Here’s the thing about a five-star: even to get there, to unload a healthy, happy horse into the stables and to go for your first hack around the grounds is an extraordinary accomplishment, and one that most riders will only ever be able to daydream about. Win, lose, finish, or fall, nobody can take away from a rider the enormity of the fact that they did it: over the course of years of hard work and thousands of hours of careful planning, they got their beloved horse to this point. To every single rider, groom, owner, horse, and connection at Kentucky this week, we salute you. You are now the heroes to whom little girls and boys aspire. Wear that mantle proudly, but wear it with grace and care, because it’s a rare and special thing.
In every competition, though, there’s got to be that small handful that rise above, triumphant at the end of an intense week of hardcore horsing. To that end, the team at EN have put their thinking caps on, led with their heads (okay, and sometimes with their hearts), and made their predictions for what we might be about to see unfold over the next five days.
What do you think of our predictions? Let us know your own in the comments and don’t forget to enter our Horseware Pick ‘Em & Win competition for your chance to win a pair of Horseware IceVibe boots. Want to brush up on your intel before you pick? Head over to our jam-packed form guide to find out everything you need to know about each entrant.
Big Winner: Although it’s technically the horse’s five-star debut, I’ve learned not to bet against Michael Jung. Especially paired with the flashy fisherChipmunk FRH, who claims over 40 top-ten International finishes to his name.
Top American: I’ve got to go with Will Coleman and Off The Record. Affectionately referred to as a “kitchen table with a few Ferrari engines attached,” “Timmy,” won Aachen last fall and I think he and Will are here to beat their top fifteen finish of 2021.
Top Canadian: I watched Jessica Phoenix finish six horses in the four-star at Bouckaert International a few weeks ago and I’m still tired. I think she’ll be our top-placed Canadian with Bogue Sound.
Top Thoroughbred: Sea of Clouds and Phillip Dutton
Best Mare: I’ve been a Fleeceworks Royal fan since I watched her jet over to Le Lion as a 7-year-old. Arriving for her CCI5* debut, “Rory,” has one of the most determined pilots in the business. With Tamie Smith on board I’m expecting a big finish from this pair.
Spoiler Alert: Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg. They’ve been USEF National Champions here before, so I wouldn’t put it past them to take advantage of some stars aligning.
Top Rookie: I’m going to go with my first instinct and pick Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando, which is coincidentally how Booli bought Lance six years ago, on a gut decision.
Big Winner: Everyone will be so transfixed by Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk, who will have taken a significant lead on their 22.1 dressage score, that they’ll almost forget about the tiny chestnut Corouet. But when the European individual bronze medallist canters into the ring with Great Britain’s Sarah Bullimore, he’ll do so having just whispered a really naughty word at Chipmunk under his breath, and he’ll be daring you not to pay attention. Aware that he’s got a point to prove for short kings everywhere, he’ll replicate the 19.6 he earned in the CCI4*-S at Burgham last year and then flounce out of the ring, obviously thinking “what, like it’s hard?” The rest of the week will become a match-race that’ll divide horsey households around the world. Sarah is, in my opinion, the most underrated rider on the scene right now and she’s overdue a five-star win after coming achingly close with the quirky Reve du Rouet, who we’ll see at Badminton the following week. Tiny, spicy Corouet, who she bred from her former top-level mare Lilly Corinne, is one of those rare, special characters that we’ll be talking about for years to come, and I think they’ve got this in the bag. Fans of the late, great Theodore O’Connor will be in for a treat.
Top American: I’m writing off Tamie Smith and Mai Baum here, purely on the assumption that their plan A of Badminton will go ahead. With double-entrants off my list, I’m looking at Tsetserleg and Boyd Martin to bounce back after their unlucky tumble last year. Boyd will be coming to Kentucky full of that magic confidence that comes after a five-star win, and he’ll have his eyes firmly on the prize that has eluded him for so long.
Top Canadian: For me, it’s always Jollybo, ridden by Hawley Bennett-Awad. I love a feisty, game mare, and she was sourced by Kate Tarrant, the British rider with whom I’m based, so I’m happily biased in her favour. I am also beginning to realise I’ve chosen only the tiniest horses in the field for my picks, which says an awful lot about my taste, I guess.
Top Thoroughbred: Phillip Dutton‘s Sea of Clouds impressed on his debut at Maryland last year, finishing 13th, and I can see him bettering that result here. His showjumping will probably stand in his way at the moment, but he’s incredibly efficient across the country, and a great ambassador for ex-racehorses.
Best Mare: It’s a five-star debut for Hallie Coon‘s Global Ex, but the diminutive grey mare, who wouldn’t even see 16hh in stilettos, has never yet met a challenge she didn’t gobble up easily. They went to Boekelo last autumn to compete as individuals for the USA, and though it was just ‘Dolly’s’ second run at the level, they were foot-perfect through the jumping phases to record the only FOD of the week and finish seventh. They won’t frighten the obvious leaders in the first phase, where we can expect a low-to-mid-30s mark, but from then on out, they’ll dig their heels in and climb. A wet weekend and a tough track would suit them marvellously – we’ve set to see Dolly meet any conditions that she deems too difficult.
Spoiler Alert: Young British talent Yasmin Ingham is already a household name in the UK eventing scene, because she’s won every age title there is to win over here — plus, she took the temporarily relocated eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S class in 2020 with Banzai du Loir before returning to Blenheim last year to win the CCI4*-L. This is the week she becomes a global eventing phenomenon with her gutsy, wise-beyond-her-years performances aboard her five-star debutant horse. I’d be happy to put money on a top five finish.
Top Rookie: If we’re talking five-star debutants at their first Kentucky, it’s hard to look past Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135, who won the CCI4*-L USEF National Championships at the end of 2021. Woods also gets the eye candy vote, which is nearly as important as the tiny-feisty-pony vote as far as I’m concerned.
Big Winner: Sarah Bullimore and Corouet. This little horse stole my heart at the European championships last year, and he’s my secret favorite to steal the whole show. He doesn’t have a weak phase, and I think he will enjoy the return of the massive crowds at Kentucky and jump everyone’s socks off.
Top American: Will Coleman is a beautiful, effective rider to watch. After an impressive 5*L completion at Maryland last year and a great win at Carolina 4*S this spring, Dondante strikes me as the American horse who will challenge the top of the leaderboard if he can put in a dazzling dressage test. I think this horse is the best American jumper in the field.
Top Canadian: Lisa Marie Ferguson and Honor Me. Lisa and this wonderful jumping horse have so much experience together and should put together yet another amazing trip around the bluegrass. Their partnership is one that young riders and amateurs should take note and learn from.
Top Thoroughbred: Sea of Clouds. Phillip Dutton is one of the best cross country riders in the world. Provided he can keep most of the show jumps up, I think this sporty TB will smoke around inside the time and score a good finish.
Best Mare: Hallie Coon‘s Global Ex. Never underestimate a little mare with a lot of scope. This grey is one of the most exciting horses in the U.S., in my opinion, and I’m excited to watch her tackle her first five-star.
Spoiler Alert: It’s hard to bet against Jonelle Price and McClaren. I remember watching this horse when he was under the saddle of Mark Todd, who took him to the WEG in Tryon four years ago. He is probably the best jumper in the field, and if it’s raining and tough on Saturday you can bet Jonelle will capitalize on that. They could sneak up the leaderboard.
Top Rookie: My money is on Alex McLeod for this one. Her little Irish horse, Newmarket Jack, can jump a house with his eyes closed, and I have total faith in their partnership. You’ll probably see her collect her prizes at the awards ceremony and then rush back to her full-time job as a veterinarian the next day. She’s inspirational for amateur riders everywhere.
Big Winner: I think Michael Jung is back to claim the Kentucky crown this year and considering fischerChipmunk FRH’s phenomenal dressage record (sub-20 is not uncommon), his jumping ability, and the fact that it’s Michael Jung aboard I’m betting all eyes will be on this pair throughout the weekend. It is technically Chipmunk’s debut at the five-star level by name, though he did compete at this level in the 2018 WEG with his former rider Julia Krajewski, but regardless I think he’ll skip around juuust fine.
Top American: Take your pick: Will Coleman or Will Coleman? I think it’s possible for Will to take this spot on either of his mounts, Off The Record or DonDante, though I’ll give the edge to Aachen winner Off The Record, who finished 15th overall here last year in his 5* debut.
Top Canadian: We don’t have too many to pick from for this category this year, but Hawley Bennett-Awad and the now 18-year-old Jollybo are five-star veterans at this point, and they are coming off a nice romp around the Boukaert International at Chatt Hills CCI4*-S where they had a career best FEI dressage score.
Top Thoroughbred: They’ll need a clean showjumping round to pull it off, but I think they can do it — I’m picking Meghan O’Donoghue and the CANTER-placed Palm Crescent for top-placed TB. This will be the pair’s third five-star together and if they stay on their current upward trajectory then they’ll finish in fine form indeed.
Best Mare: It may be this mare’s first five-star, but I don’t think that’s going to slow her down. Fleeceworks Royal has both the flatwork and hops to be a formidable contender at this level, not to mention she’s got Tamie Smith in the irons.
Spoiler Alert: It feels pretty ridiculous to put this pair here, but I’m going to give this slot to Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. They’ll be looking for a little redemption after their unlucky fall late on course here last year and Boyd will be hungry for a second 5* victory. They’ll have some other top pairs to battle with for that top spot, but they’re more than capable of stealing the win.
Top Rookie: It’s difficult not to pick the 2019 CCI3*-L and 2021 CCI4*-L National Champions, so I’m not going fight it and I’ll go ahead and name Woods Baughman and C’est la Vie 135 our likely top rookie pair. I’m sure that Woods is going to be solely focusing on generally having a good weekend, but the numbers don’t lie and these two could be right up there with some big names by the end of the weekend if all goes well. No pressure, Woods!
Big Winner: Every year, this tradition of picking winners stresses me out. I admit that I actually spend way too much time considering the *actual* probability of each of my candidates, and then in the end I usually say screw it and pick the first name to my head. We all know Michael Jung doesn’t come over here unless he’s pretty damn sure he can take all our money and prizes. I was slightly underwhelmed with fisherChipmunk FRH in Tokyo, but if there ever was a competitive rider out there, it’s Michael, and he’s going to try to leave nothing on the table.
Top American: I have a hunch that Dondante is on an upswing, and while he hasn’t had as much press as his stable mate, Off The Record, Al seems to have finally grown into his enormous body and got a really good education last fall at the Fair Hill 5*. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes out swinging first thing on Thursday, and Will Coleman must have a lot of confidence in the horse to go out first thing on the cross country.
Top Thoroughbred: I’ve adored Palm Crescent for many years now, and my love has never wavered. Meghan O’Donoghue is a lovely rider who has been knocking on the door of a good result for a few years now, and I’m hopeful that the 16-year-old thoroughbred will give her that long due ribbon.
Best Mare: Last fall, Hallie Coon rocked up to Boekelo with little bitty Global Ex, and competed for the USA as individuals. This unsuspecting pair ended up the only combination to FOD that weekend, and got a nice 7th place ribbon. Blink and you might miss her, but keep an eye on this white lightening as she climbs up into a competitive spot.
Spoiler Alert: I love Kentucky for a lot of reasons, but I really love when I get to watch Jonelle Price absolutely tear it up on cross country. That woman has the biggest pair of brass you-know-whats in this entire sport, and McClaren is probably the best jumping horse in the field. I can hardly imagine anything giving me more joy than seeing them jump to the top of the leaderboard.
Top Rookie: I’m going with my gut on this one, and picking Alex MacLeod riding her jumping bean Newmarket Jack. Their partnership is a long one, and Alex has really put in more work than your average bear, balancing a full time veterinarian job.
Big Winner: While all eyes will be on Germany’s Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH, I’m going to pick Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF as this weekend’s winners.
“Thomas” is 15 this year, and in the prep work we’ve seen so far this year the black Trakehner gelding — a U.S.-bred sired by the great Windfall II — has looked…really good. It’s been a couple years of “almost but not quite” results for Boyd and Tsetserleg: they finished second at Kentucky in 2019, but then had an untimely fall at the final combination on cross country in 2021.
Now, if Michael and Chipmunk score a 16 and proceed to finish on that, that’ll be about all she wrote. But I’m giving Tsetserleg’s experience (it’s hard to believe it since he was at the Olympics and at WEG in 2018 with Julia Krajewski, but technically this is Chipmunk’s 5* debut — not that that necessarily matters with Michi in the saddle) the leg up here — and let’s face it, Thomas is due for his day!
Top American: I suppose this question goes out the window when I’ve been bold and picked a U.S. winner, but for the sake of fun I’ll go with Will Coleman and Off The Record as my next pick for top American (or even winner, perhaps!). It is hard to bet against the 2021 Aachen winner, and his pilot’s competition record both on this horse as well as the others in his string speaks for itself. Off The Record was 15th at Kentucky, his debut at the level, in 2021 and most recently was third in his final prep at The Fork. It’s hard to bet against consistency and if I had one word to describe Will’s system for development, that would be it.
Top Canadian: This will be the fifth 5* start (sixth if you count WEG in 2018) for Canadian fan favorites Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo, and at 18 years young the not-so-jumbo British mare by Jumbo is looking fit and ready for another run around the Kentucky bluegrass. Show jumping would be the only thing holding this pair back from being more competitive, but you can bet with their relatively early order in the draw (12) they’ll have plenty of riders watching them to see how the track is riding as they always put on a show of quick, efficient riding on cross country day.
Top Thoroughbred: I’m a big fan of Palm Crescent, the bright bay Thoroughbred partnered with OTTB-whisperer Meghan O’Donoghue. The 16-year-old gelding by Quiet American (for you racing fans out there, the sire of the near-Triple Crown winner Real Quiet — one of my favorites when I was younger!) debuted at this level last year and finished strongly at both Kentucky and Maryland. They’ll be a fun pair to watch come Saturday!
Best Mare: Despite the fact this will be the feisty Fleeceworks Royal‘s first 5*, I’m going to give the nod to her. She might be inexperienced at this level, and she may fly a little under the radar thanks to the superstardom of her stablemate, Mai Baum, but it’s good to remember that this mare has been places.
Fleeceworks Royal (Rory or Rora-saurus as she’s often known) competed at the FEI Eventing World Breeding Championships in France as a seven-year-old and also finished in the top ten individually in Nations Cup competition at Boekelo in 2018. She’s traveled from California to the East coast several times, winding up in the top 20 of her first then-CCI3* at Fair Hill in 2018 and winning the 4*-L at Jersey Fresh in 2019.
For all this success, we most likely would’ve seen the Holsteiner mare, who is 13 this year, make her 5* debut much earlier, but some pesky injuries have sidelined her and then there was the year of cancellations in 2020. But she’s come out in strong form this year, finishing eighth and 12th in her 4*-S prep runs at Carolina and Tryon, respectively — and Tamie has surely not coaxed the peak performance from the mare quite yet.
While Tamie’s priority will be experience, we know she’s as competitive as they come, and we could see them as the Queens of Kentucky in just a few days’ time.
Spoiler Alert: I’ve been listening to Tilly’s adoration of the small and mighty Corouet, who will be piloted by Great Britain’s Sarah Bullimore and I think I’ve officially jumped on the bandwagon. This spicy little guy might be making his first 5* start and his first overseas trip, but he’s really stepped up to the plate as he’s gained more experience; this pair finished in individual bronze position for the Brits at the 2021 European Championships at Avenches to cap off a supremely competitive season. He’s also scored a sub-20 at the 4* level and very nearly finished on it so, there’s that.
I realize this is cheating, but I think you could also easily slot, among others, Doug Payne and his old hand, Vandiver into the spoiler role. “Quinn” is one of if not the the most experienced horses in the field, currently in his impressive 12th season at Advanced/4*/5*. He’s come out looking keen as ever this spring and is hot off a win at Tryon. We don’t know how many more 5*s we’ll be lucky to see Vandiver at, and it would be incredible to see him have a winning weekend as a potential swan song.
Top Rookie: I almost hate this pick because the whole point of your first Kentucky is to have a positive experience. I’ve also have the distinct privilege of chatting with nearly all the rookie riders every year for the last few years, which always makes it impossible to choose just one.
But we’re here to have fun, so I’m going to give my pick to Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135. This pair has shown tons of promise and plenty of raw talent, and while there have been some bumps along the way they’ve also got Sharon White in their corner, who’s been patiently coaxing the best out of them since the beginning of their partnership.
I’d also love to see Washington-based Marc Grandia have a strong weekend with Campari FFF, the horse who has, as he describes it, changed his career for the better.
As per tradition, I’m refraining from picks and simply wishing every horse and rider a safe, happy 2022 LRK3DE. On behalf of the whole EN team, we’re cheering every last one of this week’s competitors on. Wow us. Surprise us. Show us what you’re made of. Prove us wrong, or right. Give us a reason to believe in you. Go for it. Go Eventing.