Clayton Fredericks' Galway Downs International cross-country did not change the top rung of the CCI4*-L, CCI3*,-L, or CCI2*-L leaderboards, but there is evidence of the course proving difficult in the standings below that and in riders' reports.
Boyd Martin and the Syndicate owned 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos x Omega VI) Luke 140 maintain their dressage day lead. They were a 10th of a second over the 10-minute optimal time to bring their score to a 29.80.
"The course rode a lot harder than I thought it would," said Martin. "Even on my more seasoned horse (third-placed Long Island T), there were angles on the corners that were very demanding." Martin expected the track to be an especially big test for Luke 140 and was "over the moon" about his effort. "He has amazing fight in his DNA. If he sees a jump and the red and white flags, he does anything he needs to do to get himself through them. He showed me that he is a big-time horse today: that he is a tough, resilient mongrel. There were a lot of technically demanding fences, places where we only had a stride to see the narrow or the corner, and I was really impressed with his attitude."
Watch Boyd Martin's leading ride:
Speaking of those demanding fences, Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore were among four of the 11-horse field to get 15 missed flag penalties at the mid-course 16AB water complex. That knocked him out of second to seventh place after Thursday's dressage, and made way for Californian Tamie Smith and Passepartout to gallop double clear into second on a 32. Smith and "Pasco" have a rail in hand over Martin and Long Island T in third.
"Basically, this horse is such a rideable, fast horse," Smith said of the 11-year-old gelding (Pasco x Preschel). "He may not look like he's that super fast, but he just skips across cross-country with a massive stride and an efficient jump." Smith is riding Passepartout for her pregnant daughter and fellow professional, Kaylawna Smith-Cook. This was only their second cross-country trip together and Passepartout's first CCI4*-L.
Rideability was critical. "Two waters walked very difficult," Smith said. "You just had to have a super rideable horse. If there was any wonkiness, you might have a flag." She spoke from experience: she and her own OTTB, No App For That, also doing his first CCI4*-L and "very green," were among those getting an "MF" at 16B.
Martin and Long Island T pair jumped from sixth to third with no jumping faults and a 1.20 penalty for a 36. Texan Rebecca Brown and Dassett Choice stayed in the fourth seed, picking up 2.80 time penalties for a 36.
Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp was another to get a flag penalty at 16B. An initial extra 20 penalty points were later removed after review by the ground jury determined she had not re-addressed the fence. Nonetheless, it was a disappointing day for the East Coaster in her native Southern California for the current #1 ranked U.S. eventer. The flag penalty plus 8.40 time penalties dropped them from fifht to eighth.
Careful What You Ask For
"As the new course designer coming into a new venue, obviously the last thing you want to do is obliterate the whole field," commented Fredericks at day's end. "We had an agreement that the course needed to be stronger and the time needed to be harder. I think we achieved that." Of the particularly problematic 16AB, "It was a fairly tight line and I think some people tried to bend it more than was ideal, so it became an issue of the left shoulder popping out."
A new test earlier in the course exemplified Fredericks' ideal outcome. The combination started with an open ditch element followed by the "Which Way Brush" option. "A lot of riders were scratching their head over that: it's a fence you don't see very often. For me, it's ideal to cause a little confusion, then see it be ridden quite well." Most pilots chose the right-side brush, and just one pair had a refusal.
At the "Mini Wine Bar" water complex at the 20ABC element of the 27-effort track, Fredericks was also happy to see better jumping through the water, barrels, and mound creation. "It wasn't something that caused major problems in the past, but sometimes the jumping efforts through there were ugly. Today I was pleased to see horses jumping very nicely and being really careful."
Smith, Vedder, & Alliston Lead CCI3*-L
Elliot-V, the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Zavall VDL x Vera-R) is owned by Louisa Southworth, is top of the CCI3*-L, he and Tamie Smith earned that spot after a 29.80 dressage ride, and they were first out of the box in the CCI3*-L. Yet they took nothing for granted, maximizing the many long galloping stretches to stay on that score. "It was good to let him open up and blow off some steam, and his gallop is just incredible." So is his jumping, Smith said, which bodes well for Saturday's show jumping finale crafted by Marc Donovan and assistant Kelly James.
Smith can't let up as Asia Vedder and Isi are within a rail after adding 1.20 in time to maintain their number two seed on a 31.10. Although the amateur rider and USEA Area VI chair saw one of Isi's shoes fly off at fence 17, then another close to the finish line, neither horse nor rider were distracted by that or by the many other opportunities to lose focus. "It was a fair course, with no bugaboos, but there were spots where you really needed to pay attention. It was a little relentless. Even some of the single fences, you were jumping on an angle and you needed to be tidy."
Isi is "still figuring out that he has different gears," Vedder explains. She liked the course's many opportunities to shift them. "There were places where you had the option of going forward and others where you could jump in quiet and nicely add."
As for Saturday's show jumping, "Isi is a funny horse. He's spooky, but not always in a way that translates into spooking into clear rounds. I'll be making sure he's awake and keeping his canter active."
Behind Vedder, there's a big gap in scores before a tightly packed group led by James Alliston and Alliston Equestrian's Paper Jam. Cross-country dramatically reshuffled the mid-standings, with Alliston going from 8th to 3rd, Rebecca Braitling and Caravaggio II moving from ninth to fourth, and Andrea Baxter and Laguna Seca jumping from 10 to 5th. Less than a rail between these contenders sets the stage for another possible shake-up.
Going in reverse order of their standings, the CCI3*-L jumping will also determine the USEF National CCI3* Championship and the U.S. National Combined Training Trophy. Only American athletes are eligible, so Great Britain's Alliston and Australia's Brailting aren't in the running. Standing fifth and sixth, Andrea Baxter and Laguna Seca and Auburn Excell-Brady are. Smith likely has a special eye on the trophy, too. She won it in 2015 with Mai Baum, a major of many milestones in her ongoing successes.
McEvoy, Burnell, & Bouscaren Atop the CCI2*-L
Amateur rider India McEvoy rode with Phillip Dutton when she was in college and had a refresher with him just last week in a clinic near her Northern California home. Getting Redbull, her own 8-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Redwin, more in front of her leg during the cross-country warm-up was among the suggestions she put into play today for a double-clear round to stay atop the standings on a 26.50. "He's a funny combination of good temperament for dressage and he could gallop forever, but having Thoroughbred from his mom, he can get a little nervous. Phillip rode him a little during the clinic and gave me pointers about making sure he's forward and letting him have a second to think so he doesn't get frazzled."
Show jumping hasn't been the still-green Redbull's strong suit so far and whatever Saturday's outcome, McEvoy said she'll be thrilled. "Today's cross-country was really good because he ended feeling more confident. It's great to have him gain that kind of experience."
Lauren Burnell and Freedom Hill were also fault free today to be second on a 27.20. And professional Helen Bouscaren and Irish Pop were double clear to move up into third on a 30.50. Bouscaren and her husband James Alliston are McEvoy's coaches "and they've found me some great horses!" McEvoy said.
In Other News . . .
Preliminary divisions continued today, highlighted by Josey Thompson and Pistol Annie staying on their 18.90 dressage score with a fault-free cross-country to lead the Open division. All other national divisions got underway, including the "Challenge" format at the Modified-Training, Training-Novice, and Novice-Beginner Novice levels.
Karen O'Neal and Cafe Noir lead the Modified-Training Challenge; Leah Forquer and Oakley's Hunt SE top the Training-Novice Challenge on a 28.70; and CCI4*-L rider Erin Kellerhouse is atop the Novice Beginner-Novice Challenge with Sonata GWF on a 25.
The new showcase and test is a hit. "Last year, we had 17 entries in the Training Three Day event," noted organizer Robert Kellerhouse during the Wednesday briefing with International riders and officials. "We were sad to see that division go, but we have 95 riders doing the Challenges this year. These are all riders following in your footsteps and excited to see you compete."
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