The Diabolo is in the Details: Will Coleman Goes Clear for the Win in the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S

Will Coleman and Diabolo win the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Since the inception of the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S, last year’s champions Karl Slezak and Hot Bobo have been the only pair who managed to finish on their dressage score — but now Will Coleman and Diabolo have added their names to that record. They will also boast the second-lowest finishing score in history, just 0.6 behind Karl’s score to end on a 29.9.

Only 40 horses entered the stadium this morning after a few leaderboard changes overnight — Lyndsay Traisnel withdrew her mount Bacyrouge soon after cross country, and previous leaders Lucienne Bellissimo and Dyri also bowed out before the start of the day’s events this morning.

Show Jumping Hall of Fame member and USHJA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Steve Stephens presented a lovely, balanced course to the Kentucky entrants today, which saw scattered faults across the 15 total jumping efforts without too much focus on any one specific question. Stephens has designed for three Olympic Games in 1984, 2000, and 2008, as well as for hugely influential competitions, including the Washington International, National Horse Show, Royal Winter Fair, Winter Equestrian Festival, and the American Invitational.

Show jumping in this division has always been highly influential, Karl Slezak’s 2023 victory being the only time a cross country leader has gone on to win. With an optimum time of 77 seconds and a historic average clear rate of 26%, today’s course saw just one in three of our competitors without jump faults and within the time.

Safety has always been at the forefront of Stephens’ designs; the five-time Team USA Chef d’Equipe’s course today being described as very attractive while still maintaining a difficulty level worthy of Kentucky’s 4* field. “He’s a legend in course design, and the way he uses the stadium is just really unique I think from all the people that have designed here,” said Will Coleman of Stephens’ process. “I think he builds some of the best tracks that we do, and the stadium is always electric.”

As one of the top ten horses in the field, despite his and Will Coleman’s fresh partnership, Diabolo (Diarado – Roulett M, by Aljano 2) was the only horse clear within the time on Derek di Grazia’s “four-and-a-half-star” course yesterday. Another record can be added to their growing repertoire as this also made them one of only five pairs ever to finish double-clear in the CCI4*-S cross country.

The leaderboard after cross country showed incredibly tight margins, with less than a point between the top three, and only 3.6 faults separated Liz Halliday and Miks Master C from her overnight seventh-place mount, Cooley Quicksilver. In a shocking twist, a single dropped pole at the penultimate fence from post-cross-country leaders Liz and Mikki opened the door to Will and Diabolo’s first win together. Will and Liz are known to be incredibly supportive of each other, often referring to the other as most deserving of a win at any given competition, and both riders left the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships with first place victories — Liz and Mikki in the $60,000 Adequan Advanced Final and Will with Chin Tonic HS in the Intermediate Finals, where Diabolo took second place as well.

Will was originally predicted to win the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S with a 24% win chance on Chin Tonic, but despite having made the difficult decision to withdraw the field favorite to win before the start of the competition, he is certainly leaving Kentucky having had an excellent few days at the office.

This is the first faultless finish the 12-year-old Holsteiner has seen with Will — his only other dressage-score finish attained with previous rider Gemma Tinney at the 2019 Adelaide CCI3*-L, which was coincidentally also his most recent first-place victory. “This horse came from Australia and his transition to the northern hemisphere was actually really difficult for him,” Will explained. “For most of last year to be honest, he just struggled to feel like he was his normal self. He had various issues adjusting to life in a different hemisphere — I think the season change and all that kind of stuff definitely took a toll on him — so we were just really patient.”

Will explained that he and Diabolo “laid low” for most of the 2023 season, thus explaining their multiple withdrawals from competitions, in order to focus mainly on getting to know each other and learning how to navigate their new partnership. “We bought the horse last year and I can’t thank the people enough who came together to acquire him for me,” he said of the Diabolo Group LLC. “I think we’re only just getting started and I really hope that we can just continue to bring him to his full potential.”

Will has plans for Diabolo to make his 5* debut at Luhmühlen this summer, which will also be their first competition outside the US. “Even at home, [Diabolo] was starting to give me the feeling that he was on the verge of doing something competitive at a big event, and we obviously have a lot of belief in the horse’s talent,” Will said of the horse’s potential. “We kind of have just been patiently biding our time until he was ready to sort of show it to the rest of the world. I think he still has a long way to go, but I’m really keen on him and I’m excited about his future.”

When asked about how this placement may affect his plans for his potential Olympic qualification, Will replied with a laugh, “I wouldn’t even try to answer that.” Off The Record and Chin Tonic have both been considered as highly likely candidates for Will, and likely for the selectors as well, but this win — as well as Off The Record’s third-place finish — has definitely brought another contender to light.

“I think highly of both horses, and as you know, it’s still many months away and there’s a really competitive group of horses and riders here in America competing for just three spots,” Will explained with his trademark humility. “I don’t count myself in by any stretch of the imagination, and we’re just going to keep trying to get a little better each day. If we end up at that horse show at the end of July in France, that’s one thing and we’ll be very happy, and if we don’t, there’s other things we can go and do.”

Boyd Martin and Commando 3. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Boyd Martin was all smiles and big pats for his newest Olympic hopeful Commando 3 (Connor 48 – R-Adelgunde, by Amigo xx) after their second-place finish in Rolex Stadium this morning. The Yankee Creek Ranch LLC’s gelding was a pleasure to watch, achieving a clear round under optimum time in lovely, near-slow-motion form.

“I think it was a great course — the top jumpers all jumped well,” said Boyd of taking to Steve Stephen’s track with his two horses. “The time was a little bit tight; you had to sort of scoot around the corners.” Nothing, he said, quite beats the feeling of the atmosphere present at this competition. “There’s no question that American crowds are the best anywhere in the world,” he noted. “They love the sport, they cheer when things go well, and they even cheer when things go bad. It’s a wonderful atmosphere here at Kentucky — it’s almost a bit of a let down when you go to the other five-stars in Europe.”

A newcomer to the US circuit, “Connor” was previously campaigned by Louise Romieke of Sweden to much success, from taking fifth place in his first international competition at the 2019 Haras de Jardy Young Horse 2*-S — his only finish to date with double-clear rounds in both cross country and show jumping — to multiple podium finishes at the 3* level.

Since acquiring the ride at the start of last year, Boyd has piloted Connor to maintain a flawless cross-country jump record. Fast and clear in the stadium is also a usual for them, with less than a handful of scattered poles on their books. The pair added only three seconds of time to their dressage score yesterday, with their foot-perfect ride this morning putting them on the podium at a 30.1.

“I’m very blessed with the two horses that finished in the top group here, and they’re pretty hard to split actually,” Boyd mentioned of Connor and fourth-place finisher Fedarman B. “They’re about as good as each other, they’re very strong in all their phases. It’s a wonderful position to be in to have a couple of [Olympic] hopefuls. Like your children — you should never favor one more than the other,” he said jokingly.

Will Coleman and Off The Record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will Coleman is just as thrilled about his overall victory with Diabolo as he is of his podium finish on long-time partner Off The Record (Arkansas VDL – Drumagoland Bay by Ard Ohio). He and “Timmy” have been around the world and back together, with a myriad of successes lining their excellent record together — with this achievement marking their 21st time on the podium.

“Off The Record is a proven champion and has been one of the greatest horses I’ve ever ridden in my career,” Will said of the 15-year-old gelding. The only US Aachen winner in history was tied with Boyd Martin’s Fedarman B for the second-fastest run across the country yesterday, and finishes on a 30.9 with just 2 seconds during cross country added to his dressage score.

“We haven’t had that many great Sundays here,” Will admitted after learning of both his final placings. “I’m just so proud of both my boys, they were awesome.”

Of Chin Tonic HS, Will’s original hopeful to win the 4*, he explained that their season may look a bit different after this weekend’s events. “I couldn’t really say whether [Chin] is definitely out for Paris,” he admitted. “We’re going to need to explore the issue with this carpal sheath a little bit more, but I would think having missed this event that this was sort of the key event for him to do in terms of selection. I would say it’s low odds that he’d be available for that, but I still don’t really have the full picture on what we’re going to have to do regarding this carpal sheath issue. The horse is 100% sound and he’s really well, but we don’t want to put him at any sort of risk and do anything that could threaten the rest of his career.”

Rated as one the best show jumping pairs in the field, it was no surprise that Boyd Martin and Fedarman B (Eurocommerce Washington – Paulien B, by Fedor) managed a double-clear round today, finishing in fourth place on a 32.5.

“I think I’m in a wonderful position with both Commando 3 and Fedarman B,” Boyd said of his plans for the season — and that one season highlight everyone has on their minds. “Obviously the Olympic Games now looks like it could be real. There’s the Luhmühlen five-star — which, geez, I’d love to win that — and then there’s Aachen four-star short. I don’t think this run took much out of them, so I think those are the three events coming up in the next couple months that I’d hopefully see them at.”

The pair’s score still tied with Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake (Tolan R – Doughiska Lass, by Kannan) since yesterday’s cross country conclusion, but “Bruno” was ultimately closest to optimum time yesterday after running the second-fastest in the field, leaving 2023 Pan American Games Gold Medalists Caroline and Blake to end the day in fifth position.

“Honestly, Blake would be the top one in my string at the moment,” Caroline said enthusiastically of the young gelding’s future. “I’m kind of in a different position than these guys — the oldest horse that I have at the moment is nine years old. My other two big time four-star long horses are actually going to head over to Europe about May, because I got selected to do the European tour.” Chatsworth, Millstreet, and Aachen are all in sights for the up-and-coming US Team Member, and she certainly has enough quality horses to see some great results. “Blake is supposed to run in about fifteen days time to do Tryon’s four-long — and if that goes well, then hopefully we’ll be looking on towards the Olympics.”

All three of Liz Halliday’s mounts make up the rest of the top 10 — Cooley Quicksilver, Miks Master C, and Shanroe Cooley — along with her fellow Pan American Games team member Sydney Elliott and Carol Stephens’ QC Diamantaire in eighth position. Dani Sussman from Colorado aboard her and Carol Mavrakis’ Jos Bravio round out the leaderboard in tenth place. Click here to see the final scores for all contenders in the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S.

It’s been yet another whirlwind week here at Kentucky, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Congratulations to all on an excellent weekend, and continue to watch this space for our report on the finale to this year’s Defender Kentucky CCI5*. Head over to our Instagram @goeventing for what are sure to be some beautiful moments captured by our EN team on the ground. Only 364 days until next Kentucky – but we’ll hopefully see some of these friends again soon at “that horse show at the end of July in France.”

Go Kentucky, and Go Eventing!

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

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