It was fairly easy to anticipate how World #1 Rider Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent (Valent – Bellaney Jewel xx, by Roselier xx) would finish their cross country today after watching them skip through a highly-anticipated combination — Fences 14 and 15 (the Select Event Group Baltimore Barricades and Bodgie’s Fox Covert). Carving through the direct, efficient line, Paul Ridgeon’s nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare with both racing and jumping breeding gave a huge effort over the first max spread table, making Oliver’s original plan of five strides to four strides impossible. You’d not have known, though, as she quickly picked up the line and was through it with a swish of her tail and a blink of the eye.
Minutes later, Oliver crossed the finish, stopping the clock 15 seconds over the optimum time of 11 minutes, 10 seconds. He accumulated six time penalties — “hopefully I won’t be kicking myself tomorrow!” — but it was enough to keep him in the position to beat on Sunday at the MARS Maryland 5 Star, presented by Brown Advisory. He’ll take a two-phase score of 29.1 into the show jumping tomorrow, without a rail in hand.
“Rosie has fulfilled my expectations of her,” Oliver said. “We always thought she was a superstar since the day we first saw her at age four, and from literally arriving in the warm-up to setting out of the box, I just thought, ‘God yeah, there’s just something special’. She’s very keen, but in a beautiful way — ears pricked and enthusiastic, and basically she’s had a whale of a time out here and I couldn’t be happier with her. She’s fulfilled our dreams that she is the hopefully next big thing for five-star horses.”
Historically, Oliver’s had a rail here and there — including one at the mare’s first 5* at Luhmühlen in the spring — with Rosie, but the pair does have clear jumping rounds on their card at Long format events. He will need to leave all the rails up tomorrow, as both William Fox-Pitt and Mia Farley are within four penalties of the lead as it stands now.
“For [owners Paul and Diana Ridgeon, who also owned horses for Andrew Nicholson and have been longtime supporters of Oliver’s] to get a superstar like this after owning horses their whole life, it’s very special for the whole team,” Oliver said. “She’s so honest and loves her job so as long as I get her nearly in front of the fences, she looks for the flags and jumps them very well. She’s been very keen all day, and she’s a pleasure to ride. I want to do that more than ever – with the horses that I’m privileged to ride, these horses are what keeps getting me up in the morning. It takes a huge amount of people to get me here on this horse, so thank you to everyone.”
William Fox-Pitt was equally pleased with the effort of his mare (how lovely to have two incredible mares sitting atop this leaderboard tonight!), Amanda Gould’s 11-year-old Oldenburg mare Grafennacht (Grafenstolz – Nachtigall, by Narew xx), who accumulated 5.2 penalties to move up one spot into second place overnight. “I’ve known she’s a lovely horse and she gave me a great ride at Badminton, so of course I’ve come here full of optimism,” he said. “[The question is] when they’ve done a five-star, are they going to be as good at the next one? But she’s always been a very cool horse, ever since she was five, it was always like she just walked the course like “yep, yep, yep” — she doesn’t really deviate anyway. She’s nice and easy to ride.”
William benefitted some from about a 20-minute hold after Arielle Aharoni pulled up Dutch Times two fences from home (Dutch Times was loaded into the horse ambulance with a wrapped right front after coming up lame. Arielle reports he’s resting comfortably at New Bolton this evening and she hopes he’ll be able to come home with her soon.). “Lillie” pulled up well — they’d just cleared the 14AB/15 combination before being held — and William took the time to walk her around, grab some water, and put some water on his mare. They were quickly sent away once Dutch Times was safely off the course and were seemingly equally quick to get the last few minutes of the track done to come home clear.
“Absolutely, I have to admit of course that the hold, in hindsight, did help,” William said. “You’re never quite sure — you think you’d like to stay in that rhythm and keep going. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, when I get out to the corners around the water, she might be fresher than I’d anticipated’, so I rather thought that I’d ride her a bit quieter. But she held quite relaxed. She had a good wash, there was some water there in the end and I didn’t know how long I was going to be held for. It was all a little bit hit and miss, but I’ve got to say it all played to my advantage for sure because she doesn’t look like she’s done an event.”
This is another who’s had a few rails on the record. She lowered three in her first 5* at Badminton, but she did jump clear in both Boekelo’s and Burnham’s 4*-Ls. Tomorrow’s Michel Vaillancourt-designed track should prove itself a worthy challenge for the afternoon to come.
Which now brings us to, in this writer’s (and probably the rest of the eventing internet’s, to be honest) humble opinion, the absolute Story. Of. The. Day. Full. Stop.: Mia Farley and Phelps.
Mia’s been jokingly casual all week, insisting she was “ignoring all the things that I don’t want to think about”. But Mia’s been training with David O’Connor since she moved to the East coast from her hometown in southern California in 2017, and not long after, she met a little off-track Thoroughbred named Phelps (Tiznow – Boom Town Gal, by Cactus Ridge). Purchased off Joanie Morris for $1 by David, he became Mia’s to produce, and the training began for what would wind up being the sole clear round inside the optimum time today. Part of that production is preparation from the multi-medalist and longtime U.S. eventing chef d’equipe.
“I think a big part of our training at home… we kind of made a joke that we always jump the last element first, like if we’re teaching horses how to look for flags, we always jump the last element first, and then you connect the two of them and they learn to kind of hunt the flags. And I really think I saw that training that we did with Phelps five years ago, today.”
Mia started Phelps’ eventing career, and their cross country record is quite impressive. They’ve had just three events incurring cross country jumping penalties since the beginning days at the Novice level on, and they’ve never had a cross country penalty in FEI competition. While Mia is taking this one day at a time and enjoying the moment, she does know Phelps struggles mightily in the show jumping. That being said, he has jumped a double clear before, at Morven Park’s 4*-L last fall, where he finished on his dressage score. With two horses ahead of her that also have rails dotting their record, it’s difficult not to think of the possibilities. Could this be the fairytale weekend we weren’t expecting? In less than 24 hours (I mean, honestly more like 10 hours from now, by the time I finish this report), we’ll know. But for now, we’re all raising a toast to you, Mia. Enjoy it.
As the first out of the box this afternoon, most of us anticipated Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue (Jaguar Mail – Rock Me Baby, by Rock King) to show us how this course was supposed to look, and they certainly proved us right. After an uncharacteristic blip at the Burghley Leaf Pit last month, Austin opted to hop a plane to the States for a crack at Maryland, and he brought The Salty Syndicate’s Colorado Blue home with just three seconds of time to move up into fourth place overnight. They elevate themselves nine places after starting the weekend in a semi-disappointing 12th with a couple of errors in an otherwise personal-best dressage on Thursday.
“It was good, it was, but it was it’s a tough ask — it’s a big test,” Austin said after his ride. “It’s a proper five-star.” This pair would very likely have made the time, had it not been for the decision to go longer at the top water (25ABCD), pulling to the left to swing back around to jump the angled brush at D. Monica Spencer as the third out would be the first to take the direct line there, but Austin chose to preserve his clear round here with “Salty”.
“I took a long way, surprised him,” he said. “I mean, I think we had a fair idea that it was gonna take a lot of jumping the whole way, and it did. The fences are big and they’re built in such a way that the horses go higher again, sort of putting another another six inches to the size… it all takes concentration and jumping.”
Salty has jumped double clear at the 5* level (Badminton 2022), and also jumped clear in the individual medal round at Tokyo (though he did knock one in the team round), so we know this horse has the staying power to deliver on the final day.
Piggy March set out with a plan to give the track a good crack, but prioritize giving 5* first-timer Brookfield Cavalier Cruise (Cavalier Carnival – Ryans Cruise, by Atlantic Cruise) a strong and positive ride. She accomplished this, opting for a long route when she felt she was having trouble turning right. “So I’m very pleased and very proud,” she said after finishing her ride on Chloe and John Perry and Alison Swinburn’s gelding. “I went to a lot of plan B’s and plan C’s on my round, which wasn’t what I had intended to do from the off, but for some reason I was struggling turning right today, which I’ve never had before — so that was very expensive timewise… And so I accept the time on that he’s finished, happy there wasn’t a moment that he’s had an unpleasant experience. There were just moments there of my ride that I experienced a very different horse to what I’ve had before, but that’s part of the game and that’s, you know — we stepped up to five-star, he’s still a very green inexperienced horse so good on him. You know, I’m very, very, very proud. He kept jumping really well to the end.”
Other notable rounds today include sixth-placed Hannah Sue Hollberg, who brought first-timer Capitol H I M (Con Air – O-Heraldika, by Heraldik xx), owned by Christa Schmidt, home clear with 7.2 time penalties and a two-phase score of 39.6. Lillian Heard Wood and her own LCC Barnaby (Guy Cavalier – Lady Tanjour, by Rafael) completed an incredible 13th 5* cross country track, and Andrew McConnon was another 5* rookie who delivered a clear round with time aboard Jeanne Schigo’s Ferrie’s Cello (Chello III – Karelza, by Wolfgang).
This was a significantly more challenging track built by Ian Stark in the third year of the Maryland 5 Star, though a small field makes the numbers a bit more concentrated. In contrast to 2022, which saw Oliver Townend finish some 17 seconds inside the time (“which was quite embarrassing,” he said in the press conference), only Mia Farley would finish bang on the optimum time this year with Phelps. Several came close: as I said before, Austin O’Connor would probably have caught it had it not been for the long route at the Crab water, and William Fox-Pitt’s 5.2 penalties were the third-quickest of the day.
“I think Ian did do a very good job on that course,” William noted in the post-cross country press conference. “He was very brave in parts and really gave us a serious track that we had to think about. I did walk the course and think Ian very much had a Murphy Himself in the back of his mind when he was walking some of those distance and fences, and I was rather wishing I was on a Murphy Himself. But my mare coped very well, I’m very pleased with her and I think he stuck a good balance. I think he asked very good questions, there were times when things maybe weren’t so big, but he did test our horses. We’ve got one inside the time — I thought when I walked it there might be two, so that’s a pretty damn good result.”
64% of the field completed the course, and 13 of the 25 starters (52%) jumped clear. For comparison, in 2021 11 pairs made the optimum time, and in 2022 13 pairs went double clear. 27 (64% of the field, so another example of number compression in a smaller field as this year’s field saw the same completion rate) jumped clear in 2021, and 18 (75%) jumped clear in 2022.
Several pairs were eliminated, including rare falls for both Phillip Dutton (who fell with Azure at the double corners at fence 19AB — both are reportedly okay this evening) and Boyd Martin (who fell at fence 3 after Contessa had a close distance and a peck on landing at the table out of the water, popping Boyd out the right door. Boyd was down on the ground for a moment, but he was quickly up on his feet and will now re-group and head off to Pau to compete Fedarman B next weekend). There was a hold on course when Jacob Fletcher fell from Fabian at fence 12. Zach Brandt pulled up Direct Advance at 19B after his already-injured back tied up and rendered him unable to ride effectively. Jennie Brannigan withdrew Twilightslastgleam after taking a hard fall from Pascal in the 3*-L earlier in the day. As of publication, there are no major injuries to horses or riders reported, with Arielle Aharoni’s mount Dutch Times being the only one requiring further attention after pulling up close to home.
After trying to calm his nerves between the 3* and the 5* this afternoon by taking a quick nap in his car, Ian Stark was pleased with the day. “I have to say I felt pretty darn sick, but I quite enjoyed the three-star, I thought they did a good job,” he said. “I was very relieved when Austin went around so well. At the end of the day, everything was tried — all the routes. I think various things please me: I thought Oliver Townend’s horse was phenomenal. I thought Mia’s horse went brilliantly — she rode amazingly considering her first five-star. And what really thrilled me is, because I’m a racing man, it’s a Thoroughbred. So it’s sort of, I won’t make the gesture, to the warmbloods, but I’ve always been a Thoroughbred person so I’m delighted for her.”
Caroline Martin Holds USEF National CCI3*-L Lead with HSH Connor
We may as well call the CCI3*-L the Lauren and Caroline Show, with Special Guest Taren Hoffos. Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Connor are in first place, Lauren Nicholson and Larcot Z in second, Caroline and HSH Tolan King in third, Taren Hoffos and Regalla in fourth, and Lauren Nicholson and Landmark’s Jungle Gold.
Our overnight leaders remained mostly the same from day one, however there was a little jockeying between Caroline Pamukcu and Taren Hoffos for third place– Caroline and HSH Tolan King, owned by Sherri Martin and Derek Strine, bumped Taren and Regalla (Sir Donnerhall x Rubiera A by Rubinstein 46), owned by Carolyn Hoffos, from third to fourth.
Caroline and HSH Connor (Connor 48 x Galwaybay Merstona by Mermus R) threw down a stellar double clear cross country round with a time of 9:31 seconds, seven seconds under the optimum time. “HSH Connor is no stranger to big atmospheres after doing Le Lion d’Angers last year. He’s done a lot of championships, so this is a walk in the park,” Caroline said. “But he is seven and it’s a lot of terrain. Going up to the last water like, oh my god, you’re exhausted. Then you get a second wind going down that hill and then you’re just flying on the way home.”
Caroline’s second ride, HSH Tolan King, was actually eventing’s version of a foster failure. After taking him on as a sales horse, he sat for two years before an investor took on half ownership. “He’s just been an absolute machine. He won the CCI2*-L at Tryon for his first FEI and hasn’t been outside the top five in any of his three-star competitions. This was a big ask for him, but he found it easy, very, very easy,” Caroline said.
Lauren Nicholson kept her hold on second place with Ms. Jacqueline Mars’ Larcot Z (L’Arc de Triomphe x Kocote De La Londe by Socrate de Chivre), adding just 0.4 points to her dressage score for a total of 28.6. “Larcot Z was amazing and, you know, I get to know him more each time out. The track wasn’t terribly difficult or changed the standings much, but I thought it was an excellent track for these young horses that are developing.”
“Jungle’s Gold, he’s young and a bit weak. What makes him great cross country sometimes makes him a bit casual show jumping, so that’s been a work in progress,” said Lauren. “They’re both athletic, talented horses.”
Our West Coast girl, Taren Hoffos, added 0.8 faults to her dressage score, which ultimately made the difference between third and fourth place, and allowed Caroline and HSH Tolan King take her place on the leaderboard. “I’m just so grateful that I was able to make the trek and bring this fantastic mare out here to compete. So back home, she did the three long at Rebecca farm which I thought was great for her. That was her first three long and she placed well, she felt like she was just so confident,” Taren said. “She was great to the end.”
Tomorrow will bring a new day and new stories, so thanks for sticking around to read ours. The trot-ups will start at 8:30 a.m. ET with the 3*-L, followed by the 5* around 9:15 a.m. The 3*-L begins show jumping at 10:30 a.m., followed by the 5* at 2:00 p.m. Orders of go will be posted here following the final Horse Inspections.
Veronica Green-Gott contributed to this report.
MARS Maryland 5 Star: [Website] [Entries, Schedule & Times] [Live Scores] [Live Stream (North America)] [Live Stream (Outside North America)] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]
EN’s coverage of MARS Maryland 5 Star is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products.