We have seen some stellar five-star debuts in recent years. Horse who trotted onto the highest level of the sport for the first time and walked away with a top five finish.
Some of the strongest debuts came from Wega (Sarah Algotsson Ostholt) who finished second at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Santano II (Chris Burton) who earned 5th at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Cooley SRS (Oliver Townend) finished second at Badminton 2018, Brookfield Inocent (Piggy March) finished in second place at Pau 2020, and London 52 (Laura Collett) took home the win at Pau 2020.
But who could have a breakthrough five-star debut in 2021? A look at the Elo ratings gives us a major clue.
Why are we using the Elo for this?
The Elo is a horse rating where a horse gains points based on the quality of opponents he beats and a horse loses points based on the quality of horses who finish ahead of him. Every horse starts their international eventing career on an Elo of 300. We are using the Elo to highlight five-star debutants for one simple reason: Horses with higher Elo ratings produce way lower finishing scores and jump clear cross country at a way higher frequency.
High Elos are associated with lower finishing scores & higher XCJ clear rates at five star events
We're using all five-star results from 2012-2020. The higher the incoming Elo, the better the outcomes at the event.
Graph of the table above. The higher the Elo at a five star, the lower the finishing score and the higher the XCJ clear rate.
What's a Breakthrough?
We are defining a “breakthrough” as a top five finish at a horse’s first five-star. So who is likely to do it? The Elo helps us. Take a look at the relationship between Elo and top five finishes (we show you in the table and graph below). We see that horses with higher Elos coming into a five-star finish in the top 5 at a much higher rate than horses with lower Elos entering the event.
The higher the Elo at a five-star, the higher the likelihood of a top-five finish
We're using all five-star results from 2012-2020. Horses coming into a five-star with high Elos finish in the top five at a much higher rate.
* Only one horse has ever (since 2008) had an Elo over 950: La Biosthetique - Sam FBW. He accounts for both of the two five-star starts listed here. He earned second at Badminton 2017 (started on a 955 Elo) and retired at Burghley that same year (started on a 973 Elo).
Graph of the table above. The higher the Elo at a five-star, the higher the likelihood of a top-five finish.
We can identify a threshold around the 600 mark where the top-five likelihood triples from 5% in the 550-600 group to 15% in the 600-650 group (and then the top-five likelihood just goes way up from there).
So which horses are currently in the 600+ Elo range but have yet to contest a five star? Those are going to be our ones to watch for a top-five finish in their five-star debut.
The Top 20 Horses Who Haven't Started a CCI5* Yet
Here are the top 20 Elo-rated horses that have competed at the international level in the past two seasons but have yet to contest a five-star.
20th - Tullyoran Cruise JRA (Yoshiaki Oiwa) - Japan
With Sammi Burch, Tullyoran Cruise JRA got fourth place at Blenheim CCI4*-L in 2019 and, with Yoshiaki Oiwa taking over the reins, the mare delivered a win at Strzegom CCI4*-L last season, among other strong results. Lowering her dressage scores will boost Tullyoran Cruise JRA’s competitiveness. We could see these two at the Tokyo Olympics as the mare's first five-star (though asking for a top-five finish there might be a stretch).
19th - Lawtown Chloe (Chris Burton) – Australia
Some notable results for Lawtown Chloe so far are a first place finish at Millstreet CCI4*-L in 2019 – Millstreet typically has less depth but she did beat Cekatinka (Ryuzo Kitajima) that day – and a second place finish at Wiesbaden ERM 2019. The question with this horse is if Chris steps her up to five-star at all, but maybe we see her at an Olympics, Pau or Luhmühlen.
18th - JL Dublin (Nicola Wilson) – Great Britain
JL Dublin earned 5th place at the 2018 Le Lion d'Angers Young Horse World Championships (7 YOs) and then a 4th out of 86 at Bramham CCI4*-S in 2019 when he FOD’d on a 25.1 to finish behind horses like Quicklook (Gemma Tattersall) and Dacapo (Laura Collett).
17th - RF Cool Play (Lynn Symansky) – United States
RF Cool Play and Lynn earned second place at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. The horse has a very strong cross country jumping record with a current XCJ10 DTP of + 30% (meaning his XCJ clear rate is 30% above average for the courses he has run). Two of his past 15 straight clear XCJ rounds at the international level have been at CCI4*-L. Going for time will keep RF Cool Play in stronger contention still. Look for him at Kentucky or Fair Hill, or even Tokyo.
16th – Valentine FRH (Nadine Marzahl) – Germany
A streak of clear XCJ rounds is backed up with very strong ability in the show jumping phase as Valentine FRH has an SJ6 DTP of -4.5 (meaning the mare incurs 4.5 fewer SJ jumping penalties than her opponents, on average). Plus, she has low scoring ability in the dressage phase. Luhmühlen might be your opportunity to watch Valentine FRH in her debut.
15th – Off The Record (Will Coleman) – United States
Most recently, Off The Record and Will earned 2nd place at The Plains CCI4*-S in 2020 which is the latest of five podium finishes at the four-star level. His placing at The Plains was made possible by a 21.9 dressage score which is by far the best the horse has ever done at the international level. Like his compatriot RF Cool Play, Off The Record has a strong XCJ record with an XCJ DTP of + 29% (meaning his XCJ clear rate is 29% above average for the courses he has run) and he pairs that with a Top Speed Percentage (TSP) of 90% (meaning on his fastest days, the horse out-paces 90% of his opponents). He may be a candidate for the USA's second five-star of the year at Fair Hill.
14th – Totem De Brecey (Christopher Six) - France
Totem De Brecey and Christopher were fourth at the 2019 Luhmühlen European Championships which was a huge result and a 72-point boost to the horse's Elo rating as they beat a slew of high quality opponents that weekend such as Bayro (Tim Lips) and Cooley Master Class (Oliver Townend). He also earned a third place finish at another CCI4*-L event at Saumur in 2019. With their Europeans showing, this pair could be in Tokyo as their five-star debut but asking for a top-five finish there would be a big ask. Otherwise, they are potential winners for Pau.
13th – DSP Quintana P (Anna-Katharina Vogel) – Germany
This pair FOD’d at the 2019 Luhmühlen European Championships and finished in the top 10 of a big Airville CCI4*-S class in 2020, behind a strong contingent of horses. DSP Quintana P has a very high Top Speed Percentage (TSP) of 97% (meaning that, on her fastest days, the mare is faster than 97% of her opponents). Luhmühlen would be promising for these two.
12th – Polystar I (Chris Burton) – Australia
Last seen on the international level in July 2019, Polystar I has had four first-place finishes at the CCI4*-S and CCI4*-L levels. Like Valentine FRH, Polystar I currently sits on very strong SJ6 DTP of -4.5 (meaning he has incurred 4.5 fewer SJ jumping penalties than his opponents, on average) and a big Opposition Beaten Percentage (OBP6) of 93% (he beat 93% of his opponents over his last six international events). However, after an international hiatus and at the age of 16, we are not likely to see Polystar I at a five-star.
11th – Celebration (Stuart Tinney) – Australia
Celebration won four out of his first five international events (baby classes but still good to see). In 2018, he went on to do two CCI4*-S events as a seven year-old where he finished sixth and fourth and then, in 2019, he won three CCI4*-S classes in a row. Last season saw Celebration earning a second place finish in both of his international runs – a CCI4*-S and a CCI4*-L.
Celebration’s show jumping record is of particular note - it is stellar. He has an SJ6 DTP of -5.4 (meaning he has incurred 5.4 fewer SJ jumping penalties than his opponents, on average). In fact, Celebration has had only one rail out of his 15 international show jumping rounds. Winning Adelaide is a serious possibility for this pair.
10th – Mai Baum (Tamie Smith) – United States
Mai Baum has 10 international wins since his FEI career began in 2013. In 2015, he won four four-stars in a row, contributing to his five total wins at the four-star level. Despite trouble at the 2019 Pan Am Games, which was very rare for him and Tami, Mai Baum maintains an XCJ DTP of 24% (meaning his XCJ clear rate is 24% above average for the courses he has run). He pairs that with a very good six-run dressage average (6RA) of 24.1. Add loads of experience together and Mai Baum and Tami could put the whole package together at a five-star. Look for them at Kentucky or Fair Hill in 2021.
9th – Shadow Man (Ben Hobday) – Great Britain
Shadow Man and Ben have seven top-five finishes at the four-star level since their first four-star in 2018. Over their last six runs, they beat 91% of their opponents (their OBP6) and, on his fastest days, Shadow Man has out-paced 92% of his opponents on the cross country course (his Top Speed Percentage). He is well-traveled so we could see Shadow Man make his five-star debut in any of the European five stars in 2021.
8th – DHI Lupison (Holly Woodhead) – Great Britain
DHI Lupison’s last international appearance was in September 2019, so he meets our criteria of having a result in the last two years but we likely won’t see the 17 year old horse competing again at the top levels. He delivered some strong finishes for the young Holly Woodhead in their career together, notably an Aachen 2015 performance where they were a close second to SAP Escada FRH going into the final cross country phase but unfortunately encountered some trouble cross country.
7th - Phunambule Des Auges (Victor Levecque) – France
Phunambule Des Auges and Victor have been second at two back-to-back Junior European Championships (2015 and 2016), took home gold at the 2018 Young Rider European Championships, won a CCI4*-S together at Lignières 2019 and finished their 2020 season with a 12th place finish at Le Pin au Haras Nations Cup CCI4*-S among a field of 93 competitors, finishing just ahead of Fischerrocana FST (Michael Jung). Over their last six international events, they beat 93% of their opponents (their OBP6). However, having yet to see them at a CCI4*-L and with Phunambule Des Auges being 18 years old, it is a stretch to expect them at a five-star.
6th – Seigneur Medicott (Fouaad Mirza) – India
Again, we are showing you the top 20 Elo-rated horses that have competed in the past two years but have yet to contest a five star. That is why Seigneur Medicott makes the list. Now with India's top eventer, Fouaad Mirza, Seigneur Medicott carried with him an Elo of 686 after his last ride with Bettina Hoy. Fouaad has had four podium finishes with Seigneur Medicott at lower levels, including a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games. Last competed in April 2019 at a CCI3*-L (where he earned second place), we are unlikely to see Seigneur Medicott at a five-star.
Our last five are either on the verge of a 700 Elo – giving them at least a one in three chance of earning a top-five finish at their first five-star – or they are exceeding that 700 mark for even greater odds of a five-star breakthrough performance. Here we go.
5th – Birmane (Thomas Carlile) – France
Birmane’s 2020 season consisted of three four-star runs: They won Jardy CCI4*-S, they earned second at Le Pin au Haras Nations Cup CCI4*-S and they got second at Lignières CCI4*-L. Three events, all four-star, no worse than second place in any of them (among some high quality competition and beating the likes of fischerChipmunk FRH and Fischerrocana FST). Tom has had 297 international starts and not yet a five star. Can you imagine the excitement if they both debuted at five-star together? Maybe even look out for these two at the Olympics as their first five-star rather than one of the European five-stars.
4th – Koko Popping Candy (Amanda Ross) – Australia
Eleven top-five finishes at the four-star level, to include three CCI4*-S wins. The mare also finished top 10 at Blenheim CCI4*-S 2018 among 101 competitors. Koko Popping Candy will be starting the 2021 season on an Opposition Beaten Percentage (OBP6) of 91% (she has beaten 91% of her opponents across her last six competitions) and a Top Speed Percentage of 94% (meaning on her fastest days, Koko Popping Candy has out-paced 94% of her competitors). These are strong numbers to carry them into a new season. Amanda and Koko Popping Candy could be aiming for Tokyo or eyeing Adelaide as their first five-star.
3rd – Let’s Dance 73 (Sandra Auffarth) – Germany
This pair is currently on a run of five top-five finishes including fourth at the 2019 Boekelo Nations Cup CCI4*-L and fourth in the 2020 German National Championships CCI4*-S at Luhmühlen. Their current six-run dressage average (6RA) of 26.1 demonstrates low scoring potential and their slate of top-five finishes supports the competitiveness reflected in their high Elo.
2nd – Star Connection (Michael Jung) – Germany
Michael has not yet run Star Connection in a CCI4*-L and the horse finished his 2020 season at a CCI3*-L (where he finished in first place on a 21.0, we must say). The horse does have some serious short-format form with a second in the 2019 Lignières ERM, seventh at Aachen that same year and a win at the Wiesbaden ERM, again in 2019. We know the horse can score low with a six run dressage average (6RA) of 25.7 and an SJ6 DTP of -3.9 (he has earned 3.9 fewer SJ jumping penalties than his opponents, on average). Without a CCI4*-L yet, it may be too soon to predict a five-star appearance for Star Connection but Pau might be it if it’s the cards for 2021.
The Best for Last
1st – SAP Asha P (Ingrid Klimke) – Germany
SAP Asha P won the 2018 Le Lion d'Angers Young Horse World Championships (7 YOs) and, most recently, finished her 2020 season with a win at Pratoni CCI4*-L. More notable from last season was her win at a very tough 2020 Luhmühlen CCI4*-S (German National Championships). That is a win at the same event where SAP Hale Bob and Ingrid finished with a pin in the cross country and 3 rails in the show jumping, fischerChipmunk FRH with Michael Jung had 20 penalties in the cross country, and – overall – only about one out of every two XC starters (54%) jumped clear on the day. Meanwhile, SAP Asha P added just two XC time penalties to her dressage score to take the national championship on a 24.9.
That Luhmühlen performance contributed to the mare’s very high XCJ10 DTP of 34% (meaning her XCJ clear rate is 34% above average for the courses she has run), high Top Speed Percentage (TSP) of 92% and very high Opposition Beaten Percentage (OBP6) of 93%.
Now starting her ten year-old season, 2020 was SAP Asha P’s nine year-old year. Keep that in mind as we ask…
…What Makes SAP Asha P’s Current Elo Even More Special?
Yes, it’s the highest of the horses that haven’t yet competed at five-star, but what about some context for the mare’s 755 rating? How many other horses have reached an Elo of 755+ by their nine year-old season?
Best 9 year-old horses based on the Elo
The top 10 Elo ratings achieved by horses in their nine year-old season.
The answer: only one. It was Fischerrocana FST (Michael Jung) who reached an Elo of 772 in her nine year-old season (2014). That mare went on to finish second at a World Games (Caen 2014) and become a three-time five-star winner (winning Kentucky three times in a row).
Rounding out the top three on this Best Nine Year Olds list, right behind SAP Asha P, is Halunke FBW (Michael Jung), a European Champion in her nine year-old season (2013).
All of these nine year-olds in the top 15 represent good company for SAP Asha P. This mare is ready to be discussed among the greats of the sport.
Maria joined the EquiRatings team in early 2020 with years of academic and work experience in the physical sciences. She now specialises in technical writing and editing and in communicating EquiRatings analyses to lay audiences. Maria is from the USA and moved to Ireland in February 2020.