I’m eagerly anticipating my first Morven Park cross country day, as it’s my very first visit to this gorgeous Leesburg, VA venue and I feel I’ve been sorely missing out to this point. It’s difficult not to imagine a CCI5* happening here with the copious amounts of land and terrain available — in fact, there’s a whole field that’s gone unused for this Long format, just waiting for the powers that be to decide to give this venue a 5* (a girl can dream, right?).
I guess we’ll settle for a CCI4*-L of epic proportions, though, and the task ahead feels very fit for an end-of-season destination on the fall calendar. It’s a bit disappointing to have just 15 horses contesting the 4*-L this year, something Derek didn’t mince words on in reflecting about the numbers of horses at this level North America typically fields.
“Unfortunately, obviously it’d be nice to have more horses in the Long format,” Derek said, noting the Long formats also on the tail end of the season at Galway Downs (November 1-5) and TerraNova (November 17-19). It’s a hard truth that the North American countries have a smaller pool of going Advanced, 4* and 5* horses when compared with the UK and European hubs. Where we see multiple hundreds of entrants in 4* divisions overseas, that saturation doesn’t exist to that scale here. “I think you end up just splitting our limited pool of horses in this country. You don’t have the numbers, to me, to support all those events. I mean, I just quite honestly don’t think we do and plus you’ll have five horses to go to the Pan Ams, another five or six to go to Boekelo. So maybe, I think [it’s something] that all the powers that be need to really think about.”
Be that as it may, those who are here this weekend will be in for a treat, a true caliber 4*-L track with a healthy amount of undulating terrain — music to Derek’s designer ears, truthfully.
The 2023 track will run similarly to the 2022 iteration, with a few changes and updates made to complexes along the way. “The track runs relatively the same direction as last year,” Derek explained. “And there were a couple of new features that were built from last year: the new coffin combinations that are on the three- and the four-star that were built for the Short formats, which are quite nice. And and then we basically just moved a lot of stuff around, and so hopefully gave it a little bit different flavor from last year.”
The track provides plenty of opportunity for rhythm, though the time here has earned a reputation for being difficult to catch and there will be much to do to stay up on the markers. The terrain will come into play almost from the get-go, from about fence 4 on. The highest point of the track comes at 17, by the Davis Mansion, and this question has increased in technicality from 2022. Where 2022’s track had a coop as the A element, with a downhill track to a right-handed corner, now riders will need to pull uphill and then accurately navigate two narrow MIM-pinned chevrons on a sharp downhill. After this, though, horses are given a nice downhill breather to catch their second or third wind before completing the last section of the course.
Also featuring on this year’s track is the Leaf Pit, built and maintained in honor of the late Tremaine Cooper, who was the designer here for many years. Much similarity is borne to its Burghley counterpart (also now designed by Derek), the Leaf Pit is situated at fence 9 and pulls you directly into an accuracy line of skinny chevrons immediately after. You can see my feelings on this question below.
Each year, we’ll continue to see more tweaks and changes to this track as it continues to evolve and Derek makes more decisions on how to use the property. “Each year we’ve sort of made some changes. It’s a slow process. The Leaf Pit, everybody knows the Leaf Pit, and it’s a great feature here. We did a bit of work on it this year, to just sort of give it a little bit of a facelift and they just regraded it a little bit, which I think will help as we go forward in the future as well.”
You can see the course in a few different ways below, and of course you’ll also be able to see the action live from afar on the Morven Park YouTube channel. Click here to bookmark the live feed.
Course overview (click here to enlarge and view each fence’s photos):
Course walk with EN (click here if the embedded post does not display in your browser):
EN’s coverage of Morven Park International & Fall H.T. is sponsored by Kentucky Performance Products, home to 5*-caliber supplements for horses from all walks of life.