroughbred in this year’s Kentucky field, Johnny Royale will make his CCI4* debut with New Zealand Olympian Joe Meyer. After a racing career in New Zealand in which he failed to hit the board in eight starts, Johnny eventually found himself in Lizzie Green’s yard as an eventing prospect.

Lizzie, a native New Zealander who now lives in Great Britain, campaigned Johnny for two seasons in the UK, competing him in his first events at BE100 (Novice) level as a 6-year-old. She successfully produced Johnny through Novice (Preliminary) level before Joe purchased him in 2015 and imported the horse to the U.S.

Joe has brought Johnny up from the one-star level, placing 13th in the horse’s first CCI1* at Ocala International in 2016. Johnny went on to place 10th twice at the CCI2* level in 2016, both at Bromont and the Ocala Jockey Club. He successfully moved up to the Advanced level in 2017 and placed 13th in his first CCI3* at Bromont.

In the lead up to his first CCI4* at Kentucky, Johnny finished 17th at the Red Hills CIC3* and 21st at The Fork Horse Trials at Tryon this spring.

Waylon Roberts and Kelecyn Cognac. Photo by Jenni Autry.


Rider: Waylon Roberts (CAN)

Owner: Anthony Connolly and Skye Levely

Breeding: 2003 gelding by Fusaichi Pegasus (Mr. Prospector) out of the Irish mare Dreamland (Sadler’s Wells)

Racing name: Heir Pegasus (AUS)

Racing record: 10 starts (0-1-0), $1,991

Breeder: Linley Investments

Waylon Roberts already has a lot of international experience, despite being a youthful 30. But with two Olympians (Ian Roberts and Kelly Plitz) for parents, it was almost to be expected.

His first international outing was the FEI Children’s Jumper Championships in Brazil in 2002, where the Canadian team won gold. He’s also represented Canada at the Pan Am Games (winning team silver) and competed five times at the North American Junior & Young Rider Championships. He’s been based in the U.S. for the last several years, working alongside Phillip Dutton.

Unfortunately he’s had a run of bad luck at Kentucky. He competed at the four-star in 2008 on Paleface (also a Thoroughbred), and although they were one of just 10 pairs to go double-clear on cross-country that year, he was spun at the final jog. This is the third time he’s entered the event on Kelecyn Cognac — he withdrew a week ahead of the event in 2016, and in 2017, had to withdraw after actually arriving at the Kentucky Horse Park when “Dan” came down with shipping fever.

They went on to have a successful 2017 season, however, placing eighth at the Great Meadow International CICO3*, 16th at the Richland Park CIC3*, 18th at the Plantation Field CIC3*, and wrapping up the year by finishing 14th at the Fair Hill CCI3*. This spring, they won the Advanced at Red Hills, and then placed 13th at the Carolina International CIC3*.

Dan is by the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who stood several seasons in Australia, where Dan was bred and raced, with his last start coming in October 2006. Fusaichi Pegasus has a reputation for having some “difficult” offspring, and Dan could apparently be a bit hard to handle, which is how Australian eventer Kevin McNab came to own him.

“He was on his way to be put down as he was very badly behaved, and they stopped at my place and said if I wanted him, I could have him for $300,” Kevin said. “He was very lame, but I free-schooled him and he had something, so I said I would take him. It took about three months until he settled down, and then he was very good.”

Kevin competed him through the three-star level, then the horse was purchased by Heidi White and made the jump across the pond. Heidi competed him through Preliminary, and then sent him to Phillip Dutton’s, where Waylon was offered the ride in 2014. They placed third at the Bromont CCI3* in 2015 and ninth in 2016, as well as fifth at the Jersey Fresh CCI3* in 2015.

Erin Sylvester and Mettraise. Photo by Jenni Autry.


Rider: Erin Sylvester (USA)

Owner: Spike and Jeanne Sylvester

Breeding: 2004 mare by Metfield (Seattle Slew) out of Spin A Yarn (Huckster)

Racing name: Metraisse (FL)

Racing record: unraced

Breeder: Katrina Becker

You wouldn’t have known the 2017 event was Mettraise’s first four-star — the big mare absolutely devoured the cross-country course, winning the Land Rover “Best Ride of the Day” for the clear round closest to optimum time. (You can see that round here.) The pair finished 14th and “Missy” was the top-placed Thoroughbred.

Missy was restarted by Jennifer Fox of Aiken, South Carolina, who works with many of owner/breeder Katrina Becker’s Thoroughbreds that are transitioning off the track. (Missy never raced.) Originally the mare was being aimed toward a dressage career. “I said, ‘I think that mare can jump!’” Jennifer recalled, and she was right. “(Missy) is a machine on cross-country. Has been since day one.”

After Jennifer competed her up to Training level, the horse went to Phillip Dutton in 2012. He and Jennie Brannigan ran her a couple of times at Preliminary, and then Erin Sylvester purchased her. They had several top finishes at the two- and three-star levels — winning the Bromont CCI2* in 2013, fifth at the Bromont CCI3* in 2016 and 15th at the Fair Hill CCI3* in 2015 — before tackling Kentucky. They finished their 2017 season by placing 10th at the Ocala Jockey Club International CIC3*.

“Any time you have a young horse that you bring up through the levels and it goes own to another owner, you always hope things go well,” Jennifer said. “To see her go to someone like Erin and be so successful is absolutely amazing.” (Jennifer has Missy’s half-sister, another homebred of Katrina’s out of Spin A Yarn, and is currently competing at Intermediate.)

Erin has a history with Thoroughbreds — most of her mounts are full or part Thoroughbred, and she previously worked for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard galloping racehorses while she attended the University of Delaware. She also was one of the trainers for the first Thoroughbred Makeover in 2013. She has been around the Kentucky CCI4* course several times, most notably with her longtime mount No Boundaries, who finished 13th in 2012.

Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Holly Jacks-Smither (CAN)

Owner: Bruce Smither and Holly Jacks-Smither

Breeding: 2005 gelding by Inspired Prospect (Woodman) out of Gentle Buck (Buckley Boy)

Racing name: More Inspiration (ON)

Racing record: 28 starts (4-2-2), $55,560

Breeder: Display Farm

Holly Jacks-Smither has tons of experience with Thoroughbreds — starting at the age of 12, she broke and galloped horses at the track, and she wanted to be a jockey. While that wasn’t meant to be, she’s still involved with racing through her husband, Bruce Smither, who is a trainer.

“Morris” caught Holly’s eye at the track when he was a 2-year-old, and she bought him as a resale project when he retired at 4. He’s the biggest money-winner of the OTTBs in this year’s Kentucky field, earning $55,560 in three years of racing.

Holly didn’t originally think the horse had upper-level potential, but changed her mind after Morris did his first CCI1* at Hagyard Midsouth in Kentucky, placing second.

They competed in Kentucky last year, the first four-star for both horse and rider, and finished 26th. They had an excellent cross-country round, their only jumping penalties coming when Holly made a last-second decision to take an alternate route at the Frog Pond when she had trouble with her reins slipping, and unfortunately she earned 20 penalties for crossing her path.

They went on to place 14th at the Great Meadow International CICO3* and competed in the Event at Rebecca Farm CCI3*, but withdrew after cross-country. This spring, they placed sixth at Red Hills International CIC3* and seventh at the Chattahoochee Hills CIC3*.

Erin Sylvester and Paddy the Caddy. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Erin Sylvester (USA)

Owner: Frank McEntee

Breeding: 2007 gelding by the Irish stallion Azamour (Night Shift) out of Slamy (Grand Slam)

Racing name: Paddy the Caddy (IRE)

Racing record: unraced

Breeder: Frank McEntee & David O’Reilly


“Paddy” is one of two unraced OTTBs Erin Sylvester is competing at Kentucky. He is still owned by his racing owner and breeder, Frank McEntee, whose daughter has trained with Erin.

Frank imported Paddy from Ireland as a yearling and had him in training to race with Graham Motion, but the horse never raced, and Frank eventually asked Erin if she’d be interested in taking him on. They started at Novice in 2012, and Sylvester has brought him all the way up through the levels to contest his first four-star.

This pair won the CCI3* at Rebecca Farm and placed fifth in the Fair Hill CCI3* in 2017, and this spring, they were 15th at the Carolina International CIC3*. Paddy usually scores quite well in dressage and is a strong show jumper, so they’re often in the ribbons.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Jenni Autry.


Rider: Elisa Wallace (USA)

Owner: Simply Priceless Syndicate LLC

Breeding: 2001 gelding by the Australian stallion Waterford Road (Danehill) out of the Australian mare Faux Franc (Twig Moss [FR])

Racing name: Kalinga Damo (AUS)

Racing record: 10 starts (0-0-1), $711

Breeder: Kalinga Valley Stud

Elisa Wallace was one of the breakout stars at Kentucky in 2016, finishing eighth with “Johnny” in their second attempt at the event. (They were 17th and the highest-placed rookies in 2015.) Their stellar 2016 season continued with a successful trip to the Burghley CCI4*, where they finished 14th and were the top Americans; Elisa was the top-ranked rookie.

In 2017, Elisa opted to go to the Badminton CCI4* instead of making another trip to Kentucky, crowdfunding her trip across the pond via her popular social media accounts. Unfortunately Johnny started to run out of gas on cross country, pecking on the landing after the final fence and unseating Elisa, earning an elimination. They finished off their 2017 season by placing eighth at the Ocala Jockey Club International CIC3*.

Johnny started his eventing career in Australia with Simone Kann, who bought him as a 5-year-old recently restarted off the track. Simone moved to the U.S. and brought the horse with her, selling him to Nick Cwick when he was at the two-star level. Elisa bought the horse in 2013, after he’d completed a couple of CCI2* and one CIC3* with Pam Fisher.

Elisa is a veteran of the Thoroughbred Makeover, placing second in eventing in 2016 with Heron’s Waltz and fourth in freestyle with Sir Teddy in 2017. In addition, she is huge promoter of American Mustangs and participates in Mustang training competitions.

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect . Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Rider: Allie Knowles (USA)

Owner: Sound Prospect LLC

Breeding: 2002 gelding by Eastern Echo (Damascus) out of Miners Girl (Miner’s Mark)

Racing name: Sound Prospect (KY)

Racing record: 13 starts (0-2-1), $2,546

Breeder: Bradyleigh Farms Inc.

Every horse-crazy young girl’s dream is to pick out a future sport horse superstar while galloping racehorses at the track, but Tessa Beckett actually did it … inadvertently. As a 12- and 13-year-old living in Washington state, she was galloping for a local trainer and let the trainer know she was looking for her next riding prospect. The trainer’s sister just happened to have a horse she thought would be suitable, but wanted to let him run one more time to see if he’d finally turn the corner on what had been a lackluster racing career. He finished fourth.

“When we went out and tried him, it was pretty soon after that last race,” Tessa said. “The trainer was very casual about the whole thing and just threw a saddle on him and had me get on. She even set up a cross rail in the arena and told me to go over it. In hindsight, it was pretty crazy, but he was perfect. We knew right then we had to buy him. He had the best personality, good conformation, and was so handsome.”

Tessa competed “Sounder” up to the two-star level, and he took her to the 2010 North American Junior & Young Rider Championships, where they finished fourth individually. Tessa had started training with Hawley Bennett in preparation for the NAJYRC and then stayed on as a working student, and said Hawley was the one who really noticed the horse’s talent and potential.

By 2013, though, Tessa wanted to get out of eventing. Allie knew Tessa and Sounder through Hawley, and was able to put together a syndicate to buy the horse.

“When we worked out with Allie that she would take him, we were so thrilled,” Tessa said. “We had known her for a long time through Hawley, and we knew it was the perfect match. We are so proud of everything they have done together.”

It took Allie about two years to really get on the same wavelength with Sounder. But in 2015 they put together an impressive string of top-10 finishes: third in Advanced at Rocking Horse, fifth at the Red Hills International CIC3*, seventh at the Carolina International CIC3*, first in Advanced at the New Jersey Horse Trials, eighth at the Richland Park CIC3*, and finishing the season with a second place at the Galway Downs CCI3*. That winning portfolio was enough to earn them another prestigious honor—the 2015 Rood & Riddle Thoroughbred Sport Horse of the Year Award.

Their second-place finish at Galway was a turning point that set them up for their second attempt at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4*. (They competed in 2015, but retired on cross-country.) That was the event where Allie knew they were finally working as a team.

“It was six minutes into Rolex — I remember it like it was two seconds ago,” Allie said. The pair had an awkward moment when Sounder slipped at the second element of a three-stride skinny combination. “It would have been much easier for him to go around it, but he twisted his body to get between the flags,” she said. “That was the moment when I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s there!’”

They finished Kentucky 2016 in 14th place, with no cross-country jumping penalties. It was a huge triumph for a horse who had always been a little bit of an underdog, Allie said — he’s small, only about 15.3, and she has what Allie calls a “permanent hay belly” and doesn’t look very impressive … until you see him go cross-country.

“The one-ness that he and I have (on course), I haven’t felt with any horse before or since,” she said. “I just think something, and it translates through. So we’re very fast and very efficient — there’s no discussion. It’s just the best adrenaline rush. He’s very special.”

The pair traveled to France to compete at the Pau CCI4* in 2017, finishing 21st.

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Boyd Martin (USA)

Owner: George and Gretchen Wintersteen, Pierre Colin and Denise Lahey

Breeding: 2003 gelding by the Australian stallion Jetball (Marscay [AUS]) by the Australian mare Tuonela (Chief’s Crown)

Racing name: Big Jet (NZ)

Racing record: 36 starts (7-2-3), $19,852

Breeder: Seven Creeks Estate

“Eddie” is a mix of New Zealand, Australian and American Thoroughbred. His sire’s sire, Marscay, has produced top grand prix show jumpers and eventers in Australia. His sire also descends from Vain, who is the grandsire of Byth Tait’s Olympic gold medalist, Ready Teddy.

Eddie was born in New Zealand and raced in Australia. He has the highest number of starts of the OTTBs in this year’s field with 36. And they were tough starts, mostly on hardscrabble county tracks in the Australian outback. On two occasions he raced on a Saturday and came back out for another start on Sunday!

Boyd spotted Eddie at a friend’s farm after he’d retired from racing, skinny and barefoot, but he still had a “look” about him, and Martin thought he must be a tough horse to have raced that hard. Martin was dressed in shorts and flip-flops, not exactly appropriate attire to try horses, but he jumped on the horse barefoot, popped him over jumps, and decided he had to have him. He sent the gelding to Kevin McNab for a month to fatten up, and then Eddie shipped to the U.S. in February 2010.

Boyd has brought Eddie up the levels — they did their first one-star in 2012, placing third at the Virginia CCI1*. They were 11th at the Fair Hill CCI2* in 2013, and moved up to Advanced in 2014, completing the Fair Hill CCI3* that fall. In 2015, they placed fourth out of 56 starters at the Fair Hill CCI3*.

They haven’t had the best of luck at Kentucky, though. In 2016, a stellar cross-country round was marred when they had a glance-off at the Fox Den for 20 penalties. They finished 42nd. In 2017, they were tied for 14th after dressage, but Eddie slipped on a turn at the Normandy Bank and they had a fall. But they traveled to England to contest the Burghley CCI4* in the fall and placed 10th.

In the Spring 2018 issue of RRP’s Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, Boyd penned a column advising riders looking to compete at their first four-star to do it on an OTTB: “Avoid the temptation to buy the big fat European show pony that wins the open training division at your local Ping Pong horse trial; have a bit of vision and pick yourself an animal that will achieve your long-term goals, a horse that when you really want to go for it in six years’ time has the necessary capabilities to achieve your dream,” he wrote. “This simply comes down to the laws of probability: horse after horse at this level was a successful OTTB.”

Ashley Johnson and Tactical Maneuver. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Ashley Johnson (USA)

Owner: rider

Breeding: 2005 gelding by Thunder Gulch (Gulch) out of Chelle Spendabuck (Dare and Go)

Racing name: Shykee’s Thunder (FL)

Racing record: 12 starts (0-0-1), $4,588

Breeder: Les Steinger

Ashley Johnson obtained “Gucci” from her friend Ciaran Thompson, an Irish rider who was in the U.S. working for Bruce Davidson. He had gotten the gelding from Katie Ruppel, who had found him off the track (he last raced at Penn National in May 2009), but Ciaran didn’t have time to work with him.

Ashley has ridden him for his entire eventing career, starting at Beginner Novice in 2011. This will be the second attempt at the Kentucky CCI4* for Ashley Johnson and Tactical Maneuver — they made their four-star debut at Kentucky in 2016, finishing 45th with no cross-country jumping penalties.

Johnson had entered the event again last year, but withdrew after a fall in the water at her final prep event, Chattahoochee Hills CIC3*. After a summer of rebuilding, they were back on track and took 26th place with no cross-country jumping penalties at the Fair Hill CCI3* in the fall.

This spring, they’ve placed 19th at Advanced at Rocking Horse, 11th in advanced at Red Hills, and sixth in Advanced at Chattahoochee Hills.

Will Coleman and Tight Lines. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Will Coleman (USA)

Owner: The Conair Syndicate

Breeding: 2007 gelding by Turgeon (Caro [IRE]) out of the French mare Merindole (Tel Quel [FR])

Racing name: Tight Lines (FR)

Racing record: 5 starts (0-1-0), $5,871

Breeder: Henri Devin

Tight Lines made his four-star debut at Kentucky last year, but had two stops on cross-country (at the Head of the Lake and Land Rover Landing) to finish 34th. But they had a productive rest of the 2017 season, placing 11th at the Great Meadow International CICO3*, second at Richland Park CIC3*, and second at the Fair Hill CCI3* to win the USEF National CCI3* Championship.

Tight Lines, known around the barn as “Phish” in homage to one of Will’s favorite bands, was a steeplechaser in France. He’s one of several French Thoroughbreds Coleman has obtained through his wife Katie’s friendship with Canadian eventer Lindsay Traisnel and her husband Xavier.

After a lackluster racing career, Phish was sent to eventers Nicolas and Theirry Touzaint for retraining. Paul Gatien, who was working for the Touzaints at the time, piloted him up to Intermediate and completed a CCI1* in 2014 before selling the gelding to Will’s connections.

He has had much success since coming into Will’s program. The pair also won the Fair Hill CCI2* in 2015 to be crowned the USEF National CCI2* Champions, as well as the Richland Park CIC3* in 2016.

Kelly Prather and Truly Wiley. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Kelly Prather (USA)

Owner: rider

Breeding: 2007 gelding by Salute The Truth (Salutely) out of the Irish mare Tears Of A Loss (Prince Rupert [FR])

Racing name: unregistered

Racing record: unraced

Breeder: Bruce Davidson

Truly Wiley was bred by the winningest Kentucky CCI competitor in history, Bruce Davidson (who has won the event six times), and is out of the same dam as Buck Davidson’s mount Petite Flower. (They finished 21st at last year’s event.) Wiley’s sire, Salute The Truth, competed through the CCI3* level and was ranked sixth on the USEF’s leading sires list for eventing in 2017.

Kelly Prather first spotted “Wiley” in a field at Bruce’s Chesterland Farm as a weanling while training there in 2007. He was so cute, and she took a photo of him.

A couple years later, Kelly was back at Chesterland to look at some of Bruce’s young horses, and one 2-year-old in particular caught her eye … and it turned out to be the same horse she’d snapped a picture of as a weanling! This time, though, it was his talent and athleticism that impressed, and Prather bought him as an upper-level prospect.

Kelly and Wiley were competing at the two-star level by 2014. In 2016, they placed 12th at the Jersey Fresh CCI3* and 27th at the Fair Hill CCI3*. Wiley made his first four-star start at Kentucky in 2017, finishing 33rd after they picked up one refusal on cross-country. This spring, they placed fifth in the Advanced at Red Hills and 26th at the Carolina International CIC3*.

Kelly has made two previous trips to Kentucky, with the Irish Sport Horse mare Ballinakill Glory. They had to withdraw before show jumping in 2010, but returned in 2011 to complete the event and finish 27th.

Kelly has worked behind the scenes with some of the best in the sport. She moved to England as a 17-year-old to train for the British Horse Society exams, and spent two years in Ireland working with Carol Gee, helping to launch Fernhill Sport Horses. She also spent 2012 in England working as head rider for William Fox-Pitt, and was part of his team at the London Olympics.

She focuses her training business on bringing along young horses. She started Blackfoot Mystery as a 3-year-old off the track, competing him through the CCI3* level before Boyd Martin put together a syndicate to buy him. She also competed D.A. Duras for owner Debbie Adams, including the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses at Le Lion d’Angers in France, where they finished ninth.

Sally Cousins and Tsunami. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Rider: Sarah Cousins (USA)

Owner: rider

Breeding: 1999 mare by Roanoke (Pleasant Colony) out of Tsu Tsu Slew (Tsunami Slew)

Racing name: Tsu Tsu Ro (PA)

Racing record: 24 starts (3-2-4), $35,170

Breeder: Bryant H. Prentice III

A lot has changed at the Kentucky CCI4* over the last few years, but there has been one constant: Sally Cousins and Tsunami. This pair has contested the four-star every year since 2012. They’ve completed the event four times, with their best finish being 14th their first year.

Sally has 30-plus years of experience at this level, having competed at Badminton and Burghley in her early 20s. (She also spent 16 years working as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch, and competing, before deciding to become a full-time professional rider.) She was the U.S. Eventing Association’s leading lady rider for six years in a row, 2008 through 2013.

Kim Severson found Sue at Penn National in 2003, and brought her up through the CCI3* level before selling her to Sally in 2007. Together Sally and Sue have a boatload of CCI3* completions, with their best finishes being third at Bromont in 2008 and 2013.

Sue is the oldest horse in the field at 19 years of age. She’s also one of the most heavily raced, with the fourth-highest number of starts (after Steady Eddie, AP Prime, and More Inspiration).

Jenni Autry contributed to this report.