Eventing has migrated to warmer parts of the world this late in the season, and the idyllic Ocala Jockey Club Farm plays hosts to America’s final international of the year this weekend in Florida.
Last year’s inaugural running saw a dramatic conclusion to the CIC3* with Matt Brown and Super Socks BCF winning on a tie-breaker over Jon Holling and Downtown Harrison, only the fifth time this decade a tie-breaker has determined the outcome of a three-star.
Looking back to 2016, Buck Davidson and Carlevo were the only pair to break the 30s barrier in dressage in 2016. The top five all jumped clear rounds inside the time in show jumping. Only two pairs made the optimum time on cross country on Mike Etherington-Smith’s course.
A strong field of 34 come forward in 2017 for the CIC3*, and we can expect stellar performances right out of the gate in the first phase.
Six horses in the field hold sub-45 dressage averages over the last 12 months. Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous are the only pair in the field with an average in the 30s (39.1), but multiple horses in the field have scored in the 30s before.
The numbers point to Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous as the pair to beat in Ocala.
The 2015 Pan American Games individual gold medalists have won nine of their 13 completed international runs together as a combination, and set a streak of six international wins in a row. They also already have two CIC3* wins this season at Jersey Fresh and The Fork.
RF Scandalous has jumped clear show jumping rounds in two of her three internationals this season, including her CCI4* debut at Luhmühlen to finish fourth. While Marilyn and RF Scandalous have not had a cross country jumping penalty at international level since 2014, they have only made the optimum time in three of their runs across all levels (23.1%). If time proves to be influential again this year, it will open the door for faster combinations.
Looking to horses who can challenge for the lead in the first phase, Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night’s 12-month average of 41.3 would position them very close to the top of the leaderboard. They are also a threat to break the 30s, which they have done four times previously in their international career, though not yet in 2017.
Liz and Fernhill By Night are coming off a sixth place finish in the Event Rider Masters CIC3* at Blenheim, where they jumped an impressive cross country clear and picked up 7.2 time penalties, which is bang on their average. They are sitting on a 50% clear show jumping rate for the 2017 season.
If the form holds up from Blenheim, Liz and Fernhill By Night are a strong threat.
There is one horse in the field who is the undisputed king at CIC3* level, not just in the USA but the world. It is tough to bet against Cambalda, who has won five times at CIC3* level in his career with Jennie Brannigan and finished in the top five a whopping 20 times, more than any other horse in the world since he moved up to three-star level in 2010. (If you missed our piece on Cambalda, click here to read more jaw-dropping stats.)
Cambalda’s averages between 46 – 47 in dressage both over the last 12 months and over their CIC3* career so he could be just off the pace after the first phase. Expect him to be one of the leaderboard climbers in the jumping phases. Jennie and Cambalda have yet to have a rail down in their five international runs in 2017. His CIC3* average of 4.7 time penalties on cross country makes Cambalda one of the fastest horses in the field, and he has added only 1.6 total time penalties across his last two runs.
Jennie and Cambalda have already won a CIC3* in 2017, topping the podium at the Nations Cup CICO3* at Great Meadow over the summer. They have finished third or better in all five of their international runs this season. Jennie is also going for her 38th consecutive cross country clear at international level.
We’re not sure how many ways we can say it — watch these two closely throughout the weekend!
Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot are also CIC3* winners this season, taking first at Red Hills. A dressage average of 44 from 7 internations in the last 12 months means they should be within striking distance after the first phase, but they have struggled to deliver clear show jumping rounds this year. If Hannah and Harbour Pilot can channel their show jumping form from Millstreet, where they jumped clear to finish 10th in the CIC3*, they are a virtual lock for a top five finish.
Katie Ruppel and Houdini will also be gunning for the top of the leaderboard in dressage and have scored in the 30s twice previously at CIC3* level. 2017 form suggests we should see low to mid forties in the first phase. They had three rails down at this venue last year and have yet to jump a clear international round together in 2017, so show jumping could prove costly. They have made the time twice on cross country at CIC3* level, both times at Richland Park in Katie’s home state of Michigan. Katie now calls Ocala home, and we would love to see her beat the clock here!
Phillip Dutton has four rides in the field and could very well finish them all in the top 10. This is his first competition back in the tack since breaking his collarbone, but you can never bet against the Rio bronze medalist. Look for him to deliver competitive performances on all four horses, but Indian Mill and I’m Sew Ready are the ones to watch.
Phillip and I’m Sew Ready have finished inside the top 10 twice at the CIC3* level in 2017. Indian Mill has a 100% completion rate across his 27 career international and an 88.8% clear cross country jumping rate, so look for him to shine on Sunday. His placing will be decided by whether he can keep the poles up.
Kurt Martin and Anna Bella returned to competing at international level this summer following a two-year hiatus and are another pair to watch on Sunday. She is 7/7 CIC3* jumping clears and was inside the time when she won Fair Hill back in 2014.
We also like Vermiculus as a dark horse in the first phase. He wowed us in his CCI4* debut at Kentucky with Lauren Kieffer to score 43.8, so keep an eye on him in dressage.
As for how the jumping phases will play out, Hannah Sue Burnett and Cooley Dream have not had a rail in their last 14 international runs. Bliss III is also a dominant show jumper with Alyssa Phillips and has jumped clear rounds in all three of his runs at CIC3* level.
Erin Sylvester and Mettraise are one of the fastest cross country combinations in the field with four clear rounds inside the time at CCI3* and CCI4* level, but they have yet to make the time at a CIC3*. Expect Indian Mill, Harbour Pilot, Simply Priceless and Cambalda to push the pace.
We are going to have a female winner. The question is who to pick!
Two close friends will be fighting it out for top spot in Hannah Sue and Jennie, but will Marilyn or Liz show them who’s boss? Let us know in the comments!