Boyd Martin’s list of accomplishments is pretty impressive for any eventer, let alone one who just celebrated his 30th birthday. But a three-star win had alluded him until today, Oct. 18, in the Fair Hill CCI***, where he and Neville Bardos put a checkmark next to that accolade.
“I finally won one. I’ve won a one-star, a two-star and a four-star, but never a three-star. I’ve come second a number of times in Australia and America. It was eating away at me personally a little bit. I had a little bit of pressure on myself,” said Martin.
This is Martin’s first CCI victory riding for the United States, as he previously rode for Australia, where he grew up, until this spring when he changed his citizenship with the Fédération Equestre Internationale.
One rail down at 11B, the oxer in the middle of the triple combination, prevented Martin from finishing on his dressage score—he placed 16th after the first phase. But Karen O’Connor, who finished second with Mandiba, left him some breathing room when she had a fence down as well (59.2).
Phillip Dutton, who had been tied for second place on Kheops du Quesnay, had two rails down to drop to fourth place (63.2). That opened the door for Kelly Sult and Hollywood, who moved up from 33rd after dressage to finish in third place (60.0) with a double-clear show jumping round.
Martin said the tough weather conditions over the weekend required a horse with grit, something his off-the-track Australian Thoroughbred has in spades.
“He’s a real tough mongrel of a horse,” said Martin. “If you look at all the top horses here, they’re not show ponies. They’d win in a bar fight. These are horses that’ve got a bit of grunt and can man up when things aren’t perfect.”
O’Connor countered that Mandiba is “a tough prep school kid. He’s had a pretty privileged life. But he definitely has some grunt. I’ve felt that on many occasions on him,” she said.
For O’Connor, who took home the leading lady rider award, the successful completion of the three-star with the 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding means things are headed in the right direction. Refusals at the Burghley CCI**** (England) in September persuaded her to take him back a step.
“It really has made a big difference to end his season by coming back to Fair Hill,” she said. “You can always Monday morning quarterback, but I really wish that I’d taken him to [the Blenheim CCI*** (England)] instead and really confirmed him. If you don’t take them slow, they will slow themselves down.”
Sult proved that she and Hollywood have what it takes to compete at this level. She burst onto the scene two years ago by finishing eighth at Fair Hill with her off-the-track Thoroughbred Hollywood. Since then she’s jumped around the four-star at Rolex Kentucky twice, but her third-placed finish with the 17-year-old gelding is her best placing in a major three-day.
“It seems like the older he gets, the better he gets,” said the 23-year-old from Erie, Pa. “We’ve just finally gotten his dressage down to where he doesn’t do extra moves. His jumping’s gotten so much better. He has a big heart and so much jump.”
Sult spent the past winter working with Bobby Costello, and she plans to head South again this year. She was the leading adult amateur rider at Fair Hill this year, but next year she said she’d turn professional. She also took home the award for highest-placed young adult.
Lauren Lambert, who finished 25th with Baba Creek, captured the Amanda Warrington Memorial Trophy for the best-placed first-timer in the CCI***. Kristi Nunnink and R-Star came home with the best turned out award as well as 10th place. Olivia Loiacano grabbed the highest-placed young rider trophy for her 13th-placed finish with Subway, who was also the best conditioned horse.
Twelve riders managed double-clear rounds in the show jumping of the 36 who started. Jennie Brannigan retired Cooper on course when he crashed into fence 9 and appeared unsound afterwards. Karl Slezak was the only other rider to have a stop with Charley Farley at fence 3.
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