At the conclusion of dressage competition at the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class managed to stay on top of the leaderboard with their score of 21.1 penalties. Townend had a 6.9 point lead at the end of day one dressage, but the talent on day two closed that gap to just 3.2 penalties, with Tim Price and Xavier Faer close behind him on a score of 24.3. Rounding out the top three going into cross country are Boyd Martin and On Cue with an even 25 penalties.
The first to go on the second day of dressage, Price set the bar high for fellow competitors, regardless of one bobbled lead change. "Where [Xavier Faer] is amazing for this job, he struggles with this dressage job where he has to put his body together the whole time, really package and step under. If I don't quite get that mastered in time for something difficult like a change, he gets a bit discombobulated," Price commented. He credited the 15-year-old British Sporthorse gelding though, noting that lead changes have always been hard for Xavier Faer. "When he started at this level I think I was lucky to get one of the four changes and now we're getting three of the four and the rest of the quality is up, so I've got to be pleased."
Martin was pleased with his mount as well, remarking, "[On Cue] is a thrill to be riding. She's everything you dream of in a horse." Of his test, Martin commented, "I was really happy with it. It wasn't a fault free test, you know, under pressure in the big ring and a tough test." But nevertheless, it was enough to boost Martin and his 15-year-old Anglo-European mare into the top three.
For complete results from CCI5*-L dressage, click here.
"Long, Grueling, Technical"
The current top three riders, all Olympians and all ranked in the top 10 worldwide, are astonished by the never-before-ridden cross country course. "It looks horrendously difficult. Long, grueling, technical—everything that a five-star should be," said Martin. "I think tomorrow is going to be a really exciting day of competition. I think even the best horse and the best rider could slip up somewhere, so it's going to really determine the competition."
At first glance, or at first course-walk, designer Ian Stark's 3.9 mile, 43-effort track is deceiving. "It sort of lulls you into a false sense of security," commented Price. "The first eight or nine fences are a little bit smaller profile and not too demanding on distances or technicality. Then, it starts to really light up I think at the top at number 15—the water—and coming down to that little corner over that small ditch. Not so much, [the ditch] is massive."
Townend also admits he has his work cut out for him, even with the lead. "As we know at the five-star level, you need a lot of things to go right and it doesn't take much to go wrong," he commented on the challenge ahead of him. "The margins are very fine, but we know [Cooley] is a very experienced horse and hopefully I might do my job well and hopefully he'll do his job well."
With the course being so challenging, Stark worked in option routes at several questions. Though riders typically aim to take the most direct route, the longer tracks must be taken into account, especially out on brand-new topography. "I remain very open-minded and very quick to change plans," conceded Townend. "If you feel that you're not going to make a distance or something is not going quite to plan, the course designer has very cleverly given you some get out of jail options."
Cross country at the Maryland 5 Star kicks off Saturday, October 16, at 9:00 a.m. EST with the CCI3*-L followed by the CCI5*-L at 1:00 p.m. EST.
For more information about the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill and to purchase tickets, visit maryland5star.us. Follow Practical Horseman’s coverage of the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill on Facebook and Instagram with Mane ‘n Tail, Cowboy Magic and Exhibitor’s, here.