As we stood at the edge of the vet box chatting with Pippa Funnell, the last rider of the day to see on the 5* cross country, she grinned at the media still gathered about. “That was a bit of a masterclass, wasn’t it?” she said, referring to Michael Jung’s commanding round earlier in the day that will see him remain in the lead overnight. It’s no small compliment coming from the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam and who most recently won the 2019 Burghley Horse Trials.
A masterclass is what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the three-time Kentucky winner, Michael Jung. He was last here in 2018, where he finished second (he’d won the previous three years, don’t worry), and this weekend he returns with a new partner in Sabine and Klaus Fischer, Hilmer Meyer-Kulenkampff and DOKR’s fischerChipmunk FRH. Despite the fact that this would, technically speaking, be the first 5* of the 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Contendro I, he’s not exactly light on experience: he’s been around a World Equestrian Games course in 2018 with former jockey Julia Krajewski as well as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with Michael, where he finished eighth individually.
Michael says he very much enjoyed the ride today, which easily stopped the clock with 11 seconds in hand as the quickest of the day. This is a partnership he’s had since 2019, and Michael says he learned a lot about both his horse and their partnership today.
“He needs sometimes good preparation because sometimes he’s he’s too powerful,” Michael explained. “So I have to collect him slow down and have him really concentrate on some jumps. But I had a great ride and I’m I’m gives me a lot of a lot of good experience good, good support for the next for the next competition.”
It helps, of course, to be in a system as consistently successful as Michael’s — surely there are some tried and true methods in place there. But at the root of it remains the goal to build mutual trust. “I feel very safe and I think we have a very good partnership now.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow, if Michael and fischerChipmunk are clear in the show jumping, it will be the all time lowest 5* finishing score of all time. This would take the title away from Great Britain’s Laura Collett, who won Pau in 2020 on a score of 21.3. Michael will be seeking his 11th 5* win, which would equal Mark Todd’s record.
fischerChipmunk is historically a fairly consistent show jumper and has spent some time this past winter in the show jumping ring as Michael often does when not out eventing. Chipmunk did tip one rail in Tokyo during the individual jumping round, but this could theoretically be written off as traditional events only have one jumping round.
It was a day of redemption for Boyd Martin, who “went past this big dent in the ground where I crashed last year” (he and Tsetserleg TSF fell just a few fences from home last year in what Boyd calls a lapse in focus as he relaxed a bit too far from home) on his way home to a double clear eight seconds inside the optimum time of 11 minutes 4 seconds.
“I feel like if I think something and he understands it,” Boyd said of “Thomas”, the 15-year-old Trakehner gelding by the Kentucky-winning stallion Windfall II. “I just eased up a bit last time mentally and I just said to myself ‘ok, keep riding every step until you cross that finishing line’.”
Tsetserleg is a U.S.-bred horse, produced in Missouri by Tim and Cheryl Holekamp of New Spring Farm — you may recognize the name as supporters of the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Lion d’Angers Grant, which was founded along with Tseterleg’s owners, Christine and Thomas Turner of Indian Creek Farm. This has been the first Trakehner Boyd’s partnered with, and the fact that he’d been able to see the great Windfall competing with Darren Chiacchia when he first came to America makes this partnership that much more special.
“To be quite honest, he’s probably not the fanciest horse…but he’s got a he’s got a heart of gold and you know, his best attribute is how hard he tries and he cross country — he just will do everything he can to please me.”
“I really wanted to stay focused all the way to the finish because, as we know, with five-star eventing and Derek DiGrazia’s courses there’s tough jumps all the way around,” Boyd continued. “And especially as the horses get tired, it changes so I’m thrilled to have him, grateful for the owners, the Turner family, and we’ve got a few more Windfall babies in work now so there might be a reincarnation of Thomas coming along in the future.”
Boyd got a taste of the 5* win last fall when he took home the top honors in the inaugural Maryland 5 Star with the Anglo-European mare On Cue, and he’s keen to give Thomas his due with another tomorrow. He’ll have his work cut out for him: Thomas wouldn’t statistically be the strongest show jumper in the field, and Michael has two rails in hand, but Boyd’s done a lot of work with Peter Wylde in the past few months that should have Thomas tuned up for the final phase of competition. “It’s a weird drug, you know,” Boyd told NBC’s Donna Brothers after his ride. “You win it, you’re on a high for a couple days or a week and then you start to get this hunger to do it again. To repeat that again and again, it takes a lot of focus, a lot of hard work, a top horse and all the stars have got to align. So who knows when the next one will come along, but I’ll be trying my heart out to do it again.”
Sitting in third after her first Kentucky cross country is Great Britain’s Yasmin Ingham, the youngest rider in the field this year at the age of 24. Yasmin delivered a golden clear round aboard Banzai du Loir with just seven seconds of time and moved up a spot from fourth onto the podium overnight. It’s a family trip for Yasmin, who has her whole support crew including her parents.
The French Banzai du Loir (Nouma d’Auzay x Gerboise du Cochet) is owned by Jeanette Chinn and Sue Davies makes his 5* debut this weekend, but you wouldn’t necessarily have known it from watching them today. “I was delighted with my horse in his first time at the level,” Yasmin said. “He just was brilliant at all the combinations. The coffin came up quite early on in the course, and he did just go a little bit green, but once he got that behind him, he just powered on. He’s just an incredible horse to ride, and so much size and speed and he really does have all of what it takes to be a top event horse.”
Yasmin’s not exactly unaccustomed to the pressure that comes with competing for a title — she’s won just about every medal there is to be won as a pony and junior rider. She’s also won the national eight- and nine-year-old titles at the 4*-S level and also won the hefty 4*-L at Blenheim last September with this horse. This would be her first really competitive finish at the 5* level should she finish it out tomorrow, and it’s reasonable to think she’ll finish no worse than where she is now: Banzai du Loir’s only had one rail at the 4* level to this point.
Banzai du Loir was sourced by Rachel Wakefield of Uptown Eventing, and Yasmin began her partnership with him in 2019. “We’ve sort of just not rushed anything,” she said. “He’s such a young, special horse that we think it’s good to take it slow and educate them properly and it’s always confidence first with him.”
Buck Davidson wasn’t sat on the quickest horse in the field today with Katherine O’Brien’s Carlevo (Caresino – Ramatuelle), but despite 25 seconds of time he’ll remain in a competitive fourth position ahead of tomorrow’s show jumping on a score of 37.4. This pair had a crashing fall at the Maryland 5 Star last fall, and it’s a quirk about brush fences that Buck says has plagued the 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Eurocommerce Caresino as he’s stepped up to this level (he was 17th in his debut at Kentucky in 2021).
“Sometimes out of something bad, some good things come,” Buck said. “He’s never jumped that well all the way around and I think I’m better off at the brushes to keep coming and give him more room, which sort of hurt me at the [Head of the Lake] a little bit. I feel like in the past I’ve kind of shut him off a little bit and I was debating whether or not I was going to jump that corner in the water anyway. When you shorten his step, he doesn’t jump very well.”
Buck, on our course walk with Ride iQ yesterday, mentioned that he’s a rider who trusts his feet more than his eyes, meaning he intends to ride the horse he’s on, not the step he walks on the course. This philosophy proved to be useful today as he put some of his newfound knowledge about Carlevo to work. “That’s Derek job, to put things out there for us to solve them,” Buck explained. “I was really proud of my little horse and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Tied for fifth ahead of show jumping tomorrow are Doug Payne and Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol – Report to Sloopy) as well as Sydney Elliott with Carol and Arden Stephens’ QC Diamantaire (Diarado – Lantana), who will each take a score of 38.4 forward.
This is the third 5* for Quantum Leap, who was bred in the U.S. by Elizabeth Callahan of Cool Na Grena Sporthorses. “He was crazy genuine,” Doug said, noting that in 2021 at the now-11-year-old Zweibrücker gelding lost a bit of fitness after the Hollow, which eventually led to a 20. Now, Doug says, “I barely have to touch him, he’s more fit, stronger and made everything feel easier.” Quantum Leap was also in the top 10 at the Maryland 5 Star last fall and stands in strong position to be the one of, if not the, top-placed U.S. horse on the board tomorrow.
Sydney Elliott has had a partnership with Carol and Arden Stephens for over a decade, ever since Arden came to her as a 12-year-old to learn the ropes of eventing and pursue her goals. That has turned into a fruitful relationship that now involves sourcing horses from Belgium’s Kai Steffen Meier and Lara de Liedekerke-Meier, including both Sydney’s first 5* horse, Cisko A as well as the 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding.
“I was a little concerned he’d go out there like he did last year, when he was over-jumping everything,” Sydney said. “But he came out like he finished last year. He wasn’t over-jumping, he was on a mission from start to finish so I could hang on to some of those seconds better than last year and even when he was tired, he still kept his form.”
Sydney stayed in Europe for three months after completing Aachen and Boekelo with Team USA, and she says the trip did her and “Q” a lot of good in terms of experience and maturity. “He had never seen a crowd until Boekelo and there was a little bit of a crowd at Aachen and that did actually terrify him quite a bit,” she explained. “And a few weeks later we went to Holland and the moment he stepped on that ground he was confident and I could tell that he had definitely grown up. It was extremely educational for both of us.”
Derek di Grazia’s track was challenging in a “very Derek” type of way: while the fences, to these riders’ eyes at least, may not have walked the biggest in the world, where Derek really tests the riders is with terrain and lines. Even the galloping lanes were intentionally roped and decorations strategically placed to keep riders on their toes and free of “gimmes” in terms of lines. We saw this effect scattered throughout the field as the course yielded 56% clear jumping rate, with just three riders (Michael Jung, Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton) securing rounds with no jump or time penalties. This is a lower average than recent years, but higher than 2017’s 46% clear rate, according to EquiRatings.
Four pairs retired on course: Leslie Law (Voltaire de Tre), Lauren Nicholson (Landmark’s Monte Carlo), Will Faudree (PFun), and Tamie Smith (Fleeceworks Royal).
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We are relieved to report that both Fleeceworks Royal, who pulled up apparently lame after fence 11, as well as Ashlynn Meuchel’s Emporium, who had a scary fall at the Head of the Lake and was subsequently entangled in some tack and unable to get up, have both been reported to be up and resting at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute this evening. As much love as we have for this sport, the well-being of the horses who put their most genuine efforts on the line for us each and every day is always paramount, and we are very happy to have good news this evening after a worrying day. Thank you to the responders and veterinary units who helped ensure these horses were taken care of in the safest manner possible in trying conditions.
At the time of publication, no injuries to horses or riders have been reported after today’s cross country.
Fence 7, the Park Question, was incidentally the most influential combination on the 5* course; its 4*S counterpart was also the most influential earlier in the day. The 5* Park Question garnered six refusals — two at each element — and the single element that caused the most trouble was the B element of the final water (23B), where three riders came to grief.
Great Britain’s Sarah Bullimore, second after dressage with the little and quirky Corouet, was having a cracking round but sadly had trouble at the Mighty Moguls combination a few from home. Sarah was understandably disappointed, but Corouet’s efforts around a testing endurance track today showed the U.S. fans exactly how much talent resides in that diminutive body.
Our highest-placed rookie pair after cross country is Alex MacLeod and Newmarket Jack, who added 11.2 time penalties and answered all the tough questions to sit in 20th place on a score of 52.1.
Dan Kreitl In Command of Lexington CCI4*-S
I’m not sure Dan Kreitl imagined he’d be leading a competitive Lexington 4*-S, but after turning in the sole double clear of the day he finds himself atop the leaderboard with Kay Dixon’s Carmango (Chirivell – Taramanga). Carmango is nine this year, and he’s been with Dan since his earliest eventing days but only began his FEI eventing career last year. This wasn’t necessarily done on purpose, but rather Dan has taken his time producing the horse and prioritized national competition. This meant going back to gain international qualifiers last year, which brings he and “Fritz” to this point: just their first 4*S together.
“It was only his third four-star, and same for me — we just moved up to the level this year,” Dan said after his ride. “It didn’t go exactly as I planned everywhere, but he’s an athletic horse and super honest, he does his job the best he can. It was probably the most fun cross country course I’ve ever had.”
As for making the optimum time, Dan came out of the start box with a plan in mind to at least get close. “I came out of the startbox with my foot on the gas and that was my plan, to try to get ahead and I could slow down at the end,” he explained. “I didn’t get ahead, so I just kept on kicking. He’s a fast horse and on the straightaways and galloping fences I didn’t slow down much, I just tried find them right out of stride and keep an efficient, smooth ride going.”
Dan is one who balances many demands on his attention and time: he’s from Indiana but has trained for many years with West Virginia-based Sharon White. His wife, Alyssa, is battling a rare form of cancer, and the couple also have two children. Dan also runs a real estate company — it’s safe to say he’s got a few things on his mind at any given time. But for Dan, the horses have always been his outlet when life is difficult, and his longtime relationship with the wonderful Kay Dixon has empowered him to not only do right by his horses but further his own education and development as a rider.
Second and third in the CCI4*S are Liz Halliday-Sharp with The Monster Partnership’s Cooley Quicksilver, who is bound for Luhmühlen in June on a score of 29.7, followed by Phillip Dutton with Caroline Moran’s Quasi Cool on a score of 37.4. Dressage leaders Doug Payne and Catherine Winter’s Starr Witness sadly came to grief at the very influential Park Question — the coffin complex caught out seven riders and ended their days while also causing a total of 20 refusals — causing Doug to hit the turf. Luckily he was uninjured and able to compete his other 4* horse, Camarillo, as well as his 5* horses and his show jumper this evening (busy guy).
We’ll get back underway tomorrow with the 4*S horse inspection bright and early at 7:30 a.m, followed by the 5* horse inspection. Show jumping begins at 11 a.m. EST with the 4*S, followed by the 5* at 3:45 p.m.
Thank you as always for following along with us — and for being patient with me while I write entirely too many words about this sport we all love entirely too much — and we’ll look forward to closing out the show with you tomorrow.
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