Elkton, Md.—Oct. 16
There was a lot of trepidation heading into cross-country day for the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill. The world’s other six five-star competitions have been around for years and have well-established reputations. Riders knew which type of horse each would suit.
But at Maryland, much was unknown. Although the Fair Hill International four-star ran for decades at the same venue, the five-star was built on an entirely different part of the property, and it was Ian Stark’s first time designing a five-star track. So each day as the riders were asked what they thought of the course, their responses echoed the same refrain: It’s going to be a real challenge. And many believed the time allowed would be a factor.
The day got off in an inauspicious start when first pair out of the startbox, Buck Davidson and Carlevo, had a horse fall at fence 10A, the brush shoulder, but then things smoothed out. Rider after rider went clear, and the first double-clear came only four horses in, when Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus showed the rest of the field that the time was attainable. In the end, 11 of the 42 pairs who started cross-country finished clear and inside the time.
One of those double-clears belonged to overnight leader Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class, who head into tomorrow’s show jumping on their dressage score of 21.1
“It rode well in all,” Townend said. “The horses, all in all the top-class horses coped with it extremely well. Some of the real good gallopers made it look like a walk in the park. The time was not difficult to get with those good horses, but at same time, there’s still some nice challenges set by Ian. There were some good technical questions. Obviously, the corner [at 17, the Fair Hill Flier] looked big and scary, which is what you should have at five-star. For me, my horse gave his all and came home very well. We had a little bit of a shifted shoe—hopefully he’ll be OK on that.”
The 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Ramiro B—The Swallow, Master Imp) has won the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L twice, but he was unable to vie for his third title this year because he sustained a cut cross-country and was spun in the final horse inspection.
“He’s really shown today how good he is, because this is not a track that is built for Cooley Master Class,” Townend said immediately after his ride. “But he’s been with me since he was 4 years old, and he has a lot of trust in me, and he allows me to do my job so that he can do his, and he gives me his brain in the startbox. Wherever I point and kick if he’s a little careful or not sure, he throws himself between the flag for me.”
Townend will have to be faultless over the jumps tomorrow to win his fourth straight American five-star victory. New Zealand’s Tim Price also turned in a double-clear round on Xavier Faer and sits second place on his dressage score of 24.3.
This is Price’s eighth five-star with the 15-year-old British Sport Horse (Catherston Liberator—Faerie Dazzler, Catherston Dazzler).
“You’ve got to enjoy it whilst it’s there for you with a horse like him and the partnership we’ve got,” he said. “He’s great fun. It was an unusual approach today for us. Sometimes we have to go and really attack; today felt like I could a little bit enjoy it. But you don’t want to find your comeuppance because you got a little bit casual, and there’s definitely time where you have to put your leg on and make sure of the job in front of you. It was just a combination of those things, and he’s a great traveler which made the time getable for me.”
Price is the first rider to have crossed the finish line on cross-country at all seven of the world’s annual five-star events, and he said this level is what inspires him.
“This is what as little kids [we] strive for,” he said. “You dare to dream to get to this kind of level, and when you’re watching the greats as a teenager and thinking, ‘Maybe that’s something I’d like to possibly aim for one day,’ you couldn’t really imagine that happening at that point, to get to that,” he said. “The fundraising it took—we had to do a lot of work to get myself [from New Zealand] over to Australia for Adelaide, and that was a great experience. So Toddy, the great Mark Todd, he flew over on his own accord to help me, and just to have him there was very special. And [that event was] the impetus to go further and to make the big voyage to the U.K. and base there for the last decade and a bit.
“And from there it’s just been a lot of hard work, a lot of grind and just the opportunity to come to these big events becoming more real every year,” he continued. “Yeah, it’s an amazing stage of a career, even though I’m a bit older. Good things come with a bit of age, and I’m very fortunate and feel very lucky to be here at this inaugural Maryland 5 Star.”
Boyd Martin and On Cue also went double clear to sit on 25.0, leaving the top three dressage placings unchanged after cross-country.
Martin said that he was lucky to be late in the order so he could watch both Townend and Price ride. He knew exactly what distances he needed for the combinations.
“I really knew that my horse was fit and was a great galloper, so I sort of knew in my heart that if I could keep her on her feet and get her through the jumps that she should make time,” he said. “She had plenty of gas left, and it was a lovely ride up to the last fence, and it felt like you were on a race course. On Cue gave me everything she had today and felt fresh and ready to go for tomorrow.”
Refusals and falls—three rider and three horse—were spread throughout the course, although three areas saw more problems than most.
The brush shoulder to brush oxer (Fence 10AB) followed by a nearly 90-degree turn to a brush corner (Fence 11)—a set of fences that course designer Stark initially had considered labeling 10ABC—caused the most issues. There were two falls at fence 10A—Davidson and Carlevo, and Holly Jacks-Smither with Candy King (who picked up one refusal before the fall)—while Fence 11, and the tight turn to it, added 20 points each to the scores of Zara Tindall and Class Affair, Joe Meyer and Johnny Royale, and Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot. It also caused the first of two refusals for Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me.
The angled Camden Yard Houses, a one-stride combination set four to five strides after the massive Fair Hill International Drop, caused two falls at the second cabin, Fence 20. Fylicia Barr and Galloway Sunrise twisted over the first, and while “Sunny” gamely jumped out over Fence 20, Barr was unseated and parted ways with the mare. Caroline Martin’s Islandwood Captain Jack fell at the same fence. Though the horse scraped his knees in the fall, he walked off course and was checked by veterinarians back at the barns.
Fence 17, the open corner, led to a refusal each for five-star first-timer Emma Lomangino and Master Frisky and Fergusson with Honor Me, while Leslie Law and Voltaire De Tré jumped the fence but activated the frangible device on the rail, incurring 11 penalties.
The six-element Maryland Crab Water complex, although much talked about before the competition, caused only two refusals: one at 15A, the big crab, for five-star rookies Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium, and one at 15F, the final skinny wedge, for Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie.
Other problems were spread around the course:
- Colleen Rutledge came off of Covert Rights at Fence 4A
- Meuchel and Emporium had a second stop at Fence 18A, the rollercoaster
- Fernhill Singapore, the last horse on course, going once a hard rain started, caught a leg at Fence 24, the white gate, falling hard with Phillip Dutton. The horse did not immediately get up, but competition veterinarians reported that he was winded but OK. Dutton was uninjured. “With Fernhill Singapore, we were close to home when he unfortunately hit the small white gate, and we both came down,” Dutton posted on Facebook. “He was winded for a few minutes but has cooled down well now. We will live to fight another day!”
- Ema Klugman and her 19-year-old Bendigo were clear until Fence 27B, where she opted to retire her longtime partner after a refusal. “Tough sport,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Bendigo was on amazing form, going clear and fast, but the hills took their toll on him and he ran out of puff in the later stages of the course. I retired and got off at the final water. Thanks to everyone for the kind messages, we are both absolutely fine. And thank you Ben for giving it your all.”
Stark said that while Davidson’s fall at the beginning made him want to revisit his breakfast, overall he was pleased with the day.
“My big fear is tricking horses,” he said. ” What really pleased me is the horses seemed to be reading the questions. The less experienced horses and riders had hiccups, but in general they were getting around, and they weren’t losing confidence.”
Three pairs withdrew before cross-country: Buck Davidson with Erroll Gobey, Lynn Symansky with RF Cool Play and Clayton Fredericks with FE Stormtrooper.
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