April 7—Norwood, N.C.
Phillip Dutton didn’t go out on cross-country in the CIC*** division at The Fork with the plan to hold onto his dressage lead. Mystery Whisper is still a new ride for him, and he wanted to focus on rideability over speed.
But at the end of the day, he found himself sitting atop the leaderboard in the PRO Tour Series event after adding just 4 time penalties to his dressage score of 39.6 on the 12-year-old Australian Warmblood (Richmeed Medallion—Socialite, Salute).
“I just gave him a good run without pushing too much," said Dutton, West Grove, Pa. "I did go a bit quickly at Red Hills [(Fla.) a month earlier, where he won the CIC***,] and I wasn’t sure how he’d come out. He was actually a bit easier to ride here than he was at Red Hills. We’re clicking pretty well. He’s such a nice level-headed horse.”
Will Faudree, who was tied with Dutton on Pawlow after dressage, had an unlucky runout at 14D, the last element of the sunken road, an extremely skinny fence that caught many riders off guard. Michael Pollard, who had been in third place with Jude’s Law, also had a runout at the sunken road.
Capt. Mark Phillips’ cross-country course combined maximum obstacles with plenty of technicality to challenge riders, many of whom were getting in one last run before the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.
Some saw evidence that their careful preparations were right on track. Marilyn Little-Meredith moved up from a tie for sixth place to second on RF Demeter after finishing inside the time allowed of 6:14.
Watch video of various riders on cross-country at The Fork.
“I did set out to go a bit quicker with her, because I wanted to feel how easily she’d make the time,” said Little-Meredith, Frederick, Md. “It’s my fourth run with her. Red Hills wasn’t a very good gauge because the course was so twisty and turny. It wasn’t a very good gauge of how easily she was going to gallop, how easily she was going to cover the distance. I wanted to have a good idea of how she’d handle the pace going into Rolex. I did want to go quick enough but be as close as I could to the optimum. I think I was 3 seconds off of the optimum. I was pretty well on the mark.”
Canada’s Rebecca Howard, who is based at The Fork, also moved up, from eighth to third, with her double-clear round aboard Riddle Master.
Others discovered they had some homework to do. Six riders retired on course after having stops, and six more had falls, although no one was seriously injured. Of the 58 horses that started cross-country in the three-star, only 26 made it around without any jumping penalties.
“This is the biggest day of the spring season,” said Karen O’Connor, who sits fourth with Mr. Medicott in the CIC***. “Cross-country at The Fork, you get the wake-up call, or your horse is good, but even if your horse is good, you’re still thinking about what you missed. The horses that aren’t at the top of the leaderboard might be really strong at Kentucky because they got the wake-up call.”
O’Connor did decide to withdraw her other three-star mount, Veronica, from the CIC after the mare sustained an injury to the front of her hock from hitting 8B, a giant table before the water.
“It X-rays clean, but there was blood trauma, and we needed to medicate her. She was really comfortable after we medicated her so that’s a good sign,” said O’Connor, The Plains, Va., and Ocala, Fla.
For O’Connor, the day was an emotional one as she retained the lead in the CIC** on Joan Goswell's Mandiba. A year ago she didn’t know if the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Master Imp—High Dolly, Chairlift) would ever event again after he broke multiple ribs in a fall at the Badminton CCI**** (England). He didn’t even return to the United States until August, and his first run back was a week ago at Rocking Horse (Fla.).
“It’s been tough with Mandiba. All I want is for the horse to have a life and a purpose. I don’t have any designs on what he wants to do,” said O’Connor. “Yesterday was stunning. Today on cross-country I was so proud of him. He stepped up, and he’s very happy in the stable tonight.”
O’Connor also sits in second place with RF Amber Eyes. “Marilyn [Little-Meredith] found her for me in Belgium. She’s stunning,” said O’Connor. “She’s not very experienced at this level. She doesn’t care. She shows up for work every day and loves the sport. She’s a really wonderful horse. I’m very excited about her.”
In the advanced divisions, Allison Springer, Upperville, Va., held onto her lead with Arthur in the advanced, test B, division over Sinead Halpin on Manoir de Carneville and Becky Holder on Courageous Comet.
“I was pretty busy this morning show jumping [the lower level horses], so I didn’t ride him this morning. I knew I’d have a little bit of trouble in the warm-up, because he was very fit and full of it. But he was super at all the jumps. He was a little tough cantering in a couple of areas. He was really excited to be out there,” said Springer.
“We did everything as planned. I was really happy. I think that was a super last run before Kentucky. That was what we wanted to do,” she continued.
The advanced, test B, division was also the U.S. Eventing Association Adequan Gold Cup division, and it featured a more difficult cross-country course than the test A division.
"I think that’s great when they do that. If you’ve got a new advanced horse getting ready to go to your first three-star, that’s great to have a little bit easier run or prepare the Kentucky horses the way you might want to,” said Springer.
In advanced, test A, Pollard took the lead with Schoensgreen Hanni, his mount from the Pan American Games.
“It was a big course for Hanni. She did the three-star at Red Hills. I’d already gotten my qualification there. I just wanted to run her in an advanced before [the Jersey Fresh CCI***],” said Pollard, Chatsworth, Ga. “I thought she was a star. Every time she needs to go a bit faster, she keeps stepping up to the plate. I’m really looking forward to Jersey. She’ s a lot fitter than she was at the Pan Am Games. We’ll see how she does over a three-star track. She made the jumps feel really easy today.”
Show jumping in the advanced divisions begins at 8:30 a.m. with the two-star and three-star to follow.
- It's been a long time since Phillip Dutton competed Annie Jones' The Foreman at advanced. The 16-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Across The Field—Four Flora, Quadratic) did one preliminary this year and completed his last event before that in 2010. But when another horse came up lame, he got substituted in at The Fork and jumped around clean, albeit slowly, to land in 19th place in the advanced, Test B, division. "He was actually not that good," admitted Dutton. "I didn’t prepare him well enough. He’s a freak of a cross-country horse, but I’d virtually done no cross-country on him at all. It was a pretty tall order to go out and jump a big track."
- Hawley Bennet-Awad was elimininated on Splendofthesun in the CIC** when she jumped the preliminary house before the water instead of the intermediate one.
- The riders had nothing but praise for The Fork, especially the footing. "We are so grateful," said O'Connor. "It is a really wonderful competition. Jim Cogdell does a great job. His leadership is second to none. And don’t forget [his wife] Bernadette."