After a long and busy day at Bruce’s Field in Aiken, it’s winter local Boyd Martin who holds the $50,000 LiftMaster Grand Prix Eventing overnight lead on Tseterleg (Windfall x Thabana), Christine Turner's 13-year-old Trakehner gelding, consolidating his 30.7 dressage score with a double clear show jumping round. "It's the biggest track he's jumped since last year. The biggest track I've jumped since last year as well, so it's good to be back in the swing of things,” said Martin.
However, he might not hold that lead for too long as he shared that he has no intention of running either this horse, Thomas, or 12th-placed Long Island T cross-country Saturday. “Thomas ran in the Intermediate just six days ago at Pine Top in Georgia, so he's had a cross-country ride not long ago, and I'm really trying to set him up well for Kentucky," said Martin. "It would be an act of madness to sprint him around the cross-country here six days after he's had a run. The other bloke has had sore heels, and he missed a bit of work this week. Two poles down -- we're out of it, so I'll just run him next week.”
This puts last year’s winner, Liz Halliday-Sharp, back in pole position, after an expensive second over the time show jumping on Deniro Z had left her fractionally behind Martin. "I'm furious at myself for that. It's been interesting this year because ever since Deniro did Burghley, he's completely changed to jump," Halliday-Sharp shared. "He's really polite now, and he used to land and go, so I have this belief as to where I'm going to be. More than one time working this year I've ended up adding a stride in a combination, which I've never done in my life because the horse is so waiting for me that if I don't move a bit when I land I'm like 'Whoa!' Saturday’s cross-country, however, will be a different story. I'll run him quick for the time. This is what we planned this year, to do Wellington and this as runs for him instead of Pine Top because he's really good on a big, galloping track, so it's good for him to do these nippy tracks where you put the pressure on and turn him tight. It's good practice for both of us."
Michel Vaillancourt’s show jumping track caused plenty of problems, with just five double clears from 37 starters including Missy Miller as the test ride. Several horses found the atmosphere in the ring a lot to cope with this early in the season, adding uncharacteristic rails or not behaving up to par in the first phase. Halliday-Sharp commented that she was relieved to notch up a clear with Deniro Z (Zapatero x Zonne-Trend), Ocala Horse Properties and The Deniro Syndicate's 12-year-old KWPN gelding. “The dressage was like that a bit too -- a lot of electricity in the ring, big jumps, tough technical course with lots of long strides then short strides... it was a real mega course. I was thrilled to leave them up.”
And as for that one second... "It was one hundred percent my fault. The horse jumped great. It was a tough course to ride -- it put pressure on you. So I'm owning the one second, that's one hundred percent Halliday-Sharp. We'll keep working -- I'd rather him be polite, and now I just have to learn to ride my polite horse!”
With the scores tightly bunched after the first phase, dressage leader Lauren Nicholson dropped to sixth place with one rail down aboard Veronica (Pacific x Kimbel), Team Rebecca LLC's 18-year-old KWPN mare. Phillip Dutton, capitalizing on some recent practice in the jumper rings both down in Wellington last month and more recently here in Aiken at Stable View, jumped clear on both Tom Tierney, Simon Roosevelt, Suzanne Lacy, Ann Jones, and Caroline Moran's 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding Z (Asca x Bellabouche) and Tom Tierney, Ann Jones, and David Vos's 11-year-old KWPN gelding Fernhill Singapore (Singapore x Riedellia), adding just one second’s worth of time on the latter. “It was a difficult show jumping track but the rails were spread evenly around so I think Michel got it about right," said Dutton. "The show jumping standard in eventing, just like all the other phases, is getting stronger and stronger. I think everyone handled it pretty well. I think it’s very helpful [to jump around some pure show-jumping tracks] especially as this time was measured very tightly so you had to really move along and a lot of the jumper shows are the same where you cant just go big and wide on the turns like we’re all used to doing so it’s good practice and good for your confidence just to get in and do it and good for the horses obviously to do some bigger courses. Hopefully it’s not too hard on them because it’s just one round.”
Phillip sits handily in third and fourth places ahead of Saturday’s cross-country and hopes to be competitive on both horses. “They’re both going to run - I’ve targeted these two horses to do the Showcase in Wellington and then this Eventing Grand Prix, the idea being that it’s good to practice your skills under pressure. It’s reasonably difficult doing the five-star test in the dressage and then a bigger show jumping and the cross-country shouldn’t be that taxing on the horses because it’s quite short. I’ll run them both and they’ll probably finish up at The Fork in Tryon.”
Buck Davidson was left ruing an expensive rail on Carlevo (Eurocommerce Caresino x Ramatuelle), Carlevo LLC's 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding, that moved him down from second place after a beautiful test in the dressage phase to ninth place overnight. A clear round on his other horse, Kathleen Cuca's 15-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Jak My Style, who now lies 10th, perhaps softened the blow.
Will Faudree and Caeleste (Contender x HappyGoLucky), Jennifer Mosing & Sterling Silver Stables' 13-year-old Holsteiner mare, are prowling the leaders after adding nothing to their 11th placed dressage score of 33.6 to move up into fifth place overnight.
Likewise, Erin Sylvester-Kanara and Frank McEntee's consistent 13-year-old Irish Thoroughbred gelding Paddy The Caddy (Azamore x Slamy) sailed into sixth place from 18th place with an impeccable clear.
Michael Pendleton has clearly found the key to Boyd Martin’s former ride Steady Eddie (Jetball x Tudnela), Pierre Colin, Denise Lahey, and George and Gretchen Wintersteen's 17-year-old Australian Thoroughbred gelding and after leading the dressage early this morning to eventually finish 11th, they moved back into the top ten with 1.6 time in the show jumping to start cross-country in seventh place.
Dom Schramm rounds out the top ten, just one second over the time in the jumping but a definite crowd-pleaser on the extravagant Badminton-bound Bolytair B (Polytair x Nobelle), the Naked Horse Syndicate's 14-year-old KWPN gelding.
Despite the chilly temperatures, there was a sizeable and knowledgeable crowd jostling for prime spaces around the arena in both phases, and also to watch Phillip Dutton and Buck Davidson in a retraining of racehorses demonstration during the lunch break. Seasonal local Boyd Martin spoke about straddling the pressures of having such a huge home crowd cheering him on in person. "It's an honor and privilege to have people interested in what you're doing and I'm very, very grateful that people care, especially in this career we've chosen. I'm very grateful for them all, and a lot of them have become very close friends. They've been there through the good times, and they've also been there through the bad times. I really like calling Aiken home - this is a wonderful winter base for us."
Cross-country is scheduled to start Saturday at 2:30 m. and before that Boyd Martin will lead a course walk at 11 a.m. The weather is forecast to be cold and sunny again, and it promises to be another exciting day of jam-packed action and fierce competition at Bruce’s Field.
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It’s the turn of the world’s best Eventing athletes to stand under the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games spotlight over the next few days as all but one of the horses presented at this morning’s horse inspection at Baji Koen Equestrian Park were confirmed for action by the Ground Jury.
And they're off! Eventing kicks off today in Tokyo (Thursday, July 29 – 7:30 p.m. ET), with the first of three Olympic dressage sessions. Competitors from 29 nations will go head to head, vying for a spot on the coveted Olympic podium.
There were a few last-minute dramas at the first horse inspection for the Tokyo Olympics which took place in the main equestrian park at Baji Koen Equestrian Centre at 9:30 a.m. JST today.