The Thoroughbred has been long regarded as the ultimate horse for the sport of three-day eventing, and while many modern eventers are infusing Thoroughbred blood into warmblood breeding, some are going straight to the source: 10 entries for this year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event at the 5* level will be piloting Thoroughbreds around the bluegrass.
The Retired Racehorse Project is again teaming up with Eventing Nation to tell you all you need to know about the Thoroughbreds who will be taking on Kentucky this year!
Horses being horses, we expect the list of entrants to change right up until the competition starts. We’ll be keeping our guide at TheRRP.org updated with the latest information and changes.
Withdrawn: Chris Talley announced on April 13 that Unmarked Bills was withdrawn.
All ten of this year’s competing Thoroughbreds were bred with the intention to race, and seven made at least one start. AP Prime (Leah Lang-Gluscic), More Inspiration (Holly Jacks-Smither), Palm Crescent (Meghan O’Donoghue), Steady Eddie (Michael Pendleton), and Unmarked Bills (Chris Talley) were all winners (Steady Eddie found the wire the most with seven wins).
In total, the Thoroughbreds in this year’s Kentucky field made 144 starts for combined earnings of $178,340. Unmarked Bills is once again the high-money earner of the field with $67,250.
The oldest Thoroughbred in the field is Daniela Moguel’s Cecelia at 18. (Steady Eddie is also a 2003 model, but being a New Zealand-bred, he will not “officially” turn 18 until August.) Allison Springer’s Business Ben is the youngest at 11.
Make sure you bookmark Eventing Nation’s Kentucky coverage for up-to-the-minute updates on everything going on at the Horse Park!
Read our previous years’ summaries of the Thoroughbreds competing in Kentucky (note that not all of the horses profiled in the articles actually started the eventing):
THIS YEAR’S THOROUGHBRED ENTRIES
AP PRIME (Leah Lang-Gluscic, USA)
Owners: CML Horses LLC
Breeding: 2005 gelding by Aptitude (A.P. Indy) out of Czarina Kate (The Prime Minister)
Racing name: A.P. Prime (KY)
Racing record: 31 starts (2-4-5), $20,175
Breeder: Dixiana Stables, Inc.
Auction: 2006 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, $11,000
AP Prime and Leah Lang-Gluscic’s upper-level career all started with a CANTER listing: Lang-Gluscic made a fateful stop at Fairmount Park while en route to pick up a horse trailer, inquiring after a horse she had seen listed through CANTER Illinois. That horse turned out to be AP Prime, who had a fairly long racing career spanning four seasons with a total of 31 starts.
Lang-Gluscic, who had recently left a career as an investment banker to become a professional in the horse industry, felt upper-level potential in AP Prime after their first event together at Beginner Novice, despite her original intentions to make him a resale project. They moved up through the levels to Intermediate and spent some time there to fully develop all three phases.
The pair’s first five-star attempt (then four-star, on the old rating) came in 2015, withdrawing before cross-country at Kentucky. They finished 33rd in 2016. While AP Prime sat out for most of 2017 to heal a tendon injury, he made a return to the upper levels in 2018, including their most recent run at Kentucky that culminated in a withdrawal after cross-country. They’re back now in 2020 for a fourth crack at the event.
This year, the pair kicked off the season going double-clear on cross country and placing fourth in the Intermediate at Ocala Winter Horse Trials, then placed third in Preliminary at Rocking Horse. They returned to FEI-level competition in the CCI4*-S at Red Hills, placing 10th, and also completed the CCI4*-S at Stable View.
BUSINESS BEN (Allison Springer, USA)
Owners: The Business Ben Partnership
Breeding: 2010 gelding by Artie Schiller (El Prado [IRE]) out of Min Elreeh (Danzig)
Racing name: Business Ben
Racing record: unraced
Breeder: Liberation Farm & Brandywine Farm
Auction: 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, $40,000; 2012 Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic Two Year Olds in Training Sale, $50,000
Bred, raised, and sold to race, Business Ben entered training under the ownership of Zayat Stables, but suffered a tendon injury before making his first start. The two-year-old was sent to Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center to rehabilitate, and then moved to Andrew Motion to continue the healing process. When it became clear that the colt, now a three-year-old, would not be a viable racehorse, the Zayats asked Motion to help find him a new career.
“He was always a really cool character of a horse,” describes Motion. “He might have been okay in a more mundane second career, but I really felt from the horse’s character that he needed more occupation, and that eventing would be a good option. I’m a big fan of Artie Schillers — they tend to be big, athletic animals.”
Andrew Motion rehabilitated the injured tendon slowly and patiently, and along with his wife Janie took the horse out on hacks and light riding before reaching out to Allison Springer to see if the four-year-old would be sellable as an event horse.
It didn’t take long for Springer to find the potential in Business Ben: she brought him to a local combined test, then took him to the four-year-old class at Surefire in September where his high score qualified him for the four-year-old championships at Fair Hill. “He did everything on course at Fair Hill so well,” Springer recalls. “Including some things we had never done before at all — like a drop into water.”
Springer purchased the horse for herself: “I had upper-level dreams for him early on,” she describes. In the horse’s six-year-old year, Springer and her business partner Anna McWane formed the Business Ben Partnership and co-own the horse together. “Ben” and Springer continued to climb the levels; the properly-rehabilitated tendon has given him no trouble.
This spring, Business Ben and Springer have had three completions: fourth place in the intermediate at Pine Top, 18th in the Advanced at Pine Top, and sixth in Advanced at The Fork. Kentucky will be their first five-star appearance for this relatively young horse.
CECEILA (Daniela Moguel, MEX)
Owners: Jorge Martinez Castrejon and Paloma Garcia
Breeding: 2003 mare by Connecticut (Ogygian) out of Penny Stock (Spend A Buck)
Racing name: Constock (IA)
Racing record: unraced
Breeder: Timber Creek Farm
Daniela Moguel wasn’t horse shopping at the time her husband found Cecelia available for purchase, and recalls that he brought it up to her three days in a row before she finally agreed to try the horse. Her husband’s intuition turned out to be correct: Moguel’s supporters purchased the unraced Iowa-bred mare in 2014, who had been campaigning through the four-star level with Leslie Chelstrom Lamb.
Daniela Moguel and Cecelia made their third trip to Kentucky in 2019 and rode one of the best tests of their career with a score of 35.4. The pair had an unfortunate run-out early on cross-country but recovered well and finished strong; they dropped two rails in show jumping. Later, the pair was unfortunately disqualified under veterinary regulations.
Since their last 5* outing, Moguel and Cecelia finished seventh at Morven Park International in the 4*-S, and 11th in the Ocala Jockey Club International at the 4*-L, both in 2019, and earned a win at River Glen in the 3*-S in August of 2020. This year, they started their 2021 season finishing 13th at Rocking Horse in the Advanced and 16th at Red Hills in the 4*-S.
Moguel has the distinction of being the first rider to ever represent Mexico at Kentucky, which she historically has done without any financial support from her national federation. She credits her mare’s Thoroughbred blood with always finding a little more to give on cross-country day. Her advice to other Thoroughbred riders in 2019? “Grab mane and enjoy the ride.”
JAK MY STYLE (Buck Davidson, USA)
Owners: Kathleen Cuca
Racing record: unraced
Jak My Style could be called the “dark horse” of the field, but for unusual reasons: we know he’s a Thoroughbred and that he was bred to race, but he was never tattooed or registered with the Jockey Club and was sold via estate sale without papers. Prior to sale, the horse did apparently undergo some race training and became notorious for dumping riders; he became equally challenging for his next owners who intended to train him as a hunter/jumper.
Matthew Bryner took the horse on as a seven-year-old, naming him “Jak My Style” and patiently worked through his quirks, aware there was a lot of natural talent to work with. Once the pair reached a semblance of an understanding, they moved up the levels, competing through Advanced and CCI3*-S before Bryner offered the horse for sale. He was purchased by Kathleen Cuca, with Justine Dutton taking the ride and competing the horse through CCI4*-L.
After a rotational fall that left “Jak” unhurt but sidelined Dutton for a time, Buck Davidson took over the ride and brought Jak to top-ten finishes at the four-star level. An injury sidelined the horse for much of 2018, but he came back stronger than ever in 2019 and made his 5* debut at Kentucky, dancing to a dressage score of 34.1. Unfortunately, Davidson came off of his first mount of three on cross-country day and broke his collarbone, forcing him to withdraw his other two horses, including Jak.
This year, Jak and Davidson’s prep events have included two top-ten finishes in as many starts: they were ninth at Rocking Horse in the Advanced, and fifth at Stable View in the CCI4*-S.
JOHNNY ROYALE (Joe Meyer, NZL)
Owners: Team Johnny Syndicate
Breeding: 2008 gelding by His Royal Highness [NZ] (Grosvenor [NZ]) out of Chivaney [NZ] (Tights)
Racing name: Chivas Royale [NZ]
Racing record: 8 starts (0-0-0), $170
Breeder: John Wheeler
Both Johnny Royale and Joe Meyer hail from New Zealand, but they found their way to each other via the UK: Johnny Royale was produced to the British equivalent of Preliminary by Lizzie Green, who imported the horse after a brief racing career that lasted eight starts with just $170 in earnings. Originally, Johnny Royale was purchased for Meyer by investors with intent to resell, but Meyer quickly realized he had advanced potential; the investors provided an opportunity to syndicate and keep the horse.
Johnny Royale made his Kentucky debut in 2019 with Olympian Joe Meyer, putting together an experience-building trip to the bluegrass. The pair scored a 44.4 in dressage and then had a cracking trip on cross-country, accruing just 3.2 time penalties and jumping clear. Unfortunately, they racked up rails in show jumping, finished 28th overall.
Meyer will be looking to capitalize on what they learned in 2019 in their return to the five-star level this year. Johnny Royale was a “New Zealand ten-year-old” in 2019 (Southern Hemisphere horses turn one year older on August 1), which was relatively young to be contesting the highest levels of sport. They kicked off their 2021 season placing tenth in the Intermediate at Rocking Horse I, sixth in the Advanced at Rocking Horse II, and 36th in the CCI4*-S at Stable View.
Meyer is quick to commend the Thoroughbred as the perfect horse for the sport of eventing: “I’d rather ride a Thoroughbred than any of the other horses that are a bit more warmblooded. At the end of cross-country, you can just shake the reins at a Thoroughbred and they’ll find another gear.”
MORE INSPIRATION (Holly Jacks-Smither, CAN)
Owners: Bruce Smither and Holly Jacks-Smither
Breeding: 2005 gelding by Inspired Prospect (Woodman) out of Gentle Buck (Buckley Boy)
Racing name: More Inspiration
Racing record: 28 starts (4-2-2), $55,560
Breeder: Display Farm
Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration, aka “Morris,” are making their third run at Kentucky, and their fourth attempt at a five-star in the gelding’s career. “It’s always special to have one you produced come up the levels — especially More Inspiration,” Jacks-Smither told the RRP after winning the Highpoint Thoroughbred Award at the LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing earlier this year. “He’s the horse that made my career.”
Jacks-Smither was no stranger to Thoroughbreds when she crossed paths with Morris: she grew up galloping horses on the track starting at age 12. She’s still involved with the racing industry — her husband Bruce Smither is a trainer. She produced Morris from a four-year-old off-track prospect with intents to resell into a five-star contender on the national squad list for Canada.
Their first trip to the five-star level brought them to Kentucky in 2017, where Jacks-Smither had issues with her reins slipping in the Head of the Lake and accrued penalties for crossing her own path to take the long option. However, the completed safely and finished 26. The pair was unfortunately eliminated on cross-country in 2018. While they sat out Kentucky in 2019, they traveled to Pau to contend France’s five-star, and finished an impressive 12th.
This season, Jacks-Smither and Morris kicked things off by placing fifth in the Advanced at Rocking Horse Winter II, plus 23rd at the Grand-Prix Eventing at Bruce’s Field where they also picked up the Highpoint Thoroughbred Award. Most recently, the pair placed fourth in the CCI4*-S at Stable View, priming them for their third run at Kentucky at the end of April.
PALM CRESCENT (Meghan O’Donoghue, USA)
Owners: Meghan O’Donoghue
Breeding: 2006 gelding by Quiet American (Fappiano) out of Edey’s Village (Silver Deputy)
Racing name: Palm Crescent
Racing record: 12 starts (1-0-0) $9,462
Breeder: Eugene Melnyk
Palm Crescent’s 12-race career spanned over three years before he was retired mid-season and placed to find a second career with CANTER MidAtlantic. The horse was placed with Allie Conrad for his initial transition from racing, then went to Patricia Vos; Conrad and Vos worked together with many horses to help them find homes. From there, he was purchased by Jan Byyny as a resale prospect, for whom Meghan O’Donoghue was working at the time.
“Jan always loved him,” O’Donoghue recalls. Byyny gave the horse his start in eventing, competing him through Training level. He was then purchased by the Shipka family for rising star junior Chase, who trained with Byyny. Shipka took him through Intermediate before she began the transition to riding straight dressage. At this stage, the Shipkas turned to O’Donoghue to help sell their event horses.
“This was in 2015,” O’Donoghue shares. “I had just completed Kentucky with my upper-level hose Pirate, and he had an injury after Kentucky and so I didn’t have a horse to compete. Darcy and Ron Shipka approached me for help to sell their horses, but offered me the ride on ‘Palmer’ while Pirate was recuperating.”
O’Donoghue and Palmer began competing, and the Shipkas chose to keep her on the horse to see how far they could go as a team. “For five years they kept supporting me as we moved up to Advanced,” O’Donoghue describes. She was able to purchase the horse outright in 2020, but while she says the Shipkas might no longer be listed as the owners, she still feels their hand in this opportunity to take the horse to the pinnacle of the sport. “I’m very thankful for their support over the years, and to have them along for this ride!”
This year, O’Donoghue and Palmer placed tenth at Ocala Winter I in the Advanced/Intermediate, seventh in the Advanced at Red Hills, and ninth in the CCI4*-S at The Fork. Kentucky will be Palmer’s first five-star.
STEADY EDDIE (Michael Pendleton, USA)
Owners: Pierre Colin, Denise Lahey, George and Gretchen Wintersteen
Breeding: 2003 gelding by Jetball [AUS] (Marscay [AUS]) out of Tuonela [AUS] (Chief’s Crown)
Racing name: Big Jet [NZ]
Racing record: 36 starts (7-2-3), $19,852
Breeder: Seven Creeks Estate
If Steady Eddie’s name sounds familiar to you, you’re probably accustomed to seeing him romping around the upper levels with Olympian Boyd Martin. In early 2019, Martin’s assistant rider Michael Pendleton got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take over the ride on the upper-level master, and is preparing to make his own five-star debut on the New Zealand Thoroughbred.
Martin famously test-rode Steady Eddie in flip-flops and shorts after meeting him for the first time turned out after retiring from the track. Liking the potential he felt in the tenacious horse, he imported him to the US in 2010 and brought him up the levels of eventing. Martin and “Eddie” haven’t had great luck at Kentucky itself, finishing 42nd in 2016, suffering a fall for elimination in 2017, and retiring on course in 2018. However, the pair placed 10th at Burghley in the fall of 2017, as well as earned multiple top-ten finishes at the three- and four-star level.
Since taking over the ride in 2019, Pendleton and Eddie have worked their way steadily from Intermediate/two-star up the levels, getting to know each other. This year, they’ve placed third in the Intermediate at Pine Top, 11th at the Advanced at Pine Top, and 20th in the CCI4*-S at The Fork. They haven’t picked up a single cross-country jump penalty all year.
Pendleton penned an open letter on Martin’s website in the fall of 2019 seeking supporters to join “Club Steady Eddie” and get a taste for event horse ownership while helping to defray the cost of upper level competition. “I was very fortunate for the owners of Steady Eddie to give me the ride at the beginning of the year,” he wrote. “I am grateful because they had the chance to sell the horse, but instead they allowed me to take over the ride. This is an unbelievable opportunity to compete at the top level for a person like me that is just starting out my career.”
TIGHT LINES (Will Coleman, USA)
Owners: The Conair Syndicate
Breeding: 2007 gelding by Turgeon (Caro [IRE]) out of Merindole [FR] (Tel Quel [FR])
Racing name: Tight Lines [FR]
Racing record: 5 starts (0-1-0), $5,871
Breeder: Henri Devin
French-bred former steeplechaser Tight Lines was the highest-placed Thoroughbred pair at Kentucky in 2019; he and Will Coleman scored 35.7 in dressage and had a blazing fast cross-country trip. A contested flag penalty at 11A on cross-country incurred 15 penalty points. Combined with a double clear show jumping, they finished 13th.
Coleman and Tight Lines’ partnership began in 2014, when the horse was purchased by Coleman’s partnership connections through Canadian eventer Lindsay Traisnel and her husband Xavier. “Phish” had competed previously through CCI2*-L, produced by French eventer Paul Gatien in the barn of Nicolas and Theirry Touzaint.
“He’s an amazing galloper,” Coleman said of Tight Lines after cross-country in Kentucky in 2019. “He wants to please and tries so much. He’s as enthusiastic at Fence 1 as he is at Fence 31.”
After Kentucky in 2019, Coleman and Phish contested Burghley’s 5*, finishing 25th. This year, they placed fourth in the Intermediate at Rocking Horse, followed by finishing 16th in the CCI4*-S at Carolina International. Phish hasn’t had a single cross-country jumping penalty since his 2019 trip around Burghley.
UNMARKED BILLS (Chris Talley, USA)
Owners: Unmarked Bills Syndicate
Breeding: 2009 gelding by Posse (Silver Deputy) out of Kelli’s Ransom (Red Ransom)
Racing Name: Unmarked Bills [KY]
Racing record: 24 starts (3-6-2), $67,250
Breeder: Diamond A Racing Corp.
Auction: 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, RNA
2019 “Land Rover rookies” Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills captured fans’ hearts with their first trip around the bluegrass, living every OTTB-riding eventer’s dream of producing their own horse from off-track prospect to true upper-level contender. The pair scored 42.0 in dressage, jumped a clear cross-country with 16.4 time penalties, and accused 16 jump and 2 time penalties in show jumping to finish 27th at their very first five-star.
Talley is candid about the challenges Billy presents — he started out a bit high-strung and he has some physical issues that prevented him from being a resale prospect, including kissing spines. But he also believes that the relationship he built with the horse, taking the horse over his very first jump and producing him up the levels himself, has been the secret to their success, allowing them to perform such feats as going Preliminary less than one year after the horse’s last race, and completing their first five-star just five years into their partnership.
After their Kentucky completion, Talley and Billy, with the support of his business partner Hannah Salazar of Zaragoza Acres as well as crowdfunding help, headed to Burghley for a second five-star. They completed a tough cross-country track and Talley made the decision to withdraw before the final horse inspection and show jumping.
Talley and Billy kicked off their 2021 season with a third-place finished in the Intermediate at Pine Top, and most recently completed the CCI4*-S at Stable View.
Withdrawn prior to LRK3DE.