Elkton, MD - Cross Country conditions were perfect as a blustery and sunny day dawned at the Dansko Fair Hill International and 89 horses took to Derek DiGrazia's cross country track to contest the USEF National CCI2* and National CCI3* Eventing Championships.
The CCI2* competitors were first out and Clark Montgomery (Chatahoochee Hills, GA) took no time in reassuring his lead from the dressage with a foot-perfect performance on Loughan Glen. The seven-year-old Irish Sport Horse jumped confidently around for Montgomery and looked wise beyond his years. Loughan Glen picked up .8 time faults for being two seconds over the optimum time of nine minutes as the third horse out on course.
Owned by Kathryn Kraft and Holly Becker, Loughan Glen made easy work of the undulating track. He solidified his role as an exciting horse for the future for Montgomery after winning the dressage on a score of 45.3 on Thursday and going so well on the cross country.
"It was just last April I started eventing him," said Montgomery. "He's really come a long way really quickly."
Montgomery bookended the CCI2* division and had another classy round on wife Jessica's Universe as the last horse of the morning session. The nine-year-old Dutch gelding cruised around his first CCI2*, picked up just 1.2 time faults, and finished on a two-day score of 50.40 which was good enough for third place.
"Both horses are very different," said Montgomery. "The first horse is a heavier, slower footed, slower minded horse, he takes a little bit more help.
The second horse is much smaller, nippier - quicker with his feet."
Erin Sylvester (Kennett Square, PA) didn't hang around on No Boundaries and kept the pressure on Montgomery. She had one of the fastest rounds of the day on the eight-year-old Thoroughbred cross gelding and held on to second place adding nothing to her dressage score of 47.8.
"I'm really excited," said Sylvester. "I was pretty shocked with how well my horse went on the flat the other day; it's the best score he's ever gotten. He's been going Intermediate since March but he had a spotty spring. He's been a little bit of a slow learner and he's figured out his job now and he just loves it."
Another young horse, the rangy bay gelding cruised around his first CCI2* and made it look easy, finishing handily under the time.
"I didn't think I was traveling all that fast," said Sylvester. "He has a great gallop and he's really bold. He knows his job and I was right where I wanted to be most of the way around. He got a second wind and flew the last two minutes. I was very surprised when I looked at my watch when I went through the finish."
The top two placings at the CCI3* also remained unchanged as Nate Chambers (Reston, VA) made the best of a less than ideal situation on Rolling Stone II but had a confident trip under the time, which erased the nightmare of pulling up in a deluge in 2009.
Chambers kept his composure even though he was held for approximately 30 minutes after Jennifer Simmons and JB's Star fell ahead of him on course. It took him a few jumps to regain the momentum that had carried him around the first half of the course but the 14-year-old Hessen gelding found his groove again and finished quite strong and ended up four seconds inside the optimum time of 10:08.
"When I got back on course it was a little hard to get back in the rhythm," said Chambers of having to wait so long. "I was at minute six, basically a horse trials time, so he thought he was done. Credit to him to pick back up and keep going."
Chambers works full time as a financial advisor in Reston and compet es Rolling Stone (the first horse he ever jumped a fence on) as an amateur. He gets plenty of help, keeping his horse at the O'Connors', getting cross country help from Phillip Dutton, show jumpin g help from Joe Fargis and dressage help from Silva Martin.
"He's about as talented a horse as you could ask for so when things don't go well it's usually my fault," said Chambers of the horse he has had for more than a decade.
Still on their dressage score of 46.6, the performance gives them less than a rail in hand going into show jumping.
Derek DiGrazia's course caused a variety of trouble throughout but Hannah Burnett (The Plains, VA) had the fastest round of the CCI3* on Richard Thompson's St Barths. The nine-year-old Thoroughbred gelding stormed around the track and had the fastest time of the day in the CCI3* to hold on to second place with a score of 49.4.
"I didn't expect to be quite as up on the clock as I was," said Burnett. "It was a good feeling going around, the footing was great, and it rode right to plan."
This pair won the USEF National CCI2* Eventing Championship in 2009 despite crashing through the final show jump in dramatic fashion.
"I'm going to stay focused all the way through the finish flags," she said of her plan for tomorrow's jumping.
Phillip Dutton jumped up the leaderboard from fifth to third with Fernhill Eagle who stormed around the track. Owned by Emery Warren and Rebecca Broussard, Fernhill Eagle arrived from Ireland in March after doing a CCI2* and Dutton has spent the season getting him a little bit more manageable.
Devastatingly brave, the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse wasn't impressed with much on the course, making light work of both the terrain and the jumps.
"I've been trying to get to know him," said Dutton, who has won the CCI3* at Fair Hill four times. "I think he's going to be a good horse. We're still working on our partnership together but I was quite impressed with him today. You don't get to try a horse over a 10 minute course so you hope that they have the stamina to dig in and keep going for you. He was a little aggressive today and it wasn't the prettiest round I have ever had."
Simmons and JB's Star were both transported off the course. Simmons was conscious and alert when she was taken to Christiana Hospital and JB's Star was attended to immediately, stabilized and taken to New Bolton Center where he is undergoing diagnosis.
Complete results are available here: http://www.evententries.com/livescoring/14532.html
News from Boekelo:
The U.S. horses made up some significant ground on the cross-country today at the Boekelo CCI3* in Holland. Tiana Coudray dropped one place in the standings after picking up some time faults on the cross country, she lies sixth on a score of 53.8.
Will Faudree rocketed up the leaderboard with Andromaque, the pair jumped one of only six double clear rounds out of more than 100 starters and had the fastest round of the day. Sinead Halpin also leapt up the placings, with Manior de Carneville, she moved into 14th place with 1.6 time faults, placed one spot behind Faudree but on the exact same score of 57. Doug Payne had two refusals at the first water at his first CCI3* but Running Order jumped confidently around the rest of the track.
Aimee Chambers (an American rider based in the UK) withdrew After Eight. The greatest eventing legend in the world tops the standings: New Zealand rider Mark Todd and Landvision swapped places with World Champion Michael Jung based on a faster cross country round. Jung sits second and third, less than three points covers the top three horses.
Complete results are available here: http://janssen.sportcg.net/boekelo/leaderboard01.html
Photos: Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen, Nate Chambers and Rolling Stone II Stockimageservices.com