Oct. 18 – Elkton, Md.
Boyd Martin has a lot of horses in his barn, and if you asked him, Master Frisky would probably not be the one to stand out in a crowd.
But the gelding held his own on cross-country day at The Dutta Corp Fair Hill International, tackling Derek di Grazia’s grueling course and showing Martin he’s earned a place near the top of his string.
“I’ve always had a feeling he’s a great horse—a bit different to what I usually ride,” said Martin. “He’s very quiet and a bit common but a real trier, and he’s got wonderful ability in the dressage, and he’s very brave and honest cross-country. We’re always working on the show jumping. They’ve all got a weakness, and he’s got to be working on something, but I think he could be very special [in the future].”
Martin was the first out in the CCI*** with Steady Eddie and incurred two runouts, but that gave him enough information to apply to “Mikey’s” round. Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda put the pressure on with 1.2 time penalties to take the lead, but Martin had some breathing room, adding 2 time penalties over a course where just one rider, Kevin Keane and Fernhill Flutter, made the optimum time of 10:00.
“I had a bit of an advantage knowing what parts of the course I had to take my time at and which I could save up some time,” Martin said. “He’s a pretty green horse, but he tried very hard the whole way around. He’s very honest, brave horse, so I was thrilled with him. I felt like he had a good gallop and like he had a bit left in the tank at the end.”
Martin admitted that Fair Hill is the toughest three-star track he’s ever taken on, but he was happy to have a confident horse at the end of the day.
“I think it’s almost a bit too tough, to be honest,” he said. “It makes [the Boekelo CCIO*** (the Netherlands)] look like a two-star because it’s a big, big course, and it’s got terrain. I thought this was one of the harder years because there wasn’t that many let up fences. On the greener horses for their first three-star it was very draining on them. However, you know you’ve got a real good horse if it gets around here. And you might still have a real good horse if you have a runout or two!”
He added that he considers Fair Hill to be the most prestigious three-day event in the U.S. and noted several top horses and riders who’ve gone on to great things after winning the event, including Gina Miles with McKinlaigh and Phillip Dutton.
“I would hold winning this event as important as anything I’ve accomplished,” he said. “From the rider’s point of view, this is sort of the Hawaiian Iron Man. That’s why great horses and great riders come here and go on to wonderful things later in their career.”
Thrilled with his lead, Martin was quick to point out that the sport can be tough and complimented Brannigan and third-placed Caitlin Silliman and Catch A Star, two young professionals who’ve dealt with a lot of adversity over the last few years.
“I will say I’m very happy for Caitlin and Jennie because it’s a very heartbreaking sport, this sport. Both these girls have had so many reasons to wander off and get drunk and pregnant, and they’re still going strong,” he said with a laugh. “There’s so many reasons to do something different and quit. They’ve worked very hard and gone beyond what normal people do to get here and do this well, so I’m very pleased.”
Brannigan has had some bad luck with Cambalda, missing out on the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in 2013 when the gelding got loose and slipped before dressage and being eliminated this year after jumping the wrong side of a corner.
“This horse is 12, and I’ve known him for a long time,” she said. “Obviously everyone knows about the funny things I’ve done the past couple of years as far as my CCIs go, so I left the box today, and I was a bit calm. I knew this horse should jump around, and I knew he should have his day. I was really happy with how the course rode. He was more than ready to answer the questions today. It was just nice to finally feel like I pulled the trigger on the day.”
Silliman, who’s also Martin’s assistant trainer, has had her share of bad luck with “Hoku.” The mare survived a fire at Martin’s barn in 2011 and completed Rolex once, but was eliminated this year.
Silliman had never competed Hoku in the CCI*** at Fair Hill, but a confident final prep run at Plantation Field (Pa.) helped her feel ready.
“I’ve been here many years growing up in the area,” she said. “I’ve watched everyone ride around it a million times, so I knew what I was in for. She’s been around terrain, and she’s a very good cross-country horse, so if I ride her well she goes well. She’s the kind of horse that if you give her confidence at the first five, she just builds and builds the whole way around.”
Three-Star By The Numbers
1 double-clear round (Kevin Keane with Fernhill Flutter)
33 completed without jumping penalties
6 rider falls
5 riders retired on course
1 technical elimination (Kyle Carter and Conahy’s Courage missed fence 13)
1 elimination (Jimmie Schramm incurred one stop at fence 5, The Frog Pond, and two more at fence 6, Haunted Hill)
No one fence caused too many refusals, however three riders fell at 15AB, the Persimmon Tree Turn. Riders who fell here included Werner Geven/Vilas County, Mackenna Shea/Landioso and Avery Klunick/In It To Win It. The ground jury eventually removed 15A from the course due to the deteriorating footing.
Other rider falls included Holly Payne/Santino at fence 1, Flower Berm; Maya Black/Doesn’t Play Fair at fence 10, Chesapeake Water; and Cody Sturgess/Imperial Melody at fence 11, Sneaky Snake.
Full results are available on EventEntries.com.
Don’t miss a minute of the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill CCIs—stay informed on all the news, behind-the-scenes stories and stunning photos with the Chronicle’s dedicated Fair Hill CCI page of online coverage. And make sure to read even more details in the Nov. 3 issue of the print magazine The Chronicle of the Horse. You might know who won, but we tell you why and how they won.