March 9—Tallahassee, Fla.
Phillip Dutton wasn’t trying to win the Red Hills CIC***  again, he swears. It just happened that way.
But that doesn’t mean it was an accident, either.
“Of course it’s always in the back of your mind, but I didn’t actually set out thinking I was going to,” said Dutton, who prevailed by accruing just 3.2 time faults over Hugh Lochore’s cross-country course to take the title for the second year in a row. “But when Marilyn [Little, the overnight leader ] had some time, and I knew that I could win, I figured I’d just set out and, even though he can sometimes get quite strong, just see how it went.”
The “he” in question—Bruce Duchossois’ Mighty Nice—minded his manners from start to finish and wasted little time on the twisty, undulating track. Dutton said his 2012 winner, Mystery Whisper, is actually better suited to a course like Red Hills’ than Mighty Nice, but the latter is getting more consistent and patient with every start.
“Happy” apparently makes up for his rider’s humility by hamming it up every chance he gets.
“He’s so confident in himself he’s bordering on being arrogant,” Dutton joked. “He’s a huge horse, but he’s very, very clever. He grows an extra leg if I misjudge things a little bit.”
Marilyn Little slotted into second place in the three-star with her first ride in the division, RF Smoke On The Water, who picked up 6 time faults.
“He was great, but it’s his first run [of the season], and Red Hills is notoriously hard to make the time on. I was a little behind coming up to the first water, I think, and went to make it up a bit on the back side and just wasn’t able to,” she said. “Phillip was definitely meant to have today; it wasn’t my day. But I’m really happy with the horse.”
Little had a chance to beat her own first ride and still clinch the win with her second, RF Demeter, but a surprising collision with a tree early in the course ended that hope.
“She warmed up great, and she started out the best I’ve ever felt her,” Little said. “Then I landed from fence 6, and to be honest, I don’t know how it’s possible, but she [locked in] on the tree on front of us, and not for love nor money, right rein, left rein, nothing, [could I steer her clear].
“You should see the tree,” Little joked after noting that she and her mare are both fine. “I got dragged a bit, because I didn’t want to let go of her. It was early in the course, and there was a galloping lane in front of her, and if I’d have let go she would have looked like Seabiscuit.”
Little said she was planning to return to her winter base in Wellington, Fla., tomorrow, but now she’ll reroute to Ocala so Demeter can get in a proper fitness run.
Buck Davidson, who finished third with Ballynoe Castle RM, said he regretted the tiny faults he’d made over the weekend that cost him the win, like pushing “Reggie” to the breaking point in his extended trot in dressage and pulling one rail in yesterday’s show jumping.
“I always feel like he’s the best horse, that he should win,” said Davidson. “I always feel like I let him down. But I got beat by two really good people and really good horses.”
On the whole, riders praised the way the three-star track rode. There were three rider falls, none of them serious, and a few refusals, but problems were spread out over the course.
Vendetta For Victory
In the CIC**, a fall from Sorrento at the first water complex ended overnight leader Clayton Fredericks’ bid for the win, and second-placed Jennie Brannigan was ready to step into the void. She and Indie jumped double clear and sealed the deal.
“He’s been in the top at a few FEI events now, but this is the first he’s won, and with Red Hills having such a reputation as a tough show jumping and cross-country track it meant a lot to me to go out and win today. I feel like people are starting to see him more as an upper-level horse and not just a spooky young green horse,” said Brannigan, who’s content to let her results speak for themselves. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little personal vendetta for Indie to go out and be good, due to some interesting circumstances this spring. But it’s been really a pleasure to keep the ride on him. The Gardners [Tim and Nina] own him for me, and they’re such great people.”
Brannigan also finished fourth in the three-star with Cambalda, who she’s aiming for the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April. She plans to take Indie to the Bromont CCI** (Quebec).
Little took second and third in the CIC** with RF Azarah and RF Black Pearl, respectively. The two 8-year-old mares are both European imports. Lucinda Fredericks formerly competed Azarah, and Little took over the ride last summer.
Black Pearl only recently cleared quarantine, and Hannah Sue Burnett helped get the mare settled and gave Little reports on her way of going. Little showed her in the jumpers for three days at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington but had “never jumped so much as a log with her” before arriving at Red Hills. She had previously been campaigned to the CIC** level by German rider Beeke Jankowski (née Kaack).
Aside from leader Clayton Fredericks, the two-star division saw four other rider falls, though no one was seriously injured. The most notable among them was Joe Meyer’s unplanned dismount from Lough Rynn during the horse’s second refusal at the final fence, a new keyhole jump called the Owl Hole.
The Fastest Of The Slow
Time penalties made all the difference in the advanced division, where riders moved at a more leisurely pace than in the hotly contested three-star. Lisa Barry’s 14.4-fault round with F.I.S. Prince Charming was the fastest of the group, moving the pair up to the lead. She’ll have a rail in hand tomorrow over second-placed Sydney Conley Elliot and Pancho Villa.
Dutton, who’d won the dressage with Fernhill Fugitive, tacked on 23.6 time faults and slid down to third.
Melissa Miller retired High Finance after two stops at fence 3, a trakehner, and three other riders picked up refusals, but most of the advanced field found their way home.
Disappointment For Breakfast
The action in the first division to go today, open intermediate, could best be described as carnage, though it was mostly penalty-related, not physical. Only eight horses jumped clear, and Sara Kozumplik and Tatton Winter were the only pair to make the time, which moved them up from 11th place to the lead (32.4).
Dressage leader Jenny Caras parted company with Fernhill Stowaway at the first water complex, Apalachee Bay. There was a brief hold on course while emergency personnel loaded Caras—who was conscious and moving—onto an ATV and transported her off the course for further attention. April Simmons also fell from Sunday Best at fence 9, the Teepee Logs, but was not seriously injured.
Jessica Phoenix withdrew second-placed Pavarotti before cross-country, and Savannah Fulton, who was tied for third on Ringfort Tinkatoo, picked up a run-out at the Pergola Perplexor, the corner complex at 11AB. It ruined the hopes of several riders, as did Apalachee Bay.
Even veterans weren’t immune from the bad luck. Davidson failed to get past fence 4ABC, the Blind Coffin, with a nappy Copper Beach, and Dutton picked up two stops at the Owl Hole, to which his mount Kilkenny strongly objected.
Show jumping for the national divisions starts tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., beginning with preliminary.
For in-depth analysis of this year's Red Hills CIC & Horse Trials, including a look at next year's new course location, an assessment of how the EHV-1 threat was handled and a check-in with some of the event's notable absences, both equine and human, look for the March 25 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. 
Looking for full results? Visit Event Entries.