While this weekend is relatively quiet on the home front, there is much excitement in Saumur, France, for the annual Saumur CCI3*. This is a notoriously difficult competition, and this year it has a whopping 80 entries of horses and riders from 19 nations. As one of a handful of courses designed by Pierre Michelet, it is of great importance that horses and riders prove successful in this challenge, as he will be designing both the upcoming 2014 World Equestrian Games and 2016 Olympic courses.
We only have two American riders competing this year, but they are both very promising horses. Doug Payne and Liz Halliday-Sharp were both awarded Land Rover Competition Grants to get to this event and strut their stuff, and they intend to do just that. Doug has traveled a little further than Liz, shipping himself and his horse Tali all the way from the U.S., while Liz and Blackie are just on a quick jaunt from East Sussex, England. Be sure to check out Doug’s first blog from yesterday!
Both horses will be contesting their second CCI3* competitions, with Blackie having completed Boekelo in 2013 and Tali placing an impressive fourth at Fair Hill in the fall. Both of these pairs are looking for a bit of notice from the team selectors as they try to prove their merit over the very influential Pierre Michelet cross country course.
Doug Payne & Crown Talisman: While Tali hasn’t even been competing at the Advanced level for an entire year yet, he’s proven himself as a force to be reckoned with in all three phases. After a fourth place finish at Fair Hill last year, Tali took the winter to step his game up to a whole new level and seems to have gotten better and better with each competition this spring. He hasn’t scored worse than a 51 at any FEI events this spring, including his four-star dressage debut at Rolex.
He’s been an incredibly consistent cross country horse; and with Doug’s extra show jumping skills, you’ll be hard pressed to get these two to hit any rails. They’re coming fresh off a win at Jersey Fresh where they led the CIC3* from start to finish with just some cross country time to add to their score of 42 on the flat. I almost don’t want to jinx him … but these two are poised to do very well indeed here this weekend at Saumur, and I hope to see an American name in the top 10!
Liz Halliday-Sharp & Fernhill By Night: Liz has another really exciting young horse on her hands here with Blackie, and this will also be their second attempt at the CCI3* level, with Boekelo 2013 already under their belts. This horse is excellent on the flat, having scored in the mid-40s at all of his FEI competitions, and even posting a 39 at Burnham CIC3* just a few weeks ago.
They do have the odd 20 penalties to their name on the cross country, including at Boekelo, Fontainebleau and Ballindenisk, but their show jumping record is nearly untouchable, having not incurred a single rail yet this year. They’re coming off a good sixth place finish at Rockingham Castle HT, and I hope that they can pull together three good results to earn the placing that they really deserve. This horse is a phenomenal athlete and has great promise for the future with a little more experience at his discretion.
Chris Burton & Graf Liberty: This horse, while less experienced than some of his competitors, has a good chance at making a solid showing. Last year, they entered Boekelo for their first attempt at this level, posting a very good of 44 on the flat, but sadly had to withdraw after that. This horse has been nothing if not consistent this spring, with good scores in the dressage and fast and clean jumping in both other phases. Keep an eye on these two.
Andrew Hoy & Rutherglen: This horse was Andrew’s Olympic mount in 2012 and has completed numerous four-star competitions for him with good results. They were individually 13th in London and have also logged a sixth-place finish at Luhmühlen and a top 20 result in Kentucky. While they have had a very quiet spring campaign, this horse is a true veteran and will be using all his extra experience to bury the competition. This pair together have recorded very good dressage scores and have a very consistent jumping record, so watch for their names at the top of the leaderboard.
Andrew Hoy & Cheeky Calimbo: Andrew’s got two really good shots at a top finish here this weekend, and it’s hard to choose the better horse. While definitely not as experienced as his stablemate, this horse routinely logs dressage tests in the low 40s at the FEI level and hasn’t had a rail all year. They placed second together at last year’s WEG test event over a Pierre Michelet course, and that bodes well as they tackle this CCI3* track at Saumur together.
Maxime Livio & Qalao Des Mers: Maxime has earned his place on this list for two reasons: After seeing his second place finish at Pau in the fall and his polished performance in all three phases, I can’t help myself; and after looking at his adorable face in press conferences, I can’t help myself. This horse is also a good one to watch, and with Maxime in the irons, you should see a good performance from this Frenchman. They were third together at the WEG test event last fall at Haras du Pin and are intimately acquainted with the style of Pierre Michelet. While they are capable of three competitive phases, we will see if they can do it at the CCI3* level.
Oliver Townend & Black Tie: Oliver has three entries in this event, but this one’s my pick for his greatest chance of success. He just had a wonderful weekend at Badminton, defying all the odds and finishing second with Armada, and I hope he can carry on with the good luck here at Saumur. This horse was 11th here last year, and though they didn’t have great luck in the show jumping, their form seems to have improved in the past few months, and they are coming off a win at Ballindenisk CIC3* just a few weeks ago. While occasionally this pair has trouble on cross country, it is a rare happening, and when they put all three together, they are extremely competitive.
Camilla Speirs & Portersize Just A Jiff: This horse is by far one of my favorite competitors and will be a blast to watch as he pops around this course. Jiffy was Camilla’s Olympic mount, sadly suffering a fall three fences from home at that competition, but bouncing back last year to win Ballindenisk CIC3* and place seventh at Boekelo. They consistently score in the low forties in the dressage at the FEI level and are known for their jumping prowess. They have completed two national events in Ireland this year and placed 10th at Ballindenisk last month, so they are poised for a very good showing at Saumur.
Sara Algotsson Ostholt & Wega: This lovely mare came oh-so-close to winning an individual gold medal at the London Olympics, but had the last fence in show jumping down to move into silver medal position. They have been somewhat off the radar since that time, but I expect nothing less than brilliance from them both. They are incredibly competitive on the flat, and should be in the top five after that phase, and can hopefully use this weekend as an official return to power.