Winner: It will be the stars and stripes on the top of the podium here at Kentucky for the first time since 2008. The CCI5* debut for Will Coleman’s entry Chin Tonic HS is one of the most highly anticipated in recent memory for me. I saw this horse go for the first time in 2019 when he won his first ever FEI event, and it was obvious to me then what a talent he is, and he’s only continued to blossom since then. He’s quite flashy on the flat and scored sub-20 in his last two outings, and he’s an excellent show jumper with only three poles down in his entire International career. Because he’s only 41% blood, Will typically doesn’t go for time, but when he tested it out on Ian Stark’s tricky Carolina course, Chin delivered and proved he’s got the stuff to step it up.
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): Germany’s Alina Dibowski and Barbados 26 are both 5* first-timers, but they have an arsenal of International experience to dig into this weekend. Alina may only be 22, but she’s already had her first World Championship experience last year at Pratoni. In their final preparatory outing before that, they were third in a massive field at Le Pin au Haras that was essentially a pre-Pratoni. Of course it also doesn’t hurt to have four-time Olympian and team gold medalist Andreas Dibowski as your father and groom at your first 5*.
Best American: Behind my predicted winner, I think we’re going to see Liz Halliday-Sharp right up there with her newest partner Miks Master C. Owned by the Ocala Horse Properties and Debbie Palmer, “Mickey” is another first-timer, but he’s paired with one of the gutsiest riders in the field who was a wealth of experience to show him the way. His starting score has been edging lower and lower, and if Liz can pull out all the stops for a low 20, they’ll be well positioned before the jumping phases. Liz has been experimenting with maintaining speed without losing control, and I think they’ll peak exactly where they need to come Saturday. Besides, there’s no one who knows how to go fast better than a former race car driver. Mickey is another excellent show jumper, and while we haven’t seen Liz taken him around too many long formats, in the 4*-L at Boekelo last year he produced a clear round on a world class stage.
Best foreign entry: I certainly won’t be betting against our reigning World Champions Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir. They’ve not scored outside the 20s in the last two years, with their Pratoni test even better at 22. This horse is one consistent jumper as well with only one 20-penalty mark in his entire career, and with 66% blood he can really move as well. Yas has not had an ideal spring with so many events being cancelled in England, but she managed one run at Thoresby that she’ll hang her hat on. If they can reproduce the magic they had at Pratoni, it will be hard for anyone else to touch them.
Spoiler alert: Is it fair to call Mai Baum a spoiler? Probably not, as the 17-year-old German Sport Horse has had his share of International success with Tamie Smith including 11 career wins. They have been very much an almost pair here before back in 2021 when a heartbreaking 11 penalties for activating a frangible pin dashed their hopes of a win. But does “Lexus” have it in him? Most certainly. It is well within his wheelhouse to start on a low-20 and finish not too far off that, but it may come down to how speedy he can be across the country.
Four-star winner: I think we’re going to see Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan top the “mini Kentucky” class. Not only are they quite experienced at the level, this pair has proved they can show up and perform under pressure. Riding as individuals at last year’s World Championship, Ariel and “Simon” finished 11th individually as the only U.S. pair to complete on their dressage score. With this weekend’s influential cross country, I think they’ve got the stuff to pull out a massive win.
Winner: The Brits take it this year (sorry, US readers), but is it reigning World Champ Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir, who were second here last year, or Tom McEwen and reigning European Champion (under Nicola Wilson) JL Dublin? I think the latter pair are going to be very, very, very competitive this week — but Yaz has got the win. She’s got all the goods: exceptional dressage, very, very good, quick cross-country, and formidably good showjumping form, but they also have a secret weapon that can’t be underestimated: the wave of confidence that comes after some career-affirming results. 25-year-old Yaz is still riding the wave of that Pratoni victory, and she’s returning for a sophomore visit to a venue she did so well at just a year ago, and the foundation that gives your mental fortitude as a rider really can’t be underestimated. Plus, supporter Rachel Wakefield, who sourced Banzai for Yaz, told me today that she had a similar air travel hiccup happen on her trip here this week as she did last year, and that might sound like a really bonkers thing to call a good omen, but I’m all about spotting those synchronicities and assigning far too much meaning to them. Excuse me while I check Banzai’s horoscope…
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C will be a pair I’ll be watching closely this week: I first saw them together at Boekelo last year, when their partnership was still very new and the horse still a strong ride in all three phases. Even so, they were impressive: you really got the sense in watching them that you were seeing something special come together. Liz rates the horse, who she rides for Debbie Palmer and her loyal supporters Ocala Horse Properties, as the best she’s had, and I’m willing to believe it – now, I think they could be on track for a career highlight week (so far, anyway).
Best American: I am notorious for cheating at these things and squeezing like, three choices into one with some truly appalling excuse as to why I’m doing it, so I guess get used to that, because I don’t plan on changing any time soon. To that effect, the Tamie v Will v Liz dilemma here is one that’s keeping me up at night (kinda), but in the interest of actually putting my money where my mouth is, I’m giving this one to Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. They came so close to running away with the title a couple of years ago, and they just keep getting better and better. Tamie’s already a DQ, but she and Lexus have been contesting Prix St Georges competitions over the winter, and I know that she’ll have taken those uncharacteristic rails at Pratoni and using them as a powerful motivator to get even better in the final phase, which is generally a very strong one for this class-act gelding. Their partnership will serve them well over the cross-country, and I know Tamie’s not come here just to take part. They’ve got it, for me. </p
Best foreign entry: As the resident Brit on the team, I’m resolutely refusing to consider the formidable British contingent ‘foreign entries’, purely because it makes it very easy for me then to dangle the delicious carrot that is France’s Maxime Livio and Carouzo Bois Marotin into the list. I watched this pair in the gelding’s five-star debut at Pau last year and was struck by how easily the gelding made up those bold Pierre Michelet distances, ultimately romping home as one of just four clears inside the time. They finished seventh there, and though a repeat of their mid-30s dressage won’t see us troubling this strong first-phase field during the week, there’s more than one spot on the Kentucky course where I thought, ‘I’d really like to see a French forward ride through this’. I think Maxime and his horse will dig deep and give us just that, climbing on what should be a tough day Saturday to move into a competitive spot. Please believe me when I tell you it was so hard not to put either of those Germans in this spot, though, because I also think they’ll be formidable. Alina Dibowski’s name is one you’d best commit to memory.
Spoiler alert: Woe betide anyone who decides to head off early on Friday, because the final test of the day — that of Will Coleman and his extraordinarily special debutant, Chin Tonic HS — will set a record here. Okay, okay, that’s a big claim to make, especially as we’ve not seen him tackle this tough test with its gazillions of changes — but a 19.2, posted by Bettina Hoy with Ringwood Cockatoo in 2009, is the current record-holder, and Chin Tonic has been throwing out some serious marks at four-star, including sub-20s in his last two runs at TerraNova and Carolina, and a truly insane 15.7 at the three-star level at Stable View last year. He’s so good that when he delivered his leading dressage test in Luhmühlen’s ultra-competitive CCI4*-S, the whole venue shut up and took notice — and every time I’ve seen him since then, he’s only impressed me more. I think we’ll witness a special moment in his career this week.
Four-star winner: I’m giving this one to USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Champion and aspirational amateur Dan Kreitl, who so nearly had it last year with Carmango, but for those pesky rails on the final day. He totally deserves a big win here – even last year’s winner, Liz Halliday-Sharp, said she’d been cheering him on to take it — and although the final phase is still their weak link, it’s definitely on the up and up. Now, armed with the knowledge of how it feels to be so close to glory, I think Dan will make it happen. Let’s not forget that he won that national title in his first ever CCI4*-L. He’s the real deal.
Best foreign entry & Winner: I’m giving both of these picks to Yasmin Ingham. In 2022, Yasmin was not only the highest placed young rider, she also came in 2nd place. Without Michael Jung on this year’s roster, the path is clear for Yasmin and Banzai du Loir to come in for a clean sweep and earn that number one spot on the podium.
Banzai du Loir has clearly shown that he thrives under pressure. He earned the best dressage score of his career at Pratoni and was only 1.3 seconds away from finishing on that score. I think we’ll see Yaz and Banzai step up to the plate this weekend and throw down yet another amazing performance– but this time, we’ll see the talented 25-year-old rider standing in the top spot of the podium.
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): Have you seen Early Review‘s ears? That horse clearly loves her job. While it’s Sydney Solomon and Coco’s first time at the 5* level, this pair has been working hard and putting in the elbow grease to get the job done. Plus, Coco just had her best dressage score ever at the Stable View CCI4* — let’s hope she can repeat that performance this weekend.
Sydney’s planning on hitting the ground running for her first five star. She won’t be holding back and instead will leave the start box with the goal of going clear and getting as close to the time as possible. While Sydney did admit she’s a bit nervous (who wouldn’t be?), she also has a secret weapon in her back pocket: groom Emma Ford. Emma’s absolute wealth of knowledge of the five-star level will more than make up for Sydney’s nerves.
Best American: I’m thoroughly convinced that Chin Tonic HS is not 100% horse. There’s got to be some pegasus or unicorn blood in there somewhere. While it is Chin’s first time at the 5* level, this horse has talent busting out of his seams. The Holsteiner regularly puts in dressage scores in the teens and has a plethora of podium finishes on his record, despite the fact that his FEI career barely precedes the pandemic.
The only thing holding Chin back from the podium are Will’s goals. Will he go for gold or hold the horse back and protect his legs for the future? Whatever he decides, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this horse during the #BestWeekendAllYear.
Spoiler alert: My long-shot pick– Boyd Martin and Contessa coming in in the top ten. It’s untraditional to list Boyd Martin as any sort of dark horse, and while I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Tsetserleg TSF on the podium, Contessa is a different story. LRK3DE is the 14 year old Holsteiner’s first 5* event.
The pair has clearly been working hard over the winter and had a fabulous 4* run at Stable View in early April, coming in just off the podium in fourth place. There’s no question that Contessa has the scope and the skill to jump clear– the real question is, can she make the time? She’s only had two cross country runs within the time in her 7-year career. Unlike a few other top horses, Contessa’s best phase is show jumping. She rarely has a pole and has just one time fault of a whopping 0.4 seconds for her entire career.
If Contessa can pull a high 20s dressage score and run a few extra miles-per-hour faster on the cross country course, she just might finish in a coveted top ten spot.
Four-star winner: I am SO biased on my pick for this one, but you cannot talk me out of cheering on Heather Gillette and Vincent Chase for the win. I will be 100% honest and say that I am truly picking Heather and “Vinny” just because I was able to spend some time in the barns with Vinny and I am in love. Not only is the big, beefy gray an OTTB, but he also has the biggest personality. When he’s not begging for treats or wither scratches, he’s begging to be ridden. It’s clear that Heather and Vinny have a great relationship and I so hope to see them on the podium.
Winner and Best American: It would be remiss of me and all my values not to beg all the eventing gods that be to choose Tamie Smith and Mai Baum as our first US winners since 2008, and our first female rider win since Mary King in 2011. She’s also our token #WestCoastRepresent, so a win would mean that much more for all us out here in the desert. Tamie is EquiRating’s leader this year at a 14% win chance, after all, and who am I to argue with the pros? For all women, US riders, and West Coast dreamers, Tamie is known for aspiring to break all the records, and we Lexus fans are foaming at the mouth from the possibilities in this leaderboard — I think this will finally be our year.
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): This isn’t even me picking Will Coleman, I’m only here to watch Chin Tonic HS. Whatever Will has been putting in the water at his place, Chin has taken it and allowed it to fuel his superhero arc to become our resident Superhorse. I will even go as far as to predict that this handsome, snappy-legged mover will be giving us one of our lowest dressage scores in the field. Chin holds the lowest 6RA (6 Run Average) with EquiRatings at 22.8, and we all saw his breathtaking performance at the Carolina International CCI4* this spring, so I know he is going to give all these seasoned old-timers a true run for their money.
Best foreign entry: Listen, I can give you the spiel all day long on how this is the US’ year, we are stronger than we’ve ever been, everyone is looking amazing — which is of course true… but Yasmin Ingham is just phenomenal. If not the winner of the whole dang thing, this little four-legged World Champion masterpiece is consistency at it finest; sub-25 dressage across the board, a squeaky-clean cross country record, and spotless in showjumping. I’m also a bit (a lot) obsessed with Banzai du Loir, who are also obvious shoo-ins for Paris as well, so this choice is an easy one; I think we can all expect Yaz to stay up there at the top of our scoreboard all weekend long.
Spoiler alert: We all just know that Tom McEwen is going to do something exciting during this weekend, and while I have to hope on my country’s behalf that said exciting thing isn’t a win… we know he’s going to get as close as possible. JL Dublin is an absolute speed machine on cross country, and has been giving us pretty stellar dressage as well. Despite our US riots, we know the Brits will be trying to hold on to their record, and the Yaz-Tom UK power duo are here to talk business.
Four-star winner: Is there any reason to believe that Liz Halliday-Sharp won’t be vying for a one-two punch? Cooley Be Cool and Cooley Nutcracker seem like they’ve just sprung up out of nowhere recently, and I’m here for it — if I had to pick just one of the two, I think Cooley Nutcracker has his eyes set on the prize. With four entries this weekend, Liz is bound to come out on top this year, and I can feel it in my bones that she’s going to be pushing hardest for a repeat 4* victory.
Winner: Honestly, this is such an exciting field this year and it’s a bit torturous to try and pick a winner. Something tells me though that this could be Tamie Smith and Mai Baum‘s time. We’ve known for a number of years now that this pair has it in them to produce some big results, and they’ve done so recently under great pressure — finishing in the top 10 at each the World Championships and Badminton last year, plus Kentucky in 2021. That’s a pretty good track record and I’m betting they’re here this weekend looking to better it.
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): I very nearly picked this Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS to win it all and, hey, they still could! It would frankly be shocking if five-star first-time horse ‘Chin’ didn’t thrown down a stunning dressage score at the end of the day on Friday. But how will he fare across the country? We know now from Carolina International that Chin is capable of answering the hard questions while gunning for the time. The question is though, will Will ask that of him this weekend?
Best American: Gotta be Tamie or Will!
Best foreign entry: Our World Champions Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir, duh.
Spoiler alert: Miks Master C is my wild card this year. The only reason I’m not putting him and Liz Halliday-Sharp up for the win, best first-time horse, or top American is because they’re still a relatively new partnership compared with others on the start list. Liz has been making great strides with this horse, however, and it seems like the sky is the limit for this pair.
Four-star winner: Similar to the five-star, this is a seriously stacked class. I was surprised to see Sydney Elliot and QC Diamantaire on this division’s start list, but with their fancy footwork and a relatively quick cross country record, I think they stand a chance at taking top spot in this class. Especially if they can keep the poles up on the final day!
Winner: Tamie Smith and Mai Baum
This is probably one of the most difficult fields to handicap, at least at the top of the leaderboard. We’ve got three World Champion riders, including current title-holder Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir, as well as a hefty threat from overseas and some exceedingly strong pairs representing the U.S.
So while you could probably through five or six names at the wall as prospective winners, I’m going to take another nod for Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Here’s why:
Tamie’s had a quieter lead-up to this event with the “Black Stallion” in 2023, opting to compete in the dressage and show jumping rings to begin her season before hopping across the street from her home base to contest the Galway Downs CCI4*-S in March. Tamie would be one you’d often see loading the rigs to head across the country to prep on the East coast, but this year she decided to stay local. In my opinion, this quieter, less stressful (?) lead-up may actually benefit Tamie and Mai Baum. They’ve had less media buzz in the pre-season than they’ve had in the past, and as a result perhaps Tamie’s been able to hole up and focus on fine-tuning the 17 years young gelding’s already incredible skill set.
They came achingly close to taking it all here in 2021, finished ninth at Badminton last year, and finished up the year with a silver medal in Pratoni. This could be the weekend where all of that built-up experience pays off in a very big way — I’ll be excited to stay tuned.
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): Miks Master C (Liz Halliday-Sharp)
While Liz Halliday-Sharp is far from a rookie at these events, her horse, Ocala Horse Properties‘ and Debbie Palmer’s Miks Master C is contesting his first 5* event this weekend.
Now the challenge of a top-quality first-timer horse is nuanced: on one hand, you’ve got a horse that is likely to hit the top or near the top of the leaderboard on day one and is well-prepared to go quick and clear over the fences on both Saturday and Sunday. On the other hand, you’re looking to the future, and you want the horse to have a positive first experience at the toughest test he’s faced. If you know Liz, you know she didn’t come here *just* to get around, so I think the former is the answer here. She’s spent the spring honing “Mickey’s” rideability and finesse, and she should be coming into this weekend in positively peak position.
Best American: Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF
Well, I’ve already picked an American to win, so this feels a bit obligatory. If I had to go on as if I hadn’t, though, I might tap Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF as ones to watch. Boyd and “Thomas” know each other as well as old married couple at this point, and you can’t discount the immense amount of experience they’ve got at this point in their partnership. Show jumping is still Thomas’ weaker spot, but Boyd works at home with Peter Wylde, who has really shown his influence in the success his students have seen in the jumping ring. With that not-so-secret weapon, it could win up being Thomas’ weekend to shine.
Foreign Horse: Banzai du Loir (Yasmin Ingham)
You could easily slot Yasmin into my winner spot here, and I could be kicking myself come Sunday to be sure. Yasmin came very close to winning here, finishing just behind Michael Jung in second. In the intervening months, Yas competed at a little tiny show in Italy and came away with an individual gold medal — the only rider in the history of World Championships to do so as an individual. It’s a pretty massive accomplishment at the age of 25, and it’s hard not to think that the best is still yet to come from this pair. Yasmin has literal ice in her veins and a charming amount of love for her horse to boot, and if she took the whole spoils this weekend I can’t say I’d be upset in the least.
Spoiler Alert: Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS
It would also be easy enough to put Will Coleman and his supremely nice second ride, Chin Tonic HS, at the top of the board. As I said with Liz and Miks Master C, though, it’s always a unique challenge to bring such a quality horse to its first 5*. I think Will’s drawn order — last to go — will give him plenty of time to inform himself on how he wants to leave the start box on Saturday. He’s one that would always be erring on the side of looking to the future with his string, but he also knows when it’s time to lay down the gauntlet, and if the conditions line up this will be a formidable pair come Sunday. At the very least, I’d bet that this will be our dressage leader at the end of the day Friday.
4* Winner: Will Faudree and Pfun
Who doesn’t love some Pfun? This steady guy may fly a bit under the radar when compared to some of his counterparts, but don’t let that fool you for a second. This guy is a cross country machine who absolutely relishes a tough track — while also, inexplicably, making it look like even I could ride him around (ok, maybe not — but I’d like to think I could hop on and maybe jump a log…or something. It’s just a vibe). And when a horse and rider know each other as well as Will and Pfun do, and when a horse requires so little set-up and instruction on cross country, major moves can be made up the leaderboard. The Lexington 4*-S is no joke — it’s often called, not so jokingly, a mini-5*. This experienced pair will be more than up to the challenge. Pfun has also done his share of 5* events, but Will made the classy decision to opt for short-format events going forward as he feels the distances are easier for his horse to perform well on. Major props, Will, and best of luck this week.
Token Non-Horsey Boyfriend and Unofficial Secondary Team Mascot Alex:
Winner: Has anyone picked Tom McEwen? Is he a bit of a rogue choice? I’ll have him. The photo of him and the puppy yesterday really sold it for me.
Best placed first-timer (horse or rider): Sandra Auffarth’s Viamant du Matz. She was the World Champion, right? And she has a cowboy hat.
Best American: Woods Baughman. He also has a cowboy hat. That already makes him the best American. Other than Sandra.
Best foreign entry: Maxime Livio. Vive la France. It might look like I copied Tilly here but actually I put him on my Eventing Manager team and she didn’t, so she’s the thief, not me.
Spoiler alert: Off the Record will be on the record. I’ll do the interview. Neigh.
Four-star winner: Liz Halliday-Sharp and the black horse. Just watched it do dressage. Smooth as butter.
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