Elkton, Md.—Oct. 21
All week Oliver Townend has been thinking about what’s ahead for Cooley Rosalent. He has high hopes for the young mare’s future, so he set out on the cross-country at the Mars Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill with a specific plan in mind.
“My horse is 9 years old, so my thoughts were on the jumps and trying to give her as nice a trip as possible,” he said. “Although we’re at a five-star and it’s usually important, she’s hopefully going to be a very long term partner in my career, and we know how good she is, so it was about giving her the best experience possible.”
The Irish Sport Horse mare (Valent—Bellaney Jewel, Roselier) checked all the boxes, adding just 6 time penalties to her dressage score, to retain the lead. She heads into Sunday’s show jumping on a 29.1.
“My horse, ‘Rosie,’ has fulfilled my expectations of her,” the British rider said. “We always thought she was a superstar, since the day we first saw her at age 4. From literally arriving in the warm-up to setting out of the [start] box I thought, ‘Oh this is something special.’ She was very keen but in a beautiful way, ears pricked and enthusiastic. Basically she’s had a whale of a time out here. I couldn’t be happier with her. She’s fulfilled our dreams that she is the next, hopefully, big thing for five-star horses.”
Before cross-country, many of the riders talked about how course designer Ian Stark made this year’s course significantly tougher. Not only did his changes make the optimum time more difficult to hit—the only pair to finish inside the time was Mia Farley and Phelps—but he built big-dimension fences that required brave and bold riding.
“I thought it was another Ian Stark masterpiece,” Townend said. “I thought it was a serious, serious five–star. It rode as big as any five-star and definitely bigger than a lot of the five-stars that we’ve seen in recent years. I think it was a tough challenge but a very fair challenge. I think it got an amazing result. Of course, one inside the time is fantastic at five-star level. I thought that the horses coped very well, and when they did a good job it looked beautiful.”
Fellow Brit William Fox-Pitt moved up from third to second with Grafennacht, an 11- year-old Oldenburg (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz—Nachtigall, Narew). The pair accrued 5.2 time penalties and will head into show jumping on a 31.3.
“I walked the course, and I very much think Ian had [his former horse] Murphy Himself in the back of his mind when he was walking some of those distances and fences, and I was rather wishing that I was on Murphy Himself. My mare coped very well out there; I’m pleased with her. I think he struck a good balance: He asked some very good questions, the times when things weren’t quite so big, but he did test our horses and our riders.”
This was the mare’s second five-star after running at Badminton [England] this spring, and he was pleased with how she handled it.
“She gave me a great ride at Badminton; I came here full of optimism,” he said. “And you never quite know, when they jump around one five-star, are they going to be as good at the next one? She’s always been a really cool horse, even from a 5-year old. … She doesn’t really deviate anywhere, so she’s nice and easy to ride.”
Fox-Pitt was held on course while veterinarians tended to Arielle Aharoni’s Dutch Times, who was vanned off course, and he said he wasn’t sure how that wait would affect “Lillie.”
“I have to admit that of course, the hold in hindsight did help [though] you’re never quite sure,” he said. “You’d like to stay in the rhythm and keep going. You think like, ‘Oh my goodness, when I get up to the corners in the water she might be fresher than I anticipated.’ So I rather thought that I could ride her a little bit quieter, but she held quite relaxed; she had a good wash—they had some water there at the end—and yeah I didn’t know how long I would be held for; it was a little bit hit or miss. That played to my advantage for sure. She doesn’t look like she’s done an event.”
Five-star first timer Farley had a banner day with Phelps. As the only pair to finish inside the time, they leapfrogged up the leaderboard from 10th to third, as the best-placed U.S. pair. It’s a position the 23-year-old never expected to be in.
“I wanted to have a plan, but I got slapped in the face that nothing was going to go to my plan A at least,” she said. “But Phelps answered all the questions, and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Farley has been paired with the 10-year-old Thoroughbred (Tiznow—Boom Town Gal, Cactus Ridge) since the gelding’s novice days, and they’ve been consistent throughout their partnership. Having that long relationship played a part in their round.
“What I learned about Phelps today is that he’s a true fighter,” she said. “When I wasn’t fully there for him, he was like, ‘It’s OK; I got you.’ It was a wonderful feeling for him to step in and take over the reins.”
Farley has been riding with Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor, who also owns Phelps, for many years, and she felt their systematic way of training at home was a real plus on course.
“We made a joke, always jump the last element first, then you connect the boat or the two for them, and I think I really saw that training that we did with Phelps five years ago today,” she said.
Stark was happy with how things played out.
“I think various things pleased me: I thought Oliver’s horse was phenomenal, [and a] very young horse. Mia’s little horse went brilliantly. She rode amazingly considering it was her first five-star, and what really thrilled me is, because I’m a racing man, the Thoroughbred—I won’t make a rude gesture to the warmblood, but I’ve always been a Thoroughbred person, so I’m delighted for her and the horse,” Stark said. “And I thought there was some great riding out from younger horses, combinations out there and younger riders out there. I thought Andrew McConnon did a brilliant job on a really exciting young horse. It was good to watch.”
He credited the riders with being “thinking and sensible” about their approach to the course and the options at combinations—though he admitted to being worried at the beginning of the day that some lines and fences might go entirely unjumped, like the brush keyholes that his crew worked so hard to make.
“By the end of the day, everything was tried, all the routes,” he said. “I kind of hoped that some would go all the direct routes, and some of them did. But I gave them lots of alternatives and they could change their mind in the middle of it. They even came up with ideas I hadn’t even thought about. It was great.”
Stark said he was “delighted” with how his efforts to slow riders and make the time allowed more difficult to achieve than in years past.
“I got so much abuse for two years for screwing up the time; I thought they just rode well and fast—and some of the riders did,” he said. “The fact that it was the one Thoroughbred that made the time pleased me enormously. And there were people close, but they didn’t quite make it. It was good, it worked out well.”
Of the 25 who started cross-country, 16 completed. Four pairs retired on course: Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z, Aharoni and Dutch Times, Zach Brandt and Direct Advance, and Sydney Solomon and Early Review CBF. Boyd Martin fell from Contessa at Fence 3B, and Jacob Fletcher fell from Fabian at Fence 12. Phillip Dutton and Azure both fell at 19A. Booli Selmayr on Millfield Lancando, and Sarah Kuhn on Mr. Cash Van De Start were both eliminated for refusals.
Jennie Brannigan withdrew Twilightslastgleam after having a fall with Pascal in the three-star Saturday morning.
In the three-star Caroline Pamukcu retained the lead with HSH Connor by turning in a double clear performance to stay on a 25.4. Lauren Nicholson and Larcot Z are in second on a 28.6, and Pamukcu and HSH Tolan King are now third on a 29.
The Chronicle will be on-site to bring you everything you need to know at coth.com, so you don’t have to miss a minute of the action. You can find all our coverage of the event in one spot, and you also can follow us on Instagram and Facebook. You can read more in-depth coverage in the Nov. 27 issue of the Chronicle.
Follow all of our coverage here.