When Jennie Brannigan made the decision years ago to come back to the West Coast for its inaugural CCI***, she was doing it out of support for Galway Downs’ organizer Robert Kellerhouse and all the people she grew up around in Temecula, Calif.
But when she booked tickets for herself and her horse Cambalda this fall, she also knew she was coming to win. And with a double-clear cross-country round on Nov. 7, the West Grove, Pa.-based rider did everything within her power to make that possible. She now leads the Galway Downs CCI*** on her dressage score of 46.0.
“I was really happy with him,” Brannigan said of Nina Gardner’s 8-year-old Thoroughbred-cross gelding, who’s contesting his first CCI***. “I came out of the box and ended up taking a couple shorter cuts on the track, and I could have been slower at the beginning.”
Brannigan acknowledged that the time ended up being fairly easy to make on Ian Stark’s courses across all the divisions, especially because there were so many opportunities for riders to cut inside the aerated galloping track when they needed to to shave off a few extra seconds.
“I loped down the backside,” she said. “I let off the gas about halfway through and let him settle into his own gallop, and he jumped even better out of that.”
Brannigan said her only near miss came at a right-handed corner, which “Ping” considered sidestepping for a split-second, but jumped obediently anyway. She was happy with how the remaining combinations on course rode.
Unfortunately dressage leader Allison Springer couldn’t say the same. She and Arthur got a bit discombobulated at the Equine Insurance Splash water complex halfway through the course. The combination asked riders to come through water, jump up a bank and pop off it back into water, and then get three or four strides to exit the pond over fence 14, The Orca.
Arthur hit his stifles on the drop in, and Springer pitched forward, causing her to miss the carved wooden whale. She pulled right and then left, circled and jumped the jump, but officials decided she’d presented to the fence and gave her 20 penalties for a runout. Springer protested, but the ruling stood.
It was a tricky ride for several. Matthias Schwarz also had a stop in the Equine Insurance Splash, and he retired Sandy Shoes there, having already had a runout at the second of the angled brushes at 9AB, the Adequan Moat. And Debbie Rosen and The Alchemyst stopped out at the Orca after picking up an early stop at 10AB, the Sonoma Saddle Shop Sheeps Pen.
“[The water complex] rode tough for me too,” said Tamra Smith, who’s now in second place in the three-star with her catch-ride, Corner Street (46.6). “I was growling and kicking and whipping. In actuality, it was pretty smooth, but it didn’t feel like it. But since I’ve never run the horse cross-country, I expected everything to be really hard!”
Corner Street belongs to Auburn, Calif., rider Kristi Nunnink, who had surgery on her ankle earlier this year to repair damage done in a fall at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April. Nunnink rode R-Star to a double-clear round at Galway today and stands in sixth place, but she’s only been back in the saddle for two weeks and was wary of putting too much stress on her foot this weekend.
“[Corner Street’s longtime rider] Erin [Spohr] has been galloping him, and she actually competed him in a couple intermediates and did an advanced at Twin [Rivers (Calif.)] on him,” Smith said. “But unfortunately her CCI*** qualification had expired, so she couldn’t compete him here. They could have picked anybody, and they picked me, so I’m pretty stoked about that! I got him 10 days ago, jumped him a little in a clinic with Buck [Davidson], and Derek [di Grazia] helped me warm-up here.”
In addition to Brannigan and Smith, two other riders managed double-clear rounds: Kristin Bachman with Gryffindor (fourth) and James Alliston on both his horses, Jumbo’s Jake (fifth) and Parker II (seventh).
The angled brushes over the water-filled moat at 9AB which had tripped up Schwarz also caused problems for others. Imtiaz Anees had one runout there, and Bonner Carpenter retired Impeccable there, having just had a stop two fences before.
Two riders didn’t make it past 5ABC, the PRO Ditch, Rail and Triple Brush. Kelly Prather fell from Ballinkill Glory there but was unhurt, and Federico Daners retired S.V. Ron there after a stop, having just stopped at the fence before, 4AB, the Palisade to Ditch Oxer. Casey McKissock and Special Blend also picked up a stop at 5ABC and at 12, the Brush Corner.
Andrea Baxter and Estrella made it through most of the course before stopping at 18ABCD, the Professional’s Choice Sunken Road, and 21, part of the Point Two Air Jacket Water Complex.
Slusher And Juicy Stay On Top
Alexandra Slusher’s charmed weekend continued on cross-country day, as she moved up to third place in the three-star with Last Call, despite her .8 time faults, and she went double clear in the CCI** to keep her dressage lead with Juicy Couture (49.2).
Slusher had been a bit worried she’d have trouble mentally transitioning in between her rides on the two mares, who go very differently. But her ride times allowed her to re-walk most of her three-star course after the two-star had finished.
“There were places I easily could have taken an inside line and saved some time,” said the Auburn, Calif., rider of her three-star course. “But I felt like I was doing pretty well to be that fast. I’m slow by nature!
“My two-star horse was the best she’s ever been,” Slusher continued. “If I get a good first fence, which I did, I always feel great the rest of the way around.”
Amber Levine and Nantucket Red also smoked around double clear on their first CCI** course to move up to second place (54.2). Jolie Wentworth did the same, moving up to third on GoodKnight (58.1).
Shannon Thompson, who’d been in second place after dressage, fell hard from KS Priceless at fence 18AB, the downhill rails. The horse hung a leg over the first downhill log, then tried to keep going and jump the second, unseating his rider. Medics attended Thompson during a brief hold on course, but she was not critically injured.
There was no one bogey fence in the CCI**—no fences saw more than one incident apiece. Pam Fisher and Simply Priceless were eliminated after stops at 8AB, Lake Galway, 19AB, the Moat, and 23 ABC, the Steps to Skinny. Officials pulled up Bethany Healey, who’d already had one stop with Wondaree Skite, around fence 21 because of her horse’s significant nosebleed.
Hilary Neimann and Pele II picked up a stop at 16, the Guppie, and Katelyn Ziegler and Peninsula Lion incurred 20 penalties at 11, a brush jump.
- Katherine Groesbeck kept her first- and second-placed standings in the preliminary three-day event (a.k.a. the long-format one-star) with her two homebred Arabian-Thoroughbred crosses, Oz Poof Of Purchase and Oz The Tin Man, respectively. “They’ve both done open dressage, and I competed through Prix St. Georges on Oz The Tin Man,” said Groesbeck, of Wilton, Calif. “They’ve both done endurance—limited distances and 50 miles, mostly as conditioning. We also use them as ranch horses at home. Oz The Tin Man was my dad’s working ranch horse until he was 4 or 5. We’ll go out and gather cattle, and he’ll rope off them and stuff. Eventing is not their only job!”
- Lindsay Connors held onto her lead in the CCI* with a double-clear round aboard Ballingowan Pizazz (45.6).
- In the training-level three-day event, Spohr held onto her lead in division 1 with a flawless day aboard Bravo. And 16-year-old Sierra Mathias did the same in division 2 with Regal Exit. “Today was awesome,” said Mathias, of Pleasanton, Calif. “It was just really, really fun. We’ve been conditioning for almost two months, gallop sets, trot sets, just trying to get her super fit so we’d have no problems today, and it definitely paid off. She was amazing, and steeplechase was so fun. She knew what to do, and then for cross-country she was on for every fence.”
Visit the Galway Downs website for full results and schedule.