When the overnight leader cantered into the show jumping arena at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International and had the first rail down, Erin Sylvester knew that she had just clinched the CCI4*-L win. It isn’t just another CCI4*-L win though – it is a truly historic one as she and Paddy The Caddy, Frank McEntee’s 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Azamore x Slamy), will be the final names inscribed on the Fair Hill trophy.
“It is special to have the finish that we had this year,” said Sylvester who added just 0.4 time on cross-country to finish on 34.3. “I am honestly going to be really, really sad [that Fair Hill is finished]. This is the first two-star (now CCI3*-L) that I did a long time ago, and I love this event. It is a local event for us, and it pulls the whole community together. It is great to be at a show that has a great spectator following and volunteer participation, and there is a huge community behind this event. It is definitely going to continue on the other side of the road, and it is going to be even better, but I really love this event.”
Sylvester had what she described as a less than perfect run at Kentucky this spring. She said she came to Fair Hill with something to prove. Wanting to show that she belonged at the level and were competitive. Sylvester has been working with Paddy since he was 3-year-old, so is a very special partner for her, but with that comes added pressure. “He is the first really competitive horse that I have had, that has been exciting, but it is also a lot of pressure because sometimes I feel like I might be doing him wrong on the flat. If I have a rail on him it is entirely my fault.”
“He is awesome,” continued Sylvester. “He has so much heart and he really loves this sport. It has taken him really to this year to be very confident. He has been a cautious horse and as he was coming along it would have been very easy to scare him. But he is confident and has a blast out there now.”
Sylvester and Paddy started the weekend in eighth place after feeling like she left some points on the table in her canter work. Yesterday’s cross-country made all the difference in the standings though on Derek di Grazia’s challenging course.
“The cross-country walked really, really tough to me, and I thought it rode tough,” said Sylvester. “I kept trying to compare to Kentucky in some aspects. I felt there were some combinations that felt Kentucky caliber or a bit tougher. It was fun to get all that stuff behind us yesterday and look forward to today.”
Today brought added challenges as yesterday’s blue skies turned into typical Fair Hill weather with the relentless rain turning the main arena into one giant puddle. “I really, really dislike show jumping in the rain,” said Sylvester. “I feel like I am all over the tack and I felt that way today. Fortunately, he jumps straight and stays in a rhythm, so I just try to hold on. It is less than desirable to show jump in the rain, but I definitely think it is a whole lot safer than going cross-country in the rain so I will take that over cross-country for sure.”
Sylvester’s dislike of show jumping in the rain didn’t stop her from jumping clear on Paddy – one of 13 double clear rounds on Marc Donovan’s CCI4*-L show jumping track.
Mia Farley and her own 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Capitalist x Emmas Courage) made an impressive climb up the leaderboard – they started out the weekend in 22nd place and ended up as reserve champions. They added nothing to the dressage score of 38.3 all weekend. Farley is only 19 years old and moved out from California to train with David and Karen O’Connor for three months. That was a year-and-a-half ago.
Competing against the best professionals in the country “was a little stressful,” said Farley. “I overall had so much fun all week and I feel very lucky to be here. Coming from California it has always been a goal of mine to come to Fair Hill and experience the track, and I never thought that I could have had the finish that I did. I am lucky to have my horse.”
In their sixth consecutive appearance at Fair Hill, Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude, her own 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Misty Matilda), bettered their 2018 finish by one placing to finish third.
“I was pretty disappointed with the dressage on Friday because he is quite a tricky horse on the flat, but he always tries really hard,” said Caras who scored a 40.0 for 26th position. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite the test I was hoping for. He was mistake-free. We lacked a bit of the wow factor of some of the other riders.”
Cross-country saw the pair move up the leaderboard to sixth place with a double clear roud. “I love riding at Fair Hill. I love riding around Derek di Grazia’s tracks. It is so nice as a rider to go out on cross-country and trust that the course designer has set you a track that you can really ride forward and bold to. This is the fourth time I have done the four-star long here, so I knew my horse could get the trip and I knew what he felt like around the course, so it was just nice to go out do what I know what to do on him. He was excellent and he finished full of running.”
Show jumping hasn’t always been the easiest for the pair, but they managed a double clear round. “In the past show jumping has been a bit tricky for us, but I spent a lot of time this winter working on him. I used to put him in a lot of hackamores and bigger bits to help me hold him, but now I have just taken him back to a snaffle and really focused on getting the jumps to hold him, so he was great. He went out in show jumping and tried his heart out.”
While the CCI4*-L leaderboard looked very different, the CCI3*-L top stayed the same with the top four all jumping double clear.
“I was so happy when he made it over the last rail. I could breathe for the first time since yesterday afternoon,” said Woods Baughman after clinching the win with C'est La Vie 135, his own 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Contendro I x Annette). “He was a little tired this morning and I took him and rode him first thing and he immediately snapped back to and gave me everything he had, and this afternoon he was right there with me. [The rain] good for him because it brought him back to life.”
Baughman plans to move “Contendro” back up to Advanced and then aim for Bromont CCI4*-L next summer. “Hopefully I’ll get two four-stars done next year and then head on to Kentucky the following year. . . He’s a really special horse,” he concluded.
Colleen Loach said she was thrilled with Vermont, a 7-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Van Helsing x Hauptstutbuch Hollywood) owned by Peter Barry, who she finished second with. “He was jumping me out of the tack in warm-up and he continued to jump really well in the course. He handled the weather and the atmosphere really well, so I’m proud of him.”
The tie had to be broken between Holly Payne Caravella and CharmKing and Caitlin Silliman on Ally KGO, as they both left all the rails in the cups. The 8-year-old Trakehner mare by Hirtentanz *E* owned by Q-Brook Stables was closer to optimum time so earned the honor of being third.
“You never know bringing them up to this level – this was her first really tough one,” said Silliman. “The ground was good yesterday and the weather was great, so they had that in their favor. The rain is tough today, it makes the tack a bit slippery, but it is cool out, so it keeps them fresh.”
“She’s a very good show jumper typically, but she’s never jumped after a long format like this. She felt the same to me today, which is exciting for the future that she jumps the same on the third day. There’s a lot of decorations in there and she can be a spooky horse, but she was all business and really focused. I think she wanted it as bad as I did. I think we’re looking at an Advanced move up this spring,” concluded Silliman.
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.
It’s the most hotly anticipated few hours of the eventing year - the cross-country from Tokyo 2020. What will Derek di Grazia’s track have in store for the Olympic riders?
We’re nearly there! Olympic mania has taken over the world, and we’re in the final countdown to the Olympic eventing competition in Tokyo, which starts with the first horse inspection on Thursday. Our USA riders are raring to go, but let’s remind ourselves of the history that precedes them. Just how well has the US team done in past Olympics?