Fair Hill, Md. - Oct. 18
“You hold your breath until you hear the score.”
Jennie Brannigan didn’t dare to presume she’d put in a winning test when she left the ring on Cambalda, but her score of 42.6 took the three-star lead at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International ahead of Doug Payne on Crown Talisman (43.6) and Katherine Groesbeck on Oz The Tin Man (44.0).
Brannigan’s secret weapon for getting ready for Fair Hill this year with “Ping”? Her job galloping race horses for Michael Matz at the Fair Hill Training Center just around the corner.
“That job with Michael Matz has made a huge difference for me: in my fitness, in my weight, which has also made me happier, in the people that I’ve met,” she said. “I’ve had three people from that barn come visit me throughout the week already. The assistant trainer Peter Brette came on jog day. Willie McCarthy came and walked the whole track with me yesterday. Stephanie Ball has been doing the breathing machine with Ping, since I was worried about that. It’s added a huge diversity in my life, and I absolutely enjoy it. That’s been huge for me.”
In fact, Brannigan asked Brette to put her on the schedule for some gallops on Saturday morning since the three-star doesn’t start until 1:10 p.m.
“But he said no,” admitted Brannigan. “What am I going to do all day?”
In all likelihood, she’ll be walking the course—she’s already walked it twice and plans to walk it twice more tomorrow—and listening to rap music. Lil Wayne will probably make the play list, and next week she and Lee Lee Jones are headed to see Powerhouse with front row seats.
Watch Brannigan's dressage test courtesy of TheHorsePesterer.
For Payne, preparation for Fair Hill, or any three-day, is all about anticipating the problem and solving it before it happens.
That means working on the dressage movements ahead of time at home and being smart with the exercises he chooses to practice.
“In this particular case, I wouldn’t do any changes out of canter-counter on a circle because you have the two counter-canter loops,” he said. “That little thing that, if he were to get distracted, it wouldn’t be on the forefront of his mind because we hadn’t been working on it.”
Then there’s visualizing the test. “Anticipating in your mind what he may do at each separate portion of the test makes your decision making when riding quicker,” said Payne. “For example, cantering down centerline, you come off the left lead, and he tends to want to fall right, but the moment you go to actually halt, he falls left. It’s figuring out what aids you’re going to use when. As the problem just starts to present itself, you already have the solution worked out.”
And that’s the same plan he’ll use for cross-country with “Tali.”
“Going into cross-country, I look at each combination or jump as the course designer presenting a problem to you,” he said. “There’s a short list of most likely faults that your horse may have, so I find it really helpful to go through potentially what’s going to happen, or most likely going to happen, and already have the response ironed out in my head so that I can click to plan A, B, C really quick rather than thinking, ‘He just fell to the right. What do I do?’ ”
Payne had walked the course twice and planned to walk it once more in the morning. “I’ve been here enough that I’m pretty comfortable with the lay of the land,” he said. “If it’s a place I’ve not been, I’d like to walk it a time or two more. You want to have a feel for where you can push him a little bit, where to lay off, what complexes are coming up next. It is a distinct advantage having competed here a number of times in the past.”
Forty-four horses will head out on Derek di Grazia's three-star track, beginning with Werner Geven on Vandiver at 1:10 p.m. Caroline Martin and Titanium won't be among them though, as, although they were scored in dressage (60.8), the pair was eliminated after the test for blood on both sides of the gray horse.
In the two-star, the top three didn't change from Thursday, so Boyd Martin still leads the pack. The two-star cross-country will begin at 9:06 with Ryan Wood and Fernhill Classic.
While there won't be live streaming video, you can listen to streaming radio from cross-country hosted by Brian O'Connor and Michael Tucker thanks to PRO. Access the PRO Tour Live Eventing Radio on Ustream: http://ustre.am/Ywh3 or download the free Ustream app.