Temecula, Calif.- Marilyn Little (Frederick, MD) made the trip to Galway Downs with her experienced partner RF Demeter with the mare's best interest in mind, and that paid off today as she took the lead in the competitive field of international CCI3* horses and riders.
"I really wanted to do really well today. You always want to do well. We came here with a mission. This was Demi's trip. It was always meant to be about Demi. She's earned the right to go wherever she wants to go," said Little of Jacqueline Mars, Robin Parsky and Raylyn Farm's 13-year-old chestnut Oldenburg mare.
The Pan Am Games double gold medalist took the lead with a penalty score of 40.5 at the halfway mark of today's competition, besting Canadian Pan Am silver medalist Jessica Phoenix who has four mounts entered in the highlight competition. Little was pleased with the performance and the result.
"We have really been working on bringing her frame up a little bit more. She is a very powerful horse coming from behind, so balancing all that takes a little bit. That's been something that has been a constant struggle, and today we got a little bit more of a handle on it," said Little.
"It was one of her better scores. I was really thrilled that it all came together today," she said with a genuine smile.
Rounding out the top of the leaderboard was a full spectrum of the sport. Young rider Jacob Fletcher (North Little Rock, Ark.) jumped to second place with a 42.6 on his USEA Adequan Gold Cup Champion Atlantic Domino, just edging out the broadly experienced Olympian Phillip Dutton (West Grove, Pa.) who piloted Ann Jones' Fernhill Fugitive to third place on 43.4 penalties.
Fletcher described his mission and result today as part journey and part redemption for having been soundly beaten by Dutton at last year's Blenheim (England) CCI. "I've never been to California at all before. [This was a] completely new experience for me," said Fletcher. "I came this weekend to trying to be competitive and trying to make the bigger guys think about me a little bit, [to] try and catch up to their coat tails." "My biggest point of reference this weekend was [my attempt at the] Blenheim CCI3* in 2014 and Mr. Phillips smoked me like a cheap cigar on the same horse he brought here. It was a really good reference point to see where I am now," laughed Fletcher.
The hard-working Jessica Phoenix was rewarded for a marathon day with three of her four mounts finishing in the top ten. Bentleys Best, Patras VR and Abbey GS all scored within five points of each other, comfortably close to the leaders going into tomorrow's cross country.
The CCI horses will gallop around the spectator-friendly cross-country course, once again designed by British Olympian Ian Stark, on Saturday, Oct. 31. The event reaches its climax with the show jumping finals and awards on Sunday, Nov.1.
The weekend will also be filled with an exciting line-up of local musical acts, and spectators will enjoy music, food and wine at several oasis destinations located around the cross-country course on Saturday. Check the website www.galwaydowns.net for the daily musical program.