Mark Phillips on Maryland’s cross-country course: ‘We need to build in some leeway’


  • I WAS lucky enough to be at the inaugural Maryland 5 Star to watch my daughter Zara Tindall and Class Affair and also to see what Ian Stark was doing with his first five-star course.

    People had been talking about the terrain at the venue for weeks and walking the course, there were more hills than Burghley and even Bicton.

    I was very impressed with all Ian’s clever ideas. Everybody thought this would be another of Ian’s big and bold courses, but instead he used the terrain rather than a lot of top spread.

    Controversy is never far away, though, at the five-star level. The senior riders and coaches all made the course around 180m shorter than specified. After remeasuring and adding an extra loop, Ian and technical delegate Alec Lochore came up with the minimum 11 minutes but the riders were still measuring it short, giving them an advantage of around 10 seconds.

    In the end there were 11 inside the time, which would have only been five without that 10 seconds. It meant that Jonelle Price and Classic Moet could take a long route at fence 11 and be easily inside the time, and the real five-star horses like Harry Meade’s Superstition and Tim Price’s Xavier Faer would finish at a canter 15 seconds under the time.

    To be fair, we had perfect conditions and the cross-country finished minutes before a classic Fair Hill deluge. The result may have been very different if the rain had come the night before. The moral of the story is that designers need to give themselves at least a couple of hundred metres leeway when planning the course as so often the distance changes dramatically when the fences are out and the string up.

    The problem facing designers is how to design with this much terrain at five-star. In good weather it’s fine, but it could be catastrophic on a wet day.

    Lessons to learn

    The Maryland five-star is a massive addition to the calendar. They have a lot of Maryland State money behind them and the arenas, grandstands and everything about the venue had a real five-star feel to it.

    However, just like The Jockey Club at Blenheim, they discovered that running a big cross-country event is very different from a race day. The learning curve was very steep when it came to traffic flow, people flow and the overall layout. I’m sure these lessons will be well learnt and the event will go from strength to strength in the future.

    Oliver Townend’s love affair with North American five-stars came to a temporary halt as one rail put him 0.1 of a mark behind Boyd Martin, ending the dream of a career Kentucky-Maryland double for Cooley Master Class and a 2021 US five-star double for Oliver.

    Harry Meade’s rail with Superstition dropped him to seventh, which was a shame after his spectacular ride across the country.

    What a year it’s been

    WE still have Le Lion d’Angers and Pau Horse Trials to come, but what a year the Brits have had. Not just the Olympic team gold medal but then also the clean sweep of medals at the eventing Europeans at Avenches. But even that does not tell the whole story.

    In Avenches, we had three 10-year-old horses and won without the help of Ros Canter’s world champion Allstar B or any of the Olympic horses.

    If that isn’t good enough, turn to Blenheim where Ros Canter’s Lordships Graffalo, Piggy March’s Brookfield Quality and Cooley Lancer, Nicola Wilson and Coolparks Sarco and Hawk Eye, Izzy Taylor and Hartacker were all very much in the money.

    And then there was Yasmin Ingham winning the four-star long, leading a crop of super young talent including Bubby Upton and Heidi Coy.

    Just for good measure we did three Nations Cups at Houghton Hall, Aachen and Boekelo and won all three. Never has our prospect of medals at next year’s World Championships looked brighter. We just need everyone at home to help Helen West take the domestic scene from its current low and move it to a similar brighter future.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 21 October

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