It would be foolish to expect a CCI5* leaderboard not to shift after cross country. But it was hard not to allow a thought into the back of mind that we’d perhaps be looking at a similar-looking top three after today’s action, with the reigning World Champion sitting in command atop the standings. It was Great Britain’s Yasmin Ingham‘s title to take hold of after the first phase — all that stood between her and an overnight lead would be a clear and quick cross country round.
But this is horse sports, and we know it’s rare things go 100% to plan. Sadly, it would not be the Pratoni gold medalist’s day to recreate the magic as Yasmin and Banzai du Loir (Nouma d’Auzay – Gerboise du Cochet by Livarot) made an uncharacteristic mistake at the C element of fence 6, the Park Question. This coffin complex caused difficulty throughout the day, along with its counterpart on the CCI4*-S track, and here Yasmin and Banzai would here have their hopes dashed. They would recollect to deliver a fault-free remainder of their round, but their hopes of taking the crown this weekend were no more.
“Unfortunately, not our day today,” Yasmin said after her ride. “It’s the highs and lows of horses, and they’re not machines — they remind us of that. Just an early on blip, unfortunately, just didn’t quite get to the C element of the Park question, but after that, we put that behind us and cracked on with the rest of the course. Actually, you’ve kind of got to take positives from a bad situation sometimes. Overall, I’m really happy that he got sucked back in and finished really, really well.”
Yasmin has had the misfortune, along with the rest of the UK riders, of not having many runs coming in to this event due to weather cancellations. This and a long hold she encountered at the start, she noted, could have factored into the trouble she experienced early on. “Unfortunately, we haven’t had the spring we usually have, so that is something to think about maybe,” she said. “Also, we were held at the start for quite a long time, which might have just took his concentration away, maybe took his eye off the ball, who knows. The main thing is that the rest of the round was really, really good, and I’m taking positives away from it.”
Earlier in the order, the task fell to third-placed after dressage Tamie Smith and the Ahearn and Markell family’s Mai Baum (Loredano – Ramira by Leoni), who came devastatingly close to taking the win here in 2021 save for an ill-timed frangible pin penalty accrued at the Park Question. On that year’s course, this complex came toward the end of the track, while in 2023 it was placed at fence 6.
“Oh, absolutely. One hundred percent yeah,” Tamie said when asked if she felt any trepidation about the question. “I was definitely happy it was at the beginning of the course. And jumping in, he jumped right over the rails, but when he jumped the ditch, he went very direct, which probably was good because the two is quite long and I didn’t really know that — I didn’t get to watch very much. I was really happy to have that behind me. But with so much to do after that, you know, you got to put it behind you. It didn’t ride as smoothly as I was hoping but it’s five-star for so you just you react and you get it done.”
Behind her it was, and from there the game was about making the most efficient trip possible. In a fantastic display of partnership, Tami and Mai Baum worked together through the grueling 11 minutes and 26 second track, stopping the clock with two seconds in hand.
“I think I was more tired than he was!” Tamie laughed after her round. “I was just like, ‘Come on buddy!’ If I had a mic on me, you could have heard me just say, ‘Come on, you can do it!’ He got tired at one point, but I got up and kept going.”
Tamie spent the early parts of her season practicing her dressage and show jumping, the latter of which will come into play tomorrow as she does not have a rail in hand over second-placed Tom McEwen and JL Dublin.
“I work with Scott Keach [in show jumping],” she elaborated about her winter. “[He’s] a really brilliant coach who’s been helping me for the last probably three years, most exclusively the last two. We have a lot of really great super show jumping venues [in Southern California] and it was actually spectacular because Ali Nilforushan ran this event in Del Mar in this really trappy, kind of high atmosphere stadium, which it’s the first year they’ve done that. It was great to get [Mai Baum] in there, especially after the World Championships. He’s a spooky horse, so it was really great to prep him at that event. I think it was great preparation.”
Also somewhat different from recent years this winter was Tamie’s decision not to go East for the spring and rather to stay in Southern California and use their strong early-season schedule to leg her horses up.
“Part of the reason I stayed home is because it’s a Pan American Games year,” she elaborated. “I think on the Olympic and World Championship years, I have to be east to compete head-to-head, not necessarily to get a different venue. The venues that we have in California are, although unique, up to standard and they definitely prepare your horses great.”
Tamie’s clear round inside the optimum today will keep her on her dressage mark of 24.2, 3.6 penalty marks ahead of Tokyo individual silver medalist and team gold medalist Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. As for her plans for tonight? “A lot of praying!”
Tom McEwen Makes a Stamp in Second
It’s a relatively new partnership in second place, with Great Britain’s Tom McEwen putting in a flowing and forward round with JL Dublin (Diarado – Zarinna by Canto), collecting 5.2 time penalties (“something that can easily be changed for another time”) to go onto a two-phase score of 27.8.
Like Yasmin, Tom also had a less than ideal lead-up to this weekend due to ongoing event abandonments on account of weather troubles. This can make for a nerve-wracking experience, to come all the way across the pond without a solid string of preps in your back pocket. Tom, as always, is quick to credit former rider and 2019 European Champion Nicola Wilson for the work she put into training “Dubs” before an accident at Badminton last year forced her retirement from the sport.
“I thought the course was magnificent,” Tom commented. “It was presented beautifully. For me it rode perfectly, really. There’s a few things that you always change. I was delighted with Dubs. And for me, I’ve had a very short partnership with Dublin and it just shows to me what an amazing job [Nicola] had done with Dubs and what a partnership they’ve created.”
Though a 5* brings its own challenges in terms of fatigue on the final day, JL Dublin would be a dependable show jumper on most days: he jumped a clear round under pressure with Nicola to win the 2019 European Championships in 2019, and also jumped clear in his first 4*-L with Tom at Boekelo last fall en route to finishing second.
Tom also noted that despite his time penalties and his competitive nature, it was in a way a nod to how much partnership-building the pair has yet to do, with less than a year together under their belts. “Once you get to know a horse for years, you know what you can do but for me that was the right decision for today,” he said. “And realistically, what has it cost us, maybe three places? And yes, I am competitive, but there’s more to life than taking too many risks.”
Liz Halliday-Sharp Survives Initial Flag Penalties
Initially after finishing a stellar round with 5* debutant Miks Master C (Mighty Magic – Qui Lumba CBF by Quite Easy), Liz Halliday-Sharp was given 15 penalties for missing a flag at the angled hedges following the Normandy Bank. After review, the penalties were removed to bump Liz up into third place overnight. She added 1.6 time penalties to her dressage marks to finish the day on a score of 28.5.
It was always Liz’s plans to test Ocala Horse Properties‘ and Deborah Palmer’s Miks Master C’s mettle today, having done her prep work early in the season to ensure she had the rideability and adjustability she needed to be able to go fast today. “I planned to try and make time with him because he’s a spectacular horse and he’s a great galloper and I think the world of him,” she said. “So I just sort of planned to go out of the box and see how he was tackling the course and he was absolutely brilliant. He wasn’t slightly tired at the end, and I was a little bit running out of controls there too, as I was like, ‘Whoa, boy, let’s get this done in your first five-star.’ So I’m a little disappointed not to make the time, but look, he was outstanding. We haven’t even been together a year, so this is amazing. He’s an amazing horse and such a fighter, and he just fought the whole way around. He’s something else.”
Indeed, you don’t have confirmation — despite any successes achieved at levels below — that a horse is a 5* horse until you’re out there finding out for yourself. It requires trust and grit to go out with a plan to go for it in a debut, and this plan paid off well for Liz and her connections.
Liz also noted the strategy of taking the gelding bred by Laurie Cameron to Boekelo last year (they finished fifth individually there), as the Dutch venue is famously packed with spectators on cross country day to give a bit of atmosphere practice. “It’s interesting, because I think Boekelo was the making of him,” she explained. “Because[at] Boekelo he noticed the crowds at the beginning — and here not even once, he just went and did his job. That’s why going to those overseas events is so great for us as riders, and we’re lucky to have those opportunities because it teaches a horse like this to embrace crowds — because he’d never really left North America until then, and now he knows his job.”
Viamant du Matz Makes Short Work with Sandra Auffarth
Keen and impressive in his Kentucky debut was Nikolaus Prinz von Croy’s Viamant du Matz (Diamant de Semilly – Heralina X by Voltigeur le Malin X), 2014 World Champion Sandra Auffarth’s Pratoni partner. The 14-year-old Selle Francais gelding positively skipped around what would be his first 5* test — though his resume certainly boasts enough experience that you’d be forgiven if you thought this level was old news for him. Despite Sandra’s decision not to opt for a 5* competition until now, “Mat” has contested the Tokyo Olympics and also contributed to Germany’s team gold medal in Pratoni in 2022.
“Here and there, I had a little moment, but he was very safe just from the “something in-between” distance. He was super — super straight and super focused. He run easily in the time so I’m very, very proud of my horse. He was super fit in the finish, and that is the best thing for a rider, when it comes out of such a big cross country and you feel your horse is fit in the finish, and feels alright and also that the horses enjoy it, that is the best.”
Sandra and Viamant du Matz’s clear round inside the time (11:20) boosted them from ninth after dressage into fourth overnight. It’s been a successful first trip to the Bluegrass State thus far for Sandra, who noted some key differences in this track compared to some other big venues she’s competed at.
“It’s a really interesting countryside with the little hills up and down, but from my feeling, in the right way,” she said. “So it’s work for the horses to go up, but then they can breathe and then it goes again a little bit down, so they can again recover quickly and that makes it fun for both — for the rider and for the horse — and I think that is the best use. In other cross countries, you have sometimes it goes too much up so that you really come to the point that the horse is getting tired, but here it was really, really nice and it’s fun to ride a little bit up and down. It feels really like cross country riding.”
Coleman Makes Moves
Will Coleman experienced a lengthy hold, along with Emily Hamel, Yasmin Ingham, and Maxime Livio, when Jennie Saville’s Stella Artois was pulled up due to lameness late on course (Jennie has since updated her social media to say that Stella was transported to Hagyard out of caution for examination), while on board his first ride, the Off the Record Syndicate’s Off the Record (Arkansas VDL – Drumagoland Bay by Ard Ohio). The hold for Will came later on course, allowing him to pick up and make short work of the latter third of the track to stop the clock bang on the optimum time of 11:26.
“To get the time on him was a major accomplishment for us,” Will said, noting his always studious efforts to try to better understand and manage his horses. “We’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming and tweaking his conditioning over the last couple of years; he has no blood. He doesn’t really have what I would call a real natural gallop — he doesn’t really open his stride up very much, so he sort of sprints his way around, and there’s only so much we can do to really change his way of going — that’s his natural stride. We’ve really just tried to work on developing a greater burst, with interval training with sprinting, and we do it on a hill. I could get very detailed and nuanced with you, but long story short, we’ve just steadily been building that base of quick fitness into him. He’s just able to give me a little bit more bursts later in the course each time I come to one of these things. Today, he definitely got a breather from the hold [on course], but he was really — I thought — close to the minutes, and he finished like a bullet.”
Indeed, the 14-year-old Irish gelding has made three trips to the Bluegrass State, getting progressively quicker across the country with each try before finally catching that elusive time today. For a partnership that’s been in the works since the gelding was four, it’s a rewarding point for his rider.
“It was amazing just how different he’s run each year he’s come here,” Will commented. “The first year he came here, it was like your first time playing in the NFL, and then the second year was a little better, and then this year, he seemed to finally go out there and really just attack it the whole way around.”
Hotly anticipated as the final rider out of the box on his second horse, Chin Tonic HS (Chin Champ – Wildera by Quinar), Will fairly quickly rid himself of the notion that the time would be gotten with the 5* debutant, choosing instead to prioritize positive experience and education for the future. The pair delivered a classy clear, accumulating 14 time penalties (35 seconds) to add to his dressage mark for a score of 39.0. This will drop the pair into 12th overnight, but don’t count them out for a move up the board yet after tomorrow’s show jumping.
“This was kind of my expectation; I knew he would probably be looking for the finish flags a little earlier than where they were,” Will said of the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding sourced in Germany by Hyperion Stud owner Vicky Castegren. “And that’s normal, I think, for horses like him who aren’t tons of blood and haven’t done this before, but I do expect he will develop from this. I couldn’t be prouder of the way he finished — he just kept jumping, he kept trying, he was so honest — I think it speaks to really what a quality animal he is.”
“He lost a few seconds just being green, honestly,” Will continued. “He kind of had a few jumps, where it just felt like he was somewhere else — looking at the crowds, a little bit like a kid the first time he goes to a Taylor Swift concert or something. He was kind of looking everywhere but at the stage. I think he will get better, he’ll get more seasoned, and I think it’s a little bit the same thing. He probably has a bigger stride than Off The Record, but he also loses his burst as he fatigues. The non-natural gallopers, it just takes time. He’ll get it — he’s only 11 and this is his first time, so I think it will just be a little bit of a process for him.”
Other Notables: David Doel the Speed Demon, Boyd Martin’s Debutant
Fastest of the day on the CCI5* track was Great Britain’s David Doel, who stopped the clock with Galileo Nieuwmoed (Carambole – Sjaloma by Harcos) at 11:07.
“He stayed really nice and careful all the way around. He just really kept jumping, he was mega, and he’s got a lovely balanced gallop. I was almost came home a little bit too quick. But he just stayed in such good rhythm jumping out of his rhythm. And so, I just let him just canter underneath me.”
Boyd Martin brought a debut horse with him this year in the 14-year-old Holsteiner Contessa (Contender – Veritas by Esteban xx), owned by Club Contessa. The pair put in a class clear, and Boyd was thrilled with his newly-minted 5* horse.
“She’s such a good girl. She’s very green to get to this event. I didn’t know how she’d cope with it and she felt green, but god she’s a trier. I had her very fit and she gave me a great round. She’s only had eight Advanced runs in her life, so I was sort of thinking, ‘God I hope I’m doing the right thing.’ The first part of the course is quite challenging, and so once she got through the coffin I thought, ‘alright we’re in business here’. I never really got after her about the time; I thought I didn’t quite know how she’d be towards the end and she had plenty left. She did it easier than i thought she would.”
Boyd retired his Tokyo and Pratoni partner, the Turner family’s Tsetserleg TSF, after running into trouble early at the MARS Sustainability Bay (fence 4). “Thomas has got one flaw as a cross country horse: he is very, very fresh at the beginning and he he has trouble turning right,” he noted after he returned to the vet box. “When I walked the course, I knew that would be a challenge, that fence — so I jumped it well and he was sort of looking for a jump off to the left, and I was like, ‘go right, go right!’ and I couldn’t get in there, and circled around and popped it. You know, he’s an older horse that’s been there and done everything, and I didn’t see the point in galloping around for another 11 and a half minutes, so we’ll save him for another day.”
Breaking Down the Numbers
The 2023 5* track saw a 70.3% completion rate and a 54.1% clear rate. 16.2% (6) of the pairs jumped clear inside the time. Fence 6C a the Park Question was the most influential, with three refusals and one retirement occurring here. Problems were otherwise scattered throughout: the MARS Sustainability Bay pulled a few issues, as did the DEFENDER Head of the Lake and the Normandy Bank. One pair fell at the second hedge of the Normandy Bank: Allie Knowles and Morswood (both are reported to be fine and resting comfortably). Eight pairs opted to pull up on course, and three were eliminated on account of falls (two rider falls and one horse and rider fall). Two horses were diagnosed with soft tissue injuries: Daniela Moguel’s Cecelia was found to be lame after finishing the 4* and is resting comfortably Rood & Riddle, and Jennie Saville’s Stella Artois was pulled up at fence 27 when Jennie felt something was not right under her. The mare was transported off cross country in the horse ambulance and is currently at Hagyard; she was diagnosed with a soft tissue injury to a different leg than the one she had recovered from a previous injury.
Karl Slezak Tops the Board for Canada in Lexington CCI4*-S
The big, challenging CCI4*-S cross country course was a big ask for Karl Slezak’s Hot Bobo. Having only moved up to Advanced this spring, “Bobo,” a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare had her work cut out for her today around Derek di Grazia’s nearly seven minute track, but she exceeded even Karl’s expectations, coming home clear and inside the time to jump from seventh into the lead.
“I was a little concerned with crowds. It’s the first time she’s seen the crowds — and as a young horse she was really spooky, it wasn’t until kind of a year and a half ago she really started to step up to the plate as far as tunnel vision and just focusing on the jumps,” he said. “You just never know in a place like this, but she was on it — she was spot on.”
Karl and his wife bough the mare on something of an impulse at the Monart Sale in Ireland, and at first, he wasn’t sure if his choice was a mistake, but she’s only continued to prove herself for Karl, especially in the last year.
“She’s always been a bit funny, but I always believed in her. She’s finally come along and just loves it — it’s just unbelievable. She’s got some Thoroughbred in her, which is very different than my Fernhill Wishes horse who was always a very kick ride — this one, you can kick it, but then it goes,” he said.
Karl and Bobo were one of only three pairs to make it inside the time today, leaving them as the only combination to remain on a sub-30 score of 29.3.
Third-placed Tamie Smith stepped up into the reserve role with Julianne Guariglia’s Solaguayre California, a 12-year-old Silla Argentina mare (Casparo — Solaguayre Calandira, by Casall). They added 2.4 time penalties for a two-day result of 30.
“California… she just came out this year really understands her job now. It’s been an exciting journey with her because she used to just balloon up over into the into the water and spook at the coffins, but she’s just answered all the questions easy [today]. My last combination was a little hairy, but she’s so honest and fights through the flags that it didn’t really matter,” Tamie said.
Liz Halliday-Sharp was admittedly frustrated at the end of the four-star cross country when her overnight leader Cooley Nutcracker, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Tolant R — Ballyshan Cleopatra, by Cobra) owned by the Nutcracker Syndicate (which consists of Liz, Deborah Halliday, Ocala Horse Properties, and Renee Lane), activated a collapsable table at fence 18, which loaded 11 penalty points to their score, which is now 40.3 for 15th place.
Despite this, she set out with her second ride, Cooley Be Cool. The Ocala Horse Properties’ and the Monster Partnership’s 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Heritage Fortunus — HHHS Carlota) was intended to debut at the five-star level in a few short weeks at Luhmühlen, but Liz said today’s cross country was educational on that front as a rider. “Dave” came home 14 seconds up on the clock for third place on 31.3 points.
“He was a little bit slow, actually, and I just was saying to Erik [Duvander], I always believe the horses will tell you what they’re ready for, and I don’t think he’s ready to go to five-star in June just yet,” Liz said. “I think he needs a bit more fitness and he needs some time on my hill, and he just needs one more four-star. I think that’s what he was telling me, because he is normally a fast horse, and I think his fitness isn’t just quite where it needed to be. He jumped all the jumps brilliantly, he was confident and brave and foot perfect everywhere, but we just weren’t that fast — I think that’s why we’re here, it’s great to get that education and just listen to your horses.”
David O’Connor’s Phelps (Tiznow – Boomtown Gal) is another entry who stepped up today for his rider Mia Farley. She and the 10-year-old Thoroughbred are fourth after only 1.6 time penalties brings them to a current score of 33.
Sydney Elliot is fifth with QC Diamantaire, a 13-year-old Oldenburg (Diarado — Lantana, by Sandro Hit) owned by Carol Stephens, with 4.4 time penalties.
Phillip Dutton used the leaderboard as a ladder after producing a double clear round with Azure. Placed 29th after dressage, the efforts of the Moran Family’s 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Omar — Cavalier Roselier, by Cavalier Royale) landed him all the way in sixth.
The only other entry to add no penalties today was Leah Lang Gluscic and the ageless OTTB A.P. Prime who are currently tied for tenth.
We’ll resume competition tomorrow with the Final Horse Inspection tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. Both the 4*-S and the 5* horses will trot up in front of each division’s respective ground jury. The 4*-S will then begin show jumping at 10:45 a.m, followed by an awards ceremony. The 5* will reach its conclusion with the commencement of show jumping at 2 p.m., with awards to follow.
Be sure to stay tuned for what’s sure to be a classic ending to another great weekend in Kentucky. Until tomorrow!
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