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We’re on the homestretch to the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, and what makes it all the more exciting is that this thing is truly anybody’s game. Having said that, the EN team is ready to unveil our picks in six categories: Big Winner, Top American, Top Canadian, Spoiler Alert, Top Thoroughbred and Best Mare.
Let us know your own picks in the comments. You can see all entries and the draw order at this link as well as live scores here, and be sure to keep it locked on EN as we bring you live coverage of the inaugural running of North America’s newest five-star event.
Big Winner: Though you’ll think I’m mad for this when he puts a 30 on the board in the first phase, Astier Nicolas‘s Babylon de Gamma is the real deal: he won his CCI4*-S debut as an eight-year-old over the super-tough track at Scotland’s Blair Castle, and he’s been on super form ever since. They really ought to have gone to Tokyo, but a minor injury sidelined them, and Astier has had Maryland in mind for the petite gelding since the summer. His dressage will put him in a good climbing position and then we’ll be looking at him to excel himself in both jumping phases to climb and climb. It’s not often a CCI5* debutant takes the win, but I’ve loved this horse for years and if anyone can manage it, it’s him.
Top American: Time and time again in this job, I’ve seen the ripple effect that confidence has: after a great result, they tend to keep on coming. So with that in mind, my money’s on Will Coleman on either of his horses to take the title of best Yank here, because I know the fairy dust of that Aachen win hasn’t worn off quite yet. Go get ’em, champ.
Top Canadian: After a rough spring, which saw top horse More Inspiration retired upon arrival at Kentucky due to a heart murmur, I’m so excited to see Holly Jacks-Smither back on top with her debutant Candy King. Holly is hungry for results and always puts her horses first, and while she’ll certainly be thinking about producing the gelding for the future this week, I think we could see three exciting, solid performances and a super result for the duo.
Spoiler Alert: It was a toss-up for me whether I’d put these guys up as my winners or my spoilers — but in any case, I’m looking forward to another incredible showing by Harry Meade and Superstition, who delivered one of the only clears inside the time at Kentucky this spring and ultimately finished fifth. That was coming off the back of a serious injury for Harry, and he’d spent much of the end of 2020 grounded. As 2021 dawned, he had to deal with the remaining effects, sudden onset fatigue and difficulties with his balance among them, and with Kentucky in mind, he scaled back how much riding he was doing at home to be able to manage it. Now, back in fine fettle and safe in the knowledge that he has a true-blue five-star horse underneath him, I think we’ll see him chase down an even better placing. And yes, I’ll cry.
Top Thoroughbred: I suspect I won’t be the only EN team member to stand firmly in camp Tight Lines here. He and Will Coleman have nabbed this accolade a couple of times previously, and my money’s on them doing the same again — from a place in the top ten this year.
Best Mare: I’d never be foolish enough to bet against Jonelle Price‘s Classic Moet, who makes her second trip to the US this year in the swan song of her career. Ian Stark designs seriously tough cross-country courses, and that’s where this mare really shines: she’s as fast as they come and as reliable as clockwork. Her first and final phases can be the heartbreakers, but I have a good feeling for this week.
Big Winner: Oliver Townend doesn’t bring his horses over the pond for anything less than a pole position and if he only brings one horse, you better believe he’s got it primed and ready for a top performance. Cooley Master Class has twice topped the Kentucky field and would have been third this year upon completion of a third consecutive clear round in the Rolex Stadium if he had jogged up properly. He’ll be the one to beat this weekend, and if the time is attainable, the competition is his to lose.
Top American: The usual suspects for the leaderboard at an American 5* have all had long campaigns in this Olympic year and are getting a well-deserved rest. That being said, our reigning U.S. 5* champion, On Cue is still hanging around doing things like winning the American Eventing Championships, putting in a fourth consecutive sub-thirty test, and chipping away at a cleaner stadium record. Boyd Martin has another sleeper in this mare who has been relegated to the back of everyone’s mind for too long.
Top Canadian: Karl Slezak will not be fooling around this weekend after being left off the plane for Tokyo with Fernhill Wishes, who owns the most consistent form of any of the Canadian Advanced horses right now. A green error kept this pair from finishing their first five-star at Kentucky but with the advent of a fall five-star, they no longer have to bide their time for a full year to have another crack at it.
Spoiler Alert: Tim Price was knocking on the door at Kentucky with Xavier Faer in April, putting the pressure on Ballaghmor Class to jump his first (and so far only) clear stadium at the 5* level to stay ahead at the end. Look for a repeat of the pressure cooker from this pair.
Top Thoroughbred: Tight Lines has had some of the absolute worst luck at this level that has kept him from the top placings. Can the horse put in a score approaching 30 at this level? Yes. Can he finish fast and clear on cross country? Yes. Can he jump a clear round on the third day? Yes. Has he done all three in one weekend in any of his six 5* runs? Not yet, but with Will Coleman coming off a massive victory at Aachen, this might be his weekend for all the pieces to finally come together.
Best Mare: Aside from On Cue, who I currently am picking to lead the American contingent, Stella Artois is due for a round of better luck in her hunt for her first 5* completion. Jennie Brannigan had a tough time of it this spring in the mare’s 5* debut at Kentucky when the mare misjudged the landing jumping into the water and giving them both a bath. A second try in Luhmuhlen didn’t end up much better for the pair, but they are back no worse for wear and ready to contend for a top five placing.
Big Winner: This is always a tough one, especially with some seriously heavy hitters contesting this event but also this year because the course is such an unknown. Think about it: every single competitor here is a Maryland 5 Star rookie! That said, from what I’ve heard about the cross country course so far it may play to the strengths of a combination like Xavier Faer and Tim Price. They finished second at Kentucky this year and third in 2019 so he clearly likes American soil. Follow the trend, and he should end up on top this time! (Kidding! Sort of, but not really.) They made the time at Kentucky on both occasions — if they can do so here over what will likely be a tough track, then they should be in a pretty good position to take the title.
Top American: You can’t argue that Boyd Martin and On Cue have been on an absolute roll this year. Can they add another notch to their belt and make it a practically perfect year? I think perhaps they can.
Top Canadian: I think we’re going to be seeing Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes around for a while and it’s just a mater of time before we see them representing Canada on the world stage. Their initial attempt at the five-star level this spring didn’t quite go to plan, but with the form they’ve been in I have no doubt that they’re capable.
Spoiler Alert: You know who’s also on a roll right now? Will Coleman is on a roll right now. For me, it’s a toss up between his tried and true partner Tight Lines and his stunning up-and-comer DonDante, but I think either could sneak up to the top and steal the title.
Top Thoroughbred: See above re: Tight Lines, but if I could pick a spoiler Thoroughbred, then I’d say Palm Crescent with Meghan O’Donoghue — I love their partnership.
Best Mare: Another pair that I think will absolutely eat up this cross country course is Jonelle Price with the spicy Classic Moet. I’d say it’s a battle between “Molly” and On Cue to take this title.
Big Winner: I hate the pressure of choosing the winner, although I guess it pales in comparison to you know, something like show jumping last on Sunday. However, I’ll cave and pick Harry Meade & Superstition. They absolutely romped around this spring in Kentucky and finished 5th, so they’ll have a taste of victory calling their name. He might not be the obvious pick, but I know he’s capable of creating the best comeback story of all time this weekend.
Top American: You may think, Kate, the smart thing to do is pick On Cue, her form has done nothing but improve all year and she’s clearly the most competitive. However, I’m going with who I WANT to be the top American instead, and choosing Mama’s Magic Way. I just loved this ten-year-old’s performance this spring at Kentucky, and while he’s new to the level, I think he’s seriously cool, and would love for him to top the charts.
Top Canadian: I’ll throw this one to another relative new-comer to the five-star stage, with Fernhill Wishes and Karl Slezak. While their debut at the 5* level at Kentucky this spring ended with Karl tasting some local bluegrass, I was seriously impressed with them up until that point. Despite his relative inexperience at the level, he has one of the most consistent records of all Canadian horses competing at Advanced, and Karl will be hungry for that post-five-star Nickleback t-shirt photoshoot.
Spoiler Alert: I always think it’s unwise to bet against Lynn Symansky, and I think RF Cool Play might throw down a seriously competitive debut. Lynn has all the experience you could ask for, ice running through her veins, and a horse with an almost blemish-free cross country record under her. Do the safe thing and don’t wager against her.
Top Thoroughbred: Will Coleman, this is your time to finally prove that your chain-smoking Frenchman can produce the job we all know he can. He can throw down a competitive dressage score, and he can finish on it. Now, has he ever done all three phases in one weekend with all the screws attached in his brain? Not yet. But if anybody can do it, you can Will. Tight Lines always has my vote, and my undying optimism.
Best Mare: How can anybody NOT vote for Classic Moet?? At 18-years-young, and just like, so bored with this 5* level stuff at this point, she could probably do this cross country course in her sleep and still make time. C’mon Molly, just jump by light braille on Sunday and we’re good!
Big Winner: Jonelle Price and Classic Moet
I just feel like “Molly”, who despite being 18 this year seems to feel about 8, will really enjoy a nice, big, beefy track to devour come Saturday. We know this scrappy pair who knows each other like a pair of well-worn gloves is more than capable of beating the world’s best, especially with a tough track, so my money’s on this girl-power combo to steal the day from some more obvious favorites.
Top American: Will Coleman and Tight Lines
It was a bit of a toss-up between the two Will Coleman rides, but I gave my nod to the newly-crowned Aachen winner, who will bring forward the more experienced and quirky Tight Lines as well as former Young Event Horse competitor DonDante. This will only be DonDante’s second CCI5*, so I’m going with the experience of Tight Lines for this pick.
Top Canadian: Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes
I was so impressed with Karl’s ride at Kentucky with Fernhill Wishes, and we were all devastated to see their weekend end early after a tumble. But he’s rebounded nicely and I think they’re more than up to the task this weekend and will take home a strong challenge and a bid for the Canadian WEG team in 2022.
Spoiler Alert: Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois
Jennie and Stella Artois have a few blips on their record, but when they’re on they can really, truly be on and I think that if all the cards fall correctly this weekend we just might see them up challenging closer to the top of the board. Jennie’s also got the benefit of momentum, which we all know is an important if not always obvious factor, after a stellar weekend at Boekelo with FE Lifestyle.
Top Thoroughbred: Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent
This was a really cool pair to watch at Kentucky earlier this spring, and Meghan is a definitive “OTTB-whisperer” in her own right. She’s done an excellent job producing “Palmer” to the utmost of his ability, and a big galloping track like what’s on tap this weekend might be right up his alley.
Best Mare: Boyd Martin and On Cue
I sort of eliminated this choice by default, seeing how I’ve picked other mares to this point. So I’ll spice it up a bit and include On Cue on this list. Don’t forget, this mare was the best of Boyd’s bunch at Kentucky (much to even his surprise, I think!) and wound up as the USEF CCI5* National Champion, so it’s well within their scope of capability to pull out a top finish this weekend.
I’m ferociously superstitious and ever since, as the caboose of this crazy train, I began conscientiously objecting from Kentucky picks and simply wishing every horse and rider a safe, happy event, everyone has stayed — if not entirely happy — at least relatively safe. So like hell I’m going to deviate from that now.
Although, OK. I’m just going to throw this out there. Upfront, I don’t have much bandwidth left after my editorial masterpieces “The Bromance of Will Coleman and ‘Phish’: A WEG Tribute” and “A 5* Battle of the Bands at Kentucky,” so I’m dialing it in this time and just offering a cold, hard better-than-cash prize:
If Will Coleman wins on either of his two jam band name inspired horses (Don Dante/rep. My Morning Jacket, OR Tight Lines/rep. Phish), we’ll send him a (chinch)autographed vinyl of his favorite album from either one. Just when you thought the ante couldn’t get upped further, Will, here we are. Keep that Aachen victory lap rolling.
But most importantly, y’all: safe and happy. 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.