Elkton, Md. – Eventing athletes at the MARS Maryland 5 Star CCI5*-L and USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship had their chance to tackle Ian Stark’s cross-country courses on Saturday. Windy and cool conditions helped keep the equine athletes energized to get around the undulating terrain at Fair Hill.
USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship
Caroline Pamukcu (Springtown, Pa.) finished cross-country day with two horses in the top three. She turned in double-clear rounds with HSH Connor (Connor 48 x Galwaybay Merstona) and HSH Tolan King (Tolan R x Kilmolash Clover Rhodes), maintaining her place in the top spot with the former and moving into third with the latter.
HSH Connor, a 2016 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Pamukcu, Sherrie Martin, and Luann McElduff, has been in Pamukcu’s program since he was a 4-year-old and campaigned him successfully through the Young Event Horse ranks.
“I love having a goal for horses every year,” said Pamukcu. “Kelly Hutchison, my business partner, usually buys horses as yearlings with a mind for them to be upper level horses for me. I get them usually in the summer of their 4-year-old year, and then I’ll prep them with the Young Horse Championships in mind. Then we’ll put them out in the field for a while, and for their five-year-old year we think about going one-star and 5-year-old championships and as 6-year-olds we do Le Leon. Connor and [HSH Blake] are the oldest ones in my string right now, and so we’re kind of just following this pipeline and hopefully it will work out in the long run. It’s a little bit of trial and error, but we’re thinking we’ve figured out a good formula.
“Connor is no stranger to big atmosphere. He’s done a lot of championships, so this is a walk in the park,” said Pamukcu. “But he is 7, and it’s a lot of terrain—until you walk the course, you don’t really realize how much terrain there is. Going up to the last water, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m exhausted!’ And then you get a second wind going down that hill and you’re flying on the way home, so I was happy that his younger body could cope with it.”
Adding just 0.4 time penalties to her score for a day-two total of 28.6, Lauren Nicholson (The Plains, Va.) and Larcot Z (L’arc de Triomphe x Kocote de la Londe), a 2013 gelding owned by Jacqueline Mars held on to their second-place spot.
“Larcot Z is a newer ride that Ms. Mars owns,” said Nicholson. “He was amazing, and I get to know him more each time out. The track wasn’t horribly difficult, but I thought it was an excellent track for these young horses that we’re developing. It really tested them over 10 minutes, and they all got more confident and learned a lot on the way around. I think it’s a great course to set them up for the future. Both of mine I felt really answered everything and seemed quite straightforward the whole way. I think it sets them up really well for the long-term, so I’m very pleased.”
Sitting in a very close third-place position with a 29.0, HSH Tolan King, a 2015 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Pamukcu, Sherrie Martin, and Derek Strine, came to Pamukcu as a sales prospect, but is proving his worth in her competition string.
“No one would buy him. They thought he wasn’t fancy enough and kind of small and sharp. I kept telling them he’s an incredible jumper and he’s got an incredible brain,” said Pamukcu. “This was a big ask for him, but he found it very easy. He’s out of a full Thoroughbred mare and by Tolan R, which is the same sire as HSH Blake. So the breeding is there and the brains are there, so I hope he goes all the way.”
MARS Maryland 5 Star CCI5*-L
The top two spots in the CCI5*-L remained unchanged after the second phase, but Ian Stark’s cross-country course did prove to be influential. Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Rosalent (Valent x Bellaney Jewel), a 2014 Irish Sport Horse mare owned by Paul Ridgeon held on to the lead while William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Grafennacht (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz x Nachtigall), a 2012 Oldenburg mare owned by Amanda Gould stayed in the second spot.
The third spot on the leaderboard currently belongs to U.S. athlete Mia Farley with David O’Connor’s 2013 Thoroughbred gelding, Phelps. Farley and Phelps were the only combination to make the time on the challenging five-star course, and their double clear launched them from tenth to third. It’s an auspicious start for the pair, both of whom are making their CCI5*-L debut at this event.
“I wanted to have a plan, but I assumed that nothing was probably going to go to my plan A, at least,” said Farley. “But Phelps answered all the questions and I couldn’t be happier with him. When I started today, I just wanted to get to the finish, and Phelps did that for me. All the emotions hit from the past two weeks.”
Farley credits her longtime equine partner for getting her out of a shaky situation when she had a brief unbalanced moment coming out of the second water combination.
“I think what I learned about Phelps today is that he’s a true fighter,” said Farley. “When I wasn’t fully there for him, he was like, ‘Okay, I got you.’ And it was a wonderful feeling for him to kind of step in and take over the reins in a way.”
While Townend is no stranger to the five-star level, Maryland is the first CCI5*-L for his mount, “Rosie”, and she has proven to be up to the task. Townend added six time penalties from cross-country for a score of 29.1 heading into the final day.
“Rosie has fulfilled my expectations of her. We’ve always thought she was a superstar since the day we first saw her at age 4,” said Townend. “From literally arriving at the warm-up to setting out of the box, I just thought she has something special. She was very keen, but in a beautiful way. Ears pricked and enthusiastic. Basically, she’s had a whale of a time out here. I couldn’t be happier with her, and she’s fulfilled our dreams that she is the next big thing for five-stars.”
Fox-Pitt was also full of praise for his mount, who completed cross-country with no jumping penalties and 5.2 time penalties for a current score of 31.3.
“I’ve known she’s a lovely horse. She gave me a great ride at Badminton, so I’ve come here full of optimism,” he said. “You never quite know when they’ve done one five-star, are they going to be as good for the next one? She’s always been a very cool horse, even as a 5-year-old. She doesn’t really deviate anywhere. She’s nice and easy to ride.”
Townend has competed in all three Maryland 5 Star CCI5*-L events since the competition’s beginning in 2021 and says he enjoys the event every year.
“I think that Jeff and the team, the sponsors, Cecil County, MARS, and Brown Advisory all do an incredible job to pull this together, and it’s a huge privilege for our sport to have another five-star on this standard,” he said. “I know that Ian has tweaked the course to a true five-star, and it’s probably one of the toughest five-stars in the world right now, and I think that’s what the sport needs. [The Maryland 5 Star] is providing the facilities, the great footing for the horses, the amazing stadium. The list goes on and on.”
All three riders stated that they felt the course was tough but fair.
“I like to have plans, and I tried to [today],” said Farley. “Everything was good, but nothing was exactly how I wanted it, so it was very scrappy and spur of the moment.”
“What I liked was where we had to react. You couldn’t just walk the course and say, ‘I’m going to do that, that, and that,’” said Fox-Pitt. “You have to actually see, ‘Am I straight? Did I jump big? Did I jump quietly?’ There were a few good options for deciding at the spur of the moment, and I think that’s just a great part of cross-country we’ve really got to keep in our sport. I think we want to keep that little bit of adjustment there so riders do have to think and react to what’s happening.”
Competition concludes tomorrow with jumping for the CCI3*-L at 10:30 a.m. ET and for the CCI5*-L at 2:00 p.m.
US Equestrian fans, subscribers, and members can watch the live stream of the 2023 MARS Maryland 5 Star and USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship on USEF Network powered by ClipMyHorse.TV. Not a member? Join now.