Oliver Townend (GBR) - Current leader on Cooley Master Class
“He was keen, which I’m not that used to. He had a few of his own ideas out there, but all with his ears pricked and all looking for the flags. There were times when I sat behind him with reins too long because he’d done something I hadn’t expected and he just put himself through the flags every single time.
“He lost a shoe halfway, so I was very conscious of that. He slipped on a few of the turns. I tried to look after him a bit at a few of the fences, so I didn’t always go on a wing-and-a-prayer shot. I ended up balancing a few more times than I wanted and had one long route that I hadn’t planned because he jumped so big in. But I couldn’t be happier with the horse and the way he’s finished.”
Boyd Martin - 2nd place on Tsetserleg
"It was a lot harder than I thought. To be honest, I never wanted to say it, but I walked it on Wednesday and thought it was a bit too soft…well, softer than last year’s. But I was very wrong. I was shocked this morning when a number of the horses had trouble. Anyway, I knew I was in for a mission."
Tim Price (NZL) - 3rd place on Xavier Faer
“It’s definitely a place to bring a very fit horse,” he noted, especially for the foreign riders who’ve traveled far. “You have to be prepared a few weeks before you normally would for something like Badminton. That’s been a big part of this horse’s campaign. I started work bck in October preparing him for this. It counts because there’s nowhere to totally rely upon a gallop or rely upon something other than fitness.
“It was quite a typical Derek di Grazia course where there are [rider] errors all over the course. He’s clever everywhere and I think he’ll be happy with the result. I’d love to see a hundred horses around here, just to sit back and watch the day’s entertainment. As far as the problems, I think it was just a very demanding five-star track.
Phillip Dutton - 4th place on Z
I walked the course and I thought it was a little bit soft, but it was far from soft. It was hard work all the way around. I didn’t have any really bad moments, I don’t think, but you had to concentrate, and you had to hold your line and you had to keep your horse in front of your leg.
Phillip and Boyd Martin, and only a few other riders, opted to take the straight route through the Normandy Bank complex. “I was a little bit anxious coming to that Normandy bank, but I felt it was going to be slower and harder on him if I took the option and turned, because he was getting tired. He was jumping very forward and strong, so I took an estimated guess that he’d probably go alright… so I saw a good shot up [the bank] and he got there in the two. [U.S. team coach] Erik Duvander just told me to go for it.”
Piggy French (GBR) - 5th place on Quarrycrest Echo
Piggy French suffered from a tack malfunction after Quarrycrest Echo slipped around a turn after the corner at 13ABC, and she nearly popped out of the tack. Unfortunately, her stirrup leather almost slipped off, so she took a few moments to adjust it, make sure her horse was okay and get back on track. A few fences later, he had a sticky jump into the Head of the Lake, but they managed to complete the tough complex without picking up any penalties. “I was just thinking I don’t have enough lives left on this round to just take liberties. There was definitely a little bit of a handbrake on and he was like, ‘What’s happening next, Mom?” But without the incidents, he would’ve been bang-on the time, I thought. There was a lot of trotting and doing a lot of tack adjustments, and so [the time] is perfectly doable.
“They’re horses at the end of the day, they’re not machines, are they? He feels great, but you don’t always know, do you? He finished great, which is the main thing. And my whole objective with coming here was to make sure I have a happy, well horse who gets home at the end of it. It’s just a great experience to come and ride here. We have completed! So, we’re still in it.”
Felix Vogg (SUI): 6th on Colero
“We were a little bit tired in between but he did a great job. He helped me and I helped him, so it was teamwork. I took two options because he’s pretty green and he’s gone up the levels fast. Even though it’s a five-star, you want to go straight, you want to get inside the time, but I just thought for the future that it’s maybe better to take one or two options.”
Doug Payne: 7th on Vandiver
“I’m so glad it’s not a dressage show. I was pretty frustrated after yesterday. It’s a work in progress and I’m not sure that it’s a true representation of what he’s capable of, but today was just awesome.
There was probably once or twice where I took an extra tug that I shouldn’t have, but I finished one second over, so I can’t complain too much. I’m very very lucky to have the support of Debi Crowley, who bred him and still owns him with us, and Jess, my wife. He felt great coming across the finish line. I did a little short cut through the flower bushes [at the Normandy bank], I figured why not throw a little flair to it. I think that saved a bit of time, for sure. The direct route would’ve been too risky.”
Lauren Kieffer: 8th on Vermiculus and 9th on Paramount Importance
This year was Vermiculus’s third trip to Kentucky. “He’s just as confident as he was the first time—he has very high self-esteem, so he’s not phased by a whole lot. He just picks up the flags and wants to go through them. You don’t have to fight with him much on that. He’s stronger now. The first year, he had to reach across the tables a bit, but now it just kind of felt out of stride for him.”
Her thoughts on how the course rode: “You never underestimate Derek’s courses. I think we really trust Derek, but we don’t underestimate him. I think he’s the best course designer in the world, but I think one of the bigger things other designers should take note of is that he has no ego about it. Like, for the Normandy bank, setting that corner off like that, was slightly experimental. And the fact that he gave us a long route that wasn’t very long, you knew he thought he wasn’t 100% sure how it was going to ride. So he gave us that option that wasn’t going to be devastating to the day.
Reflections on her round on CCI5* Paramount Importance, who moved into 9. “It’s his first five-star and we haven’t had the longest partnership. But jumping-wise, we kind of clicked from the beginning. He’s an amazing jumping horse and really does everything to get through the flags. He was good on his minutes until after the Head of the Lake, and then he started feeling a bit tired. The ground felt great but it was holding a bit, and there’s so much uphill, so I kind of just let him cruise home and tried to make his job as easy as possible.
“It was hard! I think it was tougher than last year. So much of it was technical. I think it was a bit slower—you had to really think about your time going through the combinations. He took care of me a couple of times out there, like if I saw something and put my leg one and he said it wasn’t there, he just sort of backed off and did it. He was amazing.
What was it like going out and knowing so many riders had had trouble? “Oh my gosh, it was the scariest thing. You just start second-guessing yourself. You walk all your lines again—I’ve walked this course six times. You have your plan. But then the first two riders bomb out and it’s at the same fence and you think, maybe I should do the option! But I know my horse and I knew where the trip-up was and I knew he was going to be fine no matter where I got him to and he was.
Leslie Law: 14th on Voltaire de Tre
"I have to say, I had a great ride. It was pretty much as I walked it. At the first water, he landed in a little bit steep...but I expected that, quite honestly. He can do that at the first water jump. Unfortunately, I have a style of riding that's a little bit pitched-forward, which gives my wife a heart attack. But we came through there and then he was great. He was flying all around everything as per planned, really. The Head of the Lake was super, because I was a little concerned about the brush back in because he was just fighting me around the turn a little bit. In the end, he made me a liar because he just cruised around there.
I went the long way at the Normandy bank having watched the earlier rides this morning. The only unexpected plan was the last water. He surprised me completely because he absolutely jumped so far out (we usually almost stifle it going in, like the first water) and something was different in the textbook there and landed halfway out into the middle of the water. So, I shouted long way and went around to the other log and then cruised home.
It was amazing... he's ten years old! Can't complain. There was some great cheering...the further I went and the more I settled into it, the more I appreciated it!
Chris Talley: 24th on Unmarked Bills
How he felt completing his first CCI5*: “It was spectacular. I think I was bawling. I have so many people here who are supporting me and it was an incredible feeling. To come home clean is even better. I’ve brought him up the levels and taught him to jump his first jump and he went out there and trusted me with everything. He pecked into the Head of the Lake, and I put my leg on and picked him right back up for the six [strides] and he jumped out like it was nothing. I gave him a tap on the shoulder and told him, let’s go home. And he carried me all the way back here.
“He struggles with connection issues and he’ll flip his tongue over the bit sometimes, so every now and then I’ll give him a half-half and he’ll tell me I shouldn’t be half-halt
Jim Wofford (top eventing coach)
“I would point out that the difficult line at the Normandy Bank where we had two riders in trouble right away, one after the other at the same combination. That was successfully jumped later on by two of the best cross-country riders in the world [Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin] so it was doable, but it was only barely doable and everyone else very wisely took the long way.”
“There were no bogey fences. There was trouble spread out everywhere. And that would be the point that I would make about Derek di Grazia’s design. If I had one word to describe him I would say he is subtle because he doesn’t build these huge things that are in your face and terrifying to even walk up to it. You walk up to it and go, ‘oh yeah that’s alright.’ Well it is, but you’ve got to do something just before it and have to do something different right after it and the next thing you know you’re skidding past something.”
“The next thing I would say is how much concentration it takes to jump these courses clean, especially Derek’s courses. He uses everything as a tool. The shape of the jump, the visual appearance of the jump, the distance between jumps, the terrain leading up to and after the jump. The ropes. There were a couple of places here that he could’ve made it into an Intermediate question but he put the ropes—you had to go over there and then come back over here and then go to the jump and that’s hard. Then as I say, he starts stacking one little detail on top of another and the next thing you know you got to be thinking all the way around.”
Check out what else Jim had to say in the video below: