We knew it would come down to the last phase, but we also knew if Michael Jung came in and took hold early it would be nearly impossible to shake him off of it. Most storylines can’t be predicted, and even the ones that perhaps have some elements of predictability generally throw in a few curve balls along the way to fruition. But as the dust begins to settle on the 2022 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian, it’s Germany’s Michael Jung who stands atop the podium for the record fourth time, this time partnered with Sabine and Klaus Fischer, Hilmer Meyer-Kulenkampff and DOKR fischerChipmunk FRH, cementing his win with a flawless show jumping to finish on the lowest-ever 5* finishing score in history: a 20.1.
He didn’t exactly have boulders of pressure weighing on his shoulders — not that it would’ve necessarily made a difference, he’s entered Rolex Stadium just millimeters ahead of second place before — as some untimely rails from Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF would lower the U.S. pair down and out of the running to win. Thus, Michael cantered down the ramp and into a packed stadium with over ten penalty points to spare, his next closest competitor Great Britain’s rising golden girl, Yasmin Ingham, who had just two seconds of time to finish on 31.7 and solidify no worse than third after her round. She moved into second on the podium following Boyd’s rails.
But pressure or no pressure, for Michael this weekend has been about the relationship with his horse. And when the relationship becomes the priority, success — in its many forms — usually follows.
To that end, Michael sets a handful of records this weekend: he earns the lowest ever 5* finishing score with his astounding 20.1 (British Olympian Laura Collett held the previous record, winning Pau in 2020 on a score of 21.3. Michael also now holds the title of the most Kentucky 5* wins — a record he had previously at least tied by winning three times (William Fox-Pitt, Oliver Townend, and Kim Severson have also won thrice). He also, because he might as well kill a whole bunch of birds with one stone, achieves the largest ever margin of victory at Kentucky — an 11.6 penalty point difference between first and second place.
Michael’s partnership with “Chip”, who is 14 this year, has been a partnership he’s been building since he first acquired the ride in 2019 from compatriot and Tokyo individual gold medalist, Julia Krajewski. When you think about it, three years is not an enormous amount of time to build the partnership and trust that’s needed to compete for gold medals and 5* wins, especially when you’re a rider who would typically prefer to make your mark on horses from their younger years on.
“It takes a little time in the beginning, but we had a super connection from the beginning,” Michael said. “For the top spot, you have to build a very good partnership you have to trust each other. You have to know many many little informations from how is the reaction there and how you have to prepare [for the fences], how you have to prepare the dressage, and how is the horse on the traveling and everything. And it takes a while for a better connection. But I think from last year we get a very good partnership. I just have to know on the five-star level how to ride him on a long course, on a tough course, how much time he needs on some fences to prepare him.”
The pressure of coming in with a win on the line was good practice for the upcoming FEI World Championships for Eventing in Italy, happening mid-September. We’re accustomed to seeing Michael in or close to the lead after dressage — in fact, he would’ve won that individual gold had it not been for an ill-timed frangible pin at a corner in Tokyo that fell several strides after he and Chipmunk had cleared it — but this would be new territory for Chipmunk. Could he deliver on the final day, proving not only his mettle but also his focus and maturity in front of a packed house?
“I had a really great feeling in the warmup that makes you feel a little more relaxed,” Michael said. “But still the pressure was on, and that was a test for the WEG. I tried to stay really concentrate and focused, but this horse is amazing.”
Michael has been pleased with his partner, who has stepped up beautifully into the role of his top event horse after the retirement of La Biosthetique Sam and fischerRocana FST. “It was just to enjoy every phase of this competition,” he explained. “How strong he can gallop with all the hills, jumping really straight and not looking left or right. Today he jumped like a real show jumping horse, very strong and scopey and powerful. And this is a great feeling for the rider.”
Michael also maintains a small string of show jumping horses, and this off-season Chipmunk accompanied the string, as Michael’s event horses often do, on some show jumping tours. In three FEI show jumping starts at the 1.25m and 1.30m designations, he’d not had a pole down. This extra practice not only gives the rider additional information for the final phase of eventing, but builds confidence in the horse as show jumping courses are generally much more technical than eventing show jumping tracks.
With Protoni approaching quicker than most, including myself, realize, it’s time to make a real push for results that will lead to selection. The Germans aren’t exactly lean on talent this year, but Michael’s certainly done much to stamp his ticket to Italy this fall (honestly, as if we ever had doubts). And hey, the extra Land Rover lease never hurts anything.
I think it’s safe to say that Great Britain’s Yasmin Ingham collected more than a few adoring fans this week on her first trip to compete at Kentucky. Bringing forward the stunning French gelding, Banzai du Loir (Nouma D’auzay – Gerboise du Coche), this would be the weekend she’d go for the competitive finish — after all, she’s got some major British depth to compete with for a spot on a senior team (she’s already won just about all there is to win in the British junior pipeline). She’s got her eye not only on Pratoni this fall, but also on Paris in 2024 — and this 11-year-old gelding might just be the one to eventually stamp her ticket.
Banzai du Loir has some show jumping depth in his breeding: his sire Gerboise du Coche show jumped to the 1.55m level. “Banzai” is also about 66% blood, giving him a good combination of power and stamina. Both of those elements were showcased this weekend with two nearly flawless jumping rounds — Yasmin collected just some time both yesterday and today in the show jumping. “I didn’t even feel him get close to touching a pole,” she remarked after her ride.
You’d be hard-pressed to find Yasmin without a smile mapping her face. The nearly 25-year-old from the tiny (think 13 miles wide) Isle of Man in the Irish Sea has immensely enjoyed her weekend in the Bluegrass State — and it’s now made even sweeter by a second place finish and a seat next to Michael in the final press conference.
“If someone told me I’d be coming here and I’d be in second place to Michael…it’s a dream come true,” Yasmin remarked.
Yasmin told us that she felt the packed-in crowd at Rolex Stadium did her a bit of good, giving Banzai a push of energy and pizazz to give them a boost. “He was a little bit tired after yesterday’s cross country, so I think it did him good to have a bit of clapping and cheering and I could just feel him really rise to the occasion. I think he’s made for the big stage and I’m just so lucky that it’s me that gets to ride him.”
But she certainly wasn’t free of nerves, in fact she admits she hasn’t eaten much these last few days! “Every time I look at something I would usually like, like a donut, I’d want to be sick so I’m so glad I can actually eat something now!”
Yasmin’s been here with her parents, Lesley and Steve Ingham, as well as a whole support crew that includes one of Banzai du Loir’s owners, Janette Chin. The community on the Isle of Man is small — we’re fairly certain the entire population was glue to the H&C+ livestream during her rides! — and the efforts to get here are nothing short of monumental. In a word, I think Yasmin’s current state, once things begin to settle in, would be gratitude.
Almost as monumental, Yasmin also takes home the win in EN’s annual Golden Chinch Jog Awards, taking home a new pair of Fairfax & Favor ankle boots for the occasion (honestly, we think that’s why she came here, right?).
For the second year in a row, we’re treated to an American-bred USEF CCI5* National Champion and winner of the USET Foundation Pinnacle Cup and the Roger Haller Perpetual Trophy, this year earned by Doug Payne with the U.S.-bred Holsteiner gelding Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol – Report to Sloopy). The now 11-year-old gelding was purchased by the Paynes as a weanling, part of the Paynes’ strategy to establish their own pipeline of top level eventers and show jumpers. In fact, they’ve bought four horses from Didi, so Quantum was really the opening of that pipeline that’s fed horses into Doug and Jess’ program ever since. Quantum Leap was bred by Elizabeth “Didi” Callahan of Cool Na Grena Sporthorses and is out of the full Thoroughbred mare, Report to Sloopy.
“Baby Quantum” is not such a baby anymore, and he’s come a long way from the gangly youngster with legs going every which way. This horse just debuted at the 5* level in 2021 at this event, where Doug said he learned a lot about what he would need in terms of fitness as he matured. He retuned to the level in sharp form last fall at the Maryland 5 Star, finishing seventh XX FACT CHECK XX and confirming himself as a competitive 5* horse for Doug. This weekend he adds just a few seconds of time to his overall mark, which was enough to eke him ahead of fourth-placed Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF.
“It’s a privilege to ride these horses, but there are so many people who make that happen,” Doug said. “It’s probably going to sink in in a few days, but it’s a lifetime of work.”
This achievement comes at a particularly poignant time, as Doug announced yesterday that his veteran partner, the old soul Vandiver, will be stepping down from competition at this level. While he’ll tick around a few Prelims with #supergroom Courtney Carson, it’s certainly the end of an era for a partnership that has spanned nearly ten years at at least the Advanced level.
So, what a time for Quantum to step up into the spotlight, on the weekend when his stablemate is stepping down. And hey — it’s proof that these events are anything but a dressage show: Quantum Leap began the weekend in 25th, climbed to equal fifth after cross country and finished on the podium.
“This has been a tough day, actually,” Doug reflected. “You’re driven every day to get better and improve, but with Vandiver stepping down, it’s incredibly exciting to have another one stepping up to fill his shoes. The future is bright and I want to think of it as a starting point more than anything.”
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Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF didn’t have the epic performance the crowd was hoping for, lowering two rails — the front rail of the out element of the triple heading down the diagonal of the arena, as well as the second to last fence — and adding 1.2 time penalties to drop into fourth position on a score of 38.5. Boyd remained pragmatic in yesterday’s press conference, knowing he’d go out to give it his all but acknowledging that all the stars align on the day a rider wins a 5*. At 15, Tsetserleg has looked strong in the early parts of this season and while performances will need to be competitive to book a ticket to Italy this fall, we certainly can’t write off the little black Trakehner who could as a contender for the U.S. come WEG time.
It’s been since 2014 that we’ve seen Buck Davidson placed in the top five at Kentucky — too long, if you ask us! Buck’s had to be patient with the 15-year-old Holsteiner, Carlevo (Caresino – Ramatuelle), who has improved in each 5* completion but who has also struggled here and there with his cross country in particular.
Carlevo isn’t the quickest-footed horse in Buck’s stable, but he’s got a genuine try and wants to do the right thing, Buck says. Some struggles with brush fences came to a head last fall at Maryland when the two had a crashing fall — “that one hurt a lot,” he recalled — and he spent some time this winter building up the gelding, who is owned by Katherine O’Brien, and his confidence. Buck learned that a stronger ride to brush fences helped give the horse more confidence and boost over the fences, and that knowledge and the trust they’ve continued to build paid off in a big way with a clear cross country yesterday. Carlevo would also be one to lower a rail or two, but Buck navigated Steve Stephens’ track with determination, just coming home a little too slow to be able to retain his third place position and secure the USEF National Championship.
Last year, Carlevo was 17th at Kentucky, which was a progression from 20th in his debut in 2018. Buck, always the competitor, wasn’t satisfied with just a completion last year, and this year he gets his due and proves Carlevo’s mettle as a competitive 5* horse. It’s probably the superstitions, let’s be honest — Buck’s one of the more superstitious riders in the field. Aside from his traditional lucky red socks, Buck changes breeches for each ride (“I have really good sponsors,” he laughed after he shared this bit) and pays attention to what he’s got on him when he has successful rides so he can replicate it next time. Whatever works, Buck — we’re glad to have you up there again!
Bits & Bobs
Steve Stephens returned as show jumping course designer for the second year, bringing his experience around the world designing as well as advising U.S. show jumping teams to build his challenge for the riders this weekend. As is typically expected at this event, the track was testing and influential: six of the 30 finishers put in clear rounds inside the time. There was not a single “bogey” fence, but rather rails flew all around the course; the penultimate fence at 12 proved to be the most complicated, coming down nine times.
Several pairs were able to climb up the board thanks to clear jumping rounds, including Will Coleman and Dondante (26th after dressage to seventh overall), Phillip Dutton and the off-track Thoroughbred Sea of Clouds (31st after dressage to 10th overall), Meghan O’Donoghue and another ex-racer, Palm Crescent (37th after dressage to 11th overall), and Hannah Sue Burnett with Harbour Pilot (24th after dressage to 13th overall).
This was the second 5* for the 11-year-old German Sport Horse gelding, Calmaro (Carpalano – Elster W), who showed his inexperience while also maturing as the weekend went on under Irish Olympian Joseph Murphy’s tutelage. The gray gelding owned by Claire and Charley Mayne, Annette O’Callaghan and Joseph finished with two clear jumping rounds which would be good enough for ninth place after starting the weekend in 17th. In his 5* debut last year, Calmaro was 14th at Pau. Despite losing a shoe in the show jumping this afternoon, he managed a clear round inside the time — in fact the quickest of the day in a time of 76 seconds. This is a horse originally campaigned by Laura Collett, and he’s only been in Joseph’s program since 2020.
Hannah Sue Burnett reflected on the lengthy career of her longtime partner, Harbour Pilot. “William” certainly went through some, er, rideability growing pains in his younger years, but Hannah Sue and her husband, show jumper Matthias Hollberg, have taken to calling the 19-year-old Irish Sport Horse by Cruising “Benjamin Button” as he’s continued to get better with time. They move up from 24th after dressage into 13th with just one rail and time penalties added. Hannah Sue says she’s not sure what will be next for Harbour Pilot, telling us her priority is that he retires sound — whenever that may be.
Colleen Rutledge lowered one rail and dropped into 15th overall after starting the weekend in second on Thursday, but you wouldn’t see any disappointment on her face. Covert Rights, the fan favorite quarter Clydesdale, has historically struggled in the show jumping, but today Colleen said she finally felt him using and understanding his body better than ever.
“He gave me absolutely everything,” Colleen said. “He was phenomenal on cross country. He went in (to show jumping) and this is hard for him and he jumped it fantastic.”
Colleen credits a new fitness regimen using Aquatred for how well Covert Rights went this weekend, and says it added to his fitness yesterday. “He feels so much stronger and so much more cognizant about where his body parts are.”
Colleen and “CR” were held at this morning’s horse inspection (“I needed to run fast enough that he could show that he was fine,” she said), and she was also held at length on cross country yesterday when Ashlynn Meuchel and Emporium fell at the Head of the Lake, but Colleen’s keeping it all in perspective.
Colleen and her husband, Brian’s, daughter Ciana underwent a kidney transplant earlier this year. While Ciana was hospitalized, Colleen spent her time in the hospital with her daughter. We’re pleased to report that the transplant has taken well and Ciana was able to come home and was even at Kentucky this weekend.
“Honestly, maybe that’s why we’ve had such a great weekend so far,” Colleen said yesterday following cross country. “I haven’t been able to overdo and overthink things. It’s been all about perspective and doing what’s important.”
Our highest placed rookie this weekend was full-time vet Alex MacLeod with her own Irish Sport Horse gelding, Newmarket Jack. Alex had to fight through her show jumping round after losing her stirrup in the treble, and to be honest she’d like to have that round back.
“I’m honestly a little disappointed in myself,” Alex said. “But it feels amazing to finish and he’s such a horse to have jumped that course for me. I’m really proud of him — next time we’ll be better!”
But to look back at this pair’s progression, there’s much to be proud of. After all, when Alex was first getting to know Jack as a four-year-old, he was “feral” to the point where Phillip Dutton told her she shouldn’t jump him while they sorted out their communication. Now, they’ve become a 5* pair, all while balancing vet school, then internships, and moving across the country from Pennsylvania to California. We will call that a win, Alex, and we hope you do too.
Nearly all of our other rookies also finished the weekend and are now confirmed 5* pairs: Millfield Lancando and Booli Selmayr added just one rail and time on cross country and show jumping to their dressage mark to finish 25th, Lexington native Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135 (a half-brother to fischerChipmunk, sharing a sire in Contendro I) added two rails today to finish 28th, and Lexi Scovil with Chico’s Man VDF Z added one rail and some time to finish 29th. Marc Grandia and Campari FFF sadly ended their weekend early with some refusals on course yesterday, but we know they’ll be back to fight another day.
We, as always, appreciate you following along with us all weekend long. Kentucky is our biggest and busiest event of each season — the days are long, the words and stories are endless, but the end is always the same: we’re grateful to have this sport and we’re thankful that all horses and riders are safe after a dramatic weekend.
Lastly, there is an enormous number of people who are needed in order for these events to run. From the officials and organizers, to the emergency crews, volunteers, course decorators, and sponsors, it’s a true community effort and we couldn’t be more appreciative.
We hope you have enjoyed the #BestWeekendAllYear as much as we have. Thank you for waiting while our team hustled to the airport and onto our various first flights home — we certainly hope these incredible stories were worth the wait. We’ll have more content coming your way this week and it’s just two days until we head straight into Badminton, where a strong American contingent is set to compete and our international dream team led by Tilly Berendt will bring you all of the up to the minute updates from England.
Until then, I’m off to have a cocktail and a sleep. Pat your horse, cheer for your buddies, make good decisions and as ever, Go Eventing.
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