Despite Ballaghmor Class losing a front shoe at the seventh fence of the Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*-L cross-country course, as well as riding in a downpour, Great Britain’s Oliver Townend took over the event’s top spot.
“It’s a tough course already, and it’s very twisty and turny, especially with no front shoe, so I had to mind him a lot, and then go like a bat out of hell coming home,” Townend said about the 14-year-old gelding. “He’s just shown again what a tough, exceptionally top-class horse he is because with the shoe on, he could have been 10 seconds inside [the time].”
The pair finished with .8 time penalties to move from fifth place to first with a score of 27.3 going into tomorrow’s stadium round. The event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is being held without spectators.
As riders had predicted, the course was challenging—even more so than many expected—causing many changes to the leaderboard. Of the 61 horse and riders who started, only four made it around fault-free; 15 horses were eliminated. Marilyn Little, who was first after dressage with RF Scandalous, slid to 32nd place after receiving 28.4 time penalties. Tamie Smith and Mai Baum dropped from second after dressage to 18th place, receiving 6 time penalties and 11 jump penalties after breaking a frangible pin toward the end of the course. Buck Davidson and Carlevo fell to from sixth place to 24 with 17.6 time penalties.
Originally planned to run after the CCI4*-S, the CCI5* was moved to start at 8:30 a.m. to miss the expected rain, which began at about 11 a.m., causing the last 24 riders to deal with that challenge in addition to those posed by Derek di Grazia’s course.
Townend said in addition to having to mind Ballaghmor Class, aka Thomas, around the course after he lost the shoe, he had to continually change gears, slowing through the turns and then going “like a bat out of hell” on the straightaways. “It’s been a horrible rough ride that I wouldn’t want to repeat but … he’s probably one of the best I’ve sat on, and he’s done it again for me.”
Boyd Martin and On Cue moved up from seventh place after dressage to second place, finishing with .8 time penalties and a score of 27.8. “On Cue is such a class animal,” Martin said after the ride. “She’s a real trier. She’s a great galloper and she’s got a heart of gold. I was just thrilled with her round. She got a little bit tired early. She’s just a fighter and she kept digging deep and she sort of got a second wind after the Hollow [fences 16/17AB].”
Martin was not immune to the course’s heartache, though. He fell off his other two horses—his veteran Tsetserleg TSF, who had been fourth after dressage, and the greener Long Island T. He ended up withdrawing Luke 140 from the CCI4* after tumbling hard from Tsetserleg.
New Zealand’s Tim Price and Xavier Faer moved up from 11th to third with a double-clear round within the time. “It was actually very smooth for that horse,” Price said of his big-strided mount. “He’s got a few skeletons in his closet, such as ditches and things that jump out at him. In that moment, he would hold his breath and just lose focus and lose the momentum that we might have in that moment. Today wasn’t like that. He set out like he really was on his goal, making my job a lot easier.”
Great Britain’s Harry Meade and Superstition, who went 43rd, were the first to go double-clear within the time allowed. The effort moved them from 17th to fourth. Meade said it was Superstition’s first five-star and the horse hadn’t had great preparation because many events in Europe have been cancelled due to EHV-1 and the COVID-19 pandemic. “I thought, ‘I just have to fill him with confidence and pump him up.’ And he got jumping really well and felt super, and the further he went, the more he grew in confidence. He went out a boy and came home a man.”
Meade said that Superstition is a worrier, leading Meade to have an unorthodox warm-up routine for the dressage round. “I galloped him and then put him away. And then I got on in my tailcoats and took him into the show-jumping arena and jumped some fences in the show-jumping saddle, swapped straight into my dressage saddle, and then went in and did the test. And the purpose of that was just to get him breathing and letting go in his breathing and his brain rather than doing anything physical.” To warm-up for cross-country, he stayed away from the other horses to “keep the heart rate down and not let him get wound up, and then, hopefully, you’re starting with a horse with a fresh mind.”
Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z moved up from eighth to fifth place, collecting only 2.8 time penalties on cross-country. “He just keeps getting better. He fought for me the whole way,” she said. “I’m just over the moon with him.”
Halliday-Sharp said that the track wanted a big, bold forward horse and her plan was to make all of the distances that she walked. “I knew that he could, and he did,” she said. “But I think this course rewards that. It rewards you just going in and attacking it.”
Townend slipped from third place after dressage to eighth place on his two-time defending champion Cooley Master Class. He said that early on the course, “Coolio” lost a hind shoe. “When you’re slipping around a five-star, it drains confidence,” Townend said. “It was just my job to keep him on his feet and keep positive, keep giving him a pat and driving on.”
Tamie Smith said that despite slipping down in the placing because of hitting the frangible pin, she was very proud of Mai Baum. “It doesn’t take away from how great he was. He was foot perfect. I couldn’t have asked him to be better.”
Marilyn Little said that she slowed “Kitty” down in the middle of the course because “I felt it was the right thing to do for her, give her a bit of a breath. You don’t really know until you’ve done something like this that’s this hard, what they’re going to have in them. In hindsight, I probably could have just kept pressing a little more. She certainly had it in the tank.”
While many riders didn’t have the trips they wanted, first-time five-star rider Emily Hamel was thrilled with her trip on Corvett. “The whole time around, I’m like, ‘I’m doing it, I’m doing it,’” she said. “That was, like, just so awesome. Barry just felt on it. I just showed him the way.” Though she went after some riders who had difficulty, she said, “I just tried to like trust in my plan and not really pay attention to that.”
CCI4*: Tamie Smith and EnVogue Maintain Lead
The rain that started toward the end of the CCI5* kept up throughout the CCI4*-S, but Tamie Smith and EnVogue were able to maintain their lead. They added 9.6 time faults to their dressage score for a two-day total of 35.
Smith said the course was big and tough, but not for EnVogue. “It was so much fun for her, to zip around on her, especially because she was so green in the deep mud at Tryon last fall, and she just came out [here] like a beast and never even—she was just so quick on her feet.”
Smith had originally entered EnVogue in the CCI5*-L at Kentucky but decided to drop her down and do the Jersey Fresh International CCI4*-L, starting May 5. Then if all goes well there, they’ll do the Maryland 5 Star CCI5*-L in October.
As the CCI5*, the CCI4* proved difficult for many. Of the 40 starters, 15 were eliminated on the course and three retired.
But Alyssa Phillips moved up with Oskar from 15the after dressage to second. She said she had watched previous riders on the livestream and saw the troubles that they had and was “freaking out.
“At the beginning, I knew I needed to come out kind of attacking,” Phillips continued. “I wanted to start pulling and I was like, ‘Nope, I can’t. I just have to keep going.’ I jumped in, I showed him where to go and he really fought for me.”
Canada’s Colleen Loach, who dropped from second to third place with Vermont, said they definitely “had to work for it.” She said the footing wasn’t bad “but it’s mainly the tack and the reins. Everything gets a bit slippery.”
Dressage Day 1 article
Dressage Day 1 photo gallery
Dressage Day 2 article
Dressage Day 2 photo gallery
* The original story was corrected to say that four horse-and-rider pairs made it around the cross country course without jumping or time penalties.