Temecula, Calif. – Nov. 2
While Buck Davidson was hoping for a better dressage score for Petite Flower at Galway Downs, the diminutive mare made up for it by earning one of two double-clear cross-country rounds over Ian Stark’s revamped CCI*** course.
“Flower’s” round was one of the ups in Davidson’s up and down day.
His dressage leader, The Apprentice, added 14 time penalties to his score to drop to sixth, but Davidson was pleased with the gelding.
“It’s a twisty, turny course, and you have to be on a quick horse, and he’s not quick,” he said. “He’s very honest and has tons of scope, but it was much twistier then I really appreciated when I first walked it.”
Davidson’s second horse, Absolute Liberty, wasn’t jumping as well as she normally does, so he decided to pull up at fence 16, the Voltaire Log. Galway Downs was her first CCI since a mild irregularity on her suspensory last year caused her to take a break.
“I’m not sure,” said Davidson. “Maybe it’s the dry air. She was making a wicked noise in the warm up that she’d never made before. She’s an unbelievably good jumper, but she didn’t jump like she normally does. She was on the time and she was galloping along the back and took a couple of funny steps. She jumped the triple brush and then she landed and took a really funny step and then she whinnied and I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I was right on line for the log, and I just stopped. I knew something was wrong.”
Since Davidson had Flower to ride last and came straight to the press conference after, he hadn’t had a chance to check on “Libby” back at the barn.
“I hope it’s not bad,” he said. “I hope her feet were just stinging and she just said, ‘I don’t like this.’ It’s been a long time getting her back and I hope we didn’t just undo it all in six minutes. I really love that mare. It’s the part of the sport that sucks.”
Discouraged, Davidson tacked up Flower, and planned to take it easy with her.“I didn’t expect to go clear today to be honest,” he said. “I just wanted to make it. After Libby, I just wanted her to come home safe. It is a bit bittersweet. I’m obviously happy about Flower, but very, very disappointed about Libby.”
By the time Davidson galloped through the trade fair at fence 15 with Flower, he realized he was up on his minute markers.
“I never even thought about the time until I came through the trade fair and my watched beeped at seven minutes,” he said. “[I was ahead,] and I was sort of thinking about going the long way at the last water because she’s been a bit dicey at corners. Then that’s when the competitive side of me kicked in. I thought, ‘My only chance to win this thing is to go and jump that corner.’ She jumped it and we were away. As I said [yesterday,] I knew there would be a part of me that would be competitive after a little while and it happened at about seven minutes.”
Emilee Libby and her off-the-track Thoroughbred Nonsensical were the only other pair to make the time and they moved into third place. Jolie Wentworth and Goodknight moved up to second place, adding 6.4 time penalties.
Of 17 starters, there were two rider falls, two eliminations and two retirements. Allison Springer fell from Copycat Chloe at fence 19, a sunken road, while Pam Fisher fell from Sea Lion at fence 2, a table. Neither horses nor riders were injured.
Course designer Ian Stark’s track started in the infield of the racetrack on a polo field. Riders then galloped up and out across the track and crossed over it and back into the infield twice more as it wound around the property and through the trade fair, adding more terrain to the generally flat course.
“It was hard,” said Wentworth. “I think it walked hard and I think it rode hard. Every year we come it gets a little harder and the time was really hard to make this year, where in the past it’s maybe been a little bit easier. [Ian’s] definitely putting his stamp on the course and making it substantial.”
Although Davidson loves the event, he was critical of the footing.
“I jokingly said yesterday how the ground is really not easy for us coming from the east coast, and to be honest, it’s not great ground,” he said. “It goes from soft to hard to soft to hard. It needs to get fixed. My horses all struggled in it. I almost didn’t run Flower. I love what this event does and how hard they work, but I do think they really need to address the footing. I think it’s a big deal. If you want to get top horses here, you’ve got to do it. Maybe with the new routes, they have to start [working] the ground sooner, I’m not really sure.
“I’m very proud that I’ve been out here for every three-star and I’ll continue to keep coming back out here,” he continued. “If they keep making good steps forward, it’ll keep getting better and better all the time.”
Efficiency Pays Off
Maya Black retained her CCI** lead with Doesn’t Play Fair over Matt Brown on BCF Belicoso.
“It rode pretty well,” said Black. “I was really pleased with him. He went out there and did everything I asked of him and more. I felt in some ways at the beginning that I didn’t have as much of a flow as I would have liked, but he was very honest and very straightforward.
“I try to be efficient with my turns,” she continued. “I prefer the horses that I ride to go without making too much of a hullabaloo getting them back before the fences. He has a pretty big stride for a little horse when I don’t add strides!”
Black described the gelding as spooky, but he stayed focused on his job on cross-country. She’ll try to keep him focused in the show jumping ring tomorrow since he’s been known to trot a fence if he’s distracted.
“Knock on wood, he’s never had a cross-country jumping penalty and he hasn’t given me a reason to doubt him, but he can be spooky, especially about narrow things and things that are on the side,” she explained.
A Big Challenge
Tamra Smith was quite surprised when she first walked the CCI* course at Galway Downs. She’s competed close to a dozen horses in the division in the past and she admitted this year was a real challenge.
Stark found ways to incorporate more terrain and included several jumps that were used in the intermediate horse trials division in the spring.
Her dressage leader, Fleur De Lis, has been on a roll at training and preliminary this year, but the one-star course proved quite the task.
“I came out of the box and my horse was a little tentative over fence 1,” said Smith. “I went to turn to fence 2 and he wasn’t feeling like he was going to turn to [it,] so I turned right just to assure that I wouldn’t have a run out and he was pretty backed off and pretty green today. Usually when you’re in first place, you feel like you had the ride of the day, and I had the worst ride of the day I think!” she said with a laugh.
Smith was originally assessed a stop at fence 2, but by the time she’d finished her course, the ground jury determined that it wasn’t a stop.
After her early issue, Smith chose to take several long routes, but still managed to make the time.
“He just didn’t feel quite brave today,” she said of the 6-year-old Dutchwarmblood gelding. “I think it was the atmosphere. I was just hoping he would clock around this thing like it was nothing. He’s scopey and he doesn’t have to make much of an effort, but he was kind just looking and taking it all in. Even after he was done in the 10-minute box, he just kept looking at the cross-country course like, ‘What just happened? I just ran the longest eight minutes of my life.’”
Smith, 37, got the ride on the gelding last year. After she broke her leg in July 2012, her friend Jennie Brannigan insisted she buy him before someone else did, so Smith brought him home, but started with ground work while she healed.
“He was a little bit of a project and not the easiest thing,” she said. “I did a lot of groundwork with him because I couldn’t ride and spent the whole latter part of last year doing round pen work and getting to know him.”
The CCI divisions will have their horse inspections at 8:15 a.m. tomorrow and CCI* show jumping starts at 9:30, followed by CCI** and CCI***.
For full results, visit eventingscores.com.
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