March 11—Tallahassee, Fla.
Show jumping spectators at the Red Hills Horse Trials and CIC today were treated not only to a memorable and victorious performance by a newly minted superstar team, but also to a sight even more rare: Phillip Dutton’s pearly whites.
The veteran Dutton isn’t exactly known for being a smiley guy in the saddle, but as he crossed the CIC*** finish line aboard Mystery Whisper this afternoon, his white tie flapping behind him in the breeze and a clear round completed, he finally let the corners of his mouth turn upward.
Dutton and Mystery Whisper led the competition from the beginning, scoring a stunning 27.9 penalties in the dressage on Friday and pulling even further ahead after cross-country, despite picking up 4.8 time faults. They could have decimated the course today and still led the victory gallop, as second-placed Marilyn Little-Meredith pulled one rail aboard RF Rovano Rex and gave Dutton a 16.6-point margin of error.
But Dutton, of West Grove, Pa., had no intention of using his four rails in hand. Instead, he piloted Mystery Whisper through a flawless round on William “Fuzzy” Mayo’s course on undulating turf and finished on a mark of 35.7, tacking on just 3 time faults to his score.
“It’s a bit of a fairytale, having had the horse just a short amount of time,” said Dutton. “It’s been pretty easy so far to get to know him, and that’s a real credit to Heath Ryan, who bred him, broke him and educated him.”
In 2010, Ryan placed fourth at the Adelaide CCI**** (Australia) with the 12-year-old warmblood. James Wildasin imported the gelding in December, and he’ll eventually be his daughter Arden’s next mount. But first, Dutton’s making a bid to get him qualified for the London Olympic Games.
“He’s still got to do a CCI, so we just have to pick out where and when that will be,” Dutton said. “Rolex [Kentucky CCI****] isn’t a sure thing; it could be a three-star.”
While Dutton is known for being “a Thoroughbred man,” most of his mounts this season are warmbloods. But his selections are proving fortuitous so far; Mystery Whisper and Ben, with whom he finished third in the CIC***, seem to have four-star galloping capabilities.
“I definitely didn’t go for broke yesterday—he’s got a lot more in him,” he said of Mystery Whisper. “There’s no question I went quick, but there was still 25 percent left in him.”
It took Dutton a bit more effort to foster that same will to run in Ben, however. It’s only been a year and half since the 11-year-old Holsteiner started out at novice, “So his climb through the ranks has been pretty steep,” he admitted.
“He ran in the mud at Fair Hill [CCI*** in Maryland] at the end of the year and somewhat disappointed me, in that he didn’t really click in and want to go that fast,” Dutton explained. “So I’ve devised a little bit of a gallop routine especially for him. I’ve been putting him head-to-head with another horse, and it’s really made a difference. He’s just absolutely been a superstar. He went very, very well yesterday. He does nothing but try in every phase."
Dutton will be heading back to his winter base in Aiken, S.C., in a new Mercedes GLK 350, having won a one-year lease on the SUV from local sponsor Capital Eurocars. He also picked up two red ribbons this weekend, finishing second in the CIC** aboard Gran Banks and in the advanced division with Fernhill Eagle.
Little-Meredith Shows Them How It’s Done
Grand prix show jumper Marilyn Little-Meredith was in her element today, capitalizing on her skills to win the CIC** with a double-clear round aboard RF Smoke On The Water (49.4) and take second in the three-star with RF Rovano Rex (49.3).
Yesterday, Little-Meredith, of Frederick, Md., noted that she’s still adjusting to the changes of terrain on cross-country, but today she felt right at home on the rolling Red Hills course.
“Show jumping terrain—this I’ve got!” she said with a smile. “[In show jumping] we have the derbies, and I’ve done them at [Spruce Meadows (Alberta)] and Dublin and a lot of different places, so this is not unusual. But my horses were quite tired. I really let them go on a little bit yesterday. And it’s early on in the year, so this was a good gauge of their fitness, and they were pooped.
“[RF Smoke On The Water] was a different horse the second half of the course,” she continued. “He put everything he had into the first half, got through the triple and kind of said, ‘Whew, I’m done!’ And I had to say, ‘Bad news, buddy, you’re not.’ ”
But Little-Meredith was thrilled with the way the 7-year-old dapple gray Wurttemburger buckled down and found another gear to finish the course without fault.
“That’s always cool to see about them; you never know if they’re going to or not,” she said. “And any time they step up a level, you expect a period of forgiveness, where you know things maybe won’t go as well as you hope they will. You always hope that they’re ready, but when they step up and show you that they really are, you have to give them a real pat on the back. In every single phase, he hasn’t had a weak moment all weekend. He really deserved this.”
Little-Meredith plans to give "Smoke" a brief break in his paddock to bounce back from this weekend’s exertion, especially since, over the past 24 hours, she caught him lying down in his stall a lot more than usual.
“This morning I said, ‘I hope this is about you conserving your energy, not indicative of what’s to come!’ ” she joked.
She’ll enter the gelding in the CIC** at The Fork (N.C.) and is contemplating the CCI** at either Jersey Fresh (N.J.) or Bromont (Quebec) in early summer. But she admitted she hasn’t really had a chance to think past Rolex Kentucky, where she plans to ride RF Rovano Rex and her other advanced horse, RF Demeter.
“[Rex’s] first intermediate of the year was a really rusty, typical first event out, but on cross-country he was brilliant. So I did just the dressage and show jumping at Rocking Horse [Fla.] with him, and I was right on [with that decision], because everything I wanted to feel from him yesterday, he gave me.
“His fitness is obviously improving, and his rideablilty and mental game have really developed and changed so much over the last eight months,” she added. “And that’s what we need, because the talent is there. It’s just building the partnership. Things can always go wrong, but I’m starting to feel pretty good about that.”
In the advanced division, Kendal Lehari laid down a double-clear round with Daily Edition to clinch the win, and Caroline Martin did the same in the open intermediate division aboard Petite Flower.
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