Twenty-eight horses set out on Michael Etherington-Smith’s CCI4*-S cross-country course today, and time was the biggest factor of the day. Only two of the pairs had jumping faults, but every single pair incurred time penalties, with the fastest ride of the day moving up 17 places to take the lead.
Brandon McMechan and his 11-year-old Thoroughbred Oscar’s Wild (Whiskey Wisdom x Rax) set out on the 4-star course in 18th place this morning. After galloping around with the fastest time in the CCI4*-S with just 2.4 time faults, McMechan moved into first place on a 39.6. “It’s a surprise to be at the top of the leaderboard,” said McMechan. “I was hoping for a better dressage test [yesterday], and I know today’s the best day to make up ground, but I did not expect him to make up this much ground!" McMechan stated that today is the Thoroughbred’s 11th birthday, “so we celebrated his birthday today with a fast round!”
McMechan purchased Oscar’s Wild as an off the track Thoroughbred when he was three years old, and he explained that the pair has really started to develop a strong and consistent partnership in the last few years. “I have a great horse. He moves quickly off my leg, and that’s the biggest thing,” McMechan explained as to how he accomplished the fastest round of the division. “Since he’s off the track, the long gallop tracks were in our favor because I just loop my reins and he takes off, and then I sit up for the jumps and he’s ready and prepared. We don’t have an argument, we just have a team, and we’ve established this partnership over many years and years.”
Overnight leaders Hallie Coon and Sharon White who were tied on their dressage scores, each had a bit more time faults, which bumped them out of the top spots, to take second and third place heading into the final phase of competition.
Hallie Coon and her 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Celien (Tenerife VDL x R Quicksilver) incurred 11.2 time faults to now sit in second place on a 42.6. “She was a bit sleepy,” Coon said of the mare after the time schedule got delayed due to a hold on course, and Coon explained that her warm-up routine was disrupted. “I got out a bit too early on her, and it was sort of a hurry up and wait situation. The adrenaline got pumping, and then I just struggled to get her out in front of my leg the way I wanted to. We’re like an old married couple, and I know exactly how long my warm-up routine takes with her. But, she was still really good, and she’s such an honest horse, so as long as I get her there and give her a decent ride, she’s going to get it done.”
Sharon White and her 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse Cooley on Show (Ricardo Z x Jogantina) galloped across the finish flags just behind Coon with 12.8 time faults, to put them in third place on a 44.2 heading into show jumping.
“I had fun – he’s so much fun to ride, and it was definitely a good time,” White said after explaining yesterday that she was eager to set out on course and just let her horse play and have fun across the country. “I think the time was hard to make, but everyone’s in the same boat. I wouldn’t have wanted to go any faster on my horse. I think Mikey S. said it best that he designed the course to have riders knock some cobwebs off,” explained White. “Honestly, I’m thrilled that Brandon [McMechan] gets to be on top – he’s so cute. That’s just so fun!”
McMechan cannot afford to have any rails down in tomorrow’s show jumping phase, as there is just a 3.0 difference between him and Coon, with White trailing by just another 1.6 points behind Coon.
In the Advanced division, overnight leader Marilyn Little and Raylyn Farm Inc’s RF Scandalous (Carry Gold x Richardia) picked up 21.2 time faults, knocking them down to just second place on a 41.2. That allowed for Alyssa Phillips and Oskar to make up some ground with a quick round, and after beating Little to the punch with just 14.8 time faults, the pair moved into the lead on a 38.9. “It was so fun,” exclaimed Phillips. “I was actually kind of nervous going out, and I didn’t know how a couple of the combinations were going to ride. He’s still really green at the level and it’s just his second Advanced,” she explained of her 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding. “He really is a beast though – he doesn’t bat an eye at anything. I’m really happy with him, and how it is setting him up with the Carolina CCI4*-S, as that’s our next goal.”
In the CCI3*-S, Kyle Carter stole the day with Gaillard Lancer (Diarado x Urlanta), only adding 4.0 time penalties to his score to position himself in first place heading into show jumping. “He was a champ yesterday on the flat, and it was probably one of the best tests I’ve had. He’s a really capable horse,” Carter said of the Blackstock’s 9-year-old KWPN gelding. “He’s got a very good owner, and Savannah [Blackstock] is in the top 10 in the same division. We bought the horse for her, but he’s a bit strong and cheeky, so I started riding him. He’s a really top horse and he genuinely shows up and tries. They recently told me they’re putting him on the market, but I’d really like if someone bought him for me, so I’m trying to get a couple people to try and help purchase him. He’s probably one of the best horses I’ve ever sat on,” Carter said.
All divisions will tackle Chris Barnard’s show jumping courses tomorrow, but first, the horses must pass the final horse inspection, which kicks off at 8:00 a.m. E.T.
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“I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it was an amazing experience.” Twenty-five years ago, Kerry Millikin and her off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding, Out and About (who was only 8 years old at the time) won the individual Olympic bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, making her one of five females to have earned an individual Olympic medal for the U.S.