American eventer Phillip Dutton is leaving Bromont, Quebec this weekend a winner. But he’s taking homework back to Avondale, Pennsylvania with him.
The three-time Olympic medalist was one of 18 starters to contest the CCI4*-L at MARS Bromont CCI, but the week started on the wrong foot for Dutton and his “real Thoroughbred type” Azure. The pair finished a lowly 15th after the dressage phase on a score of 36.4.
“Obviously, the dressage still has a long way to go,” said Dutton, noting that their partnership is still a work in progress. “I’ve got to go back to the drawing board because I definitely was making progress in the spring, but I was a little bit disappointed with what we did [at Bromont] in dressage.”
Come Saturday’s cross country phase, however, they hit their stride and reversed their fortunes.
“Coming from the back a bit in the dressage, I didn’t have much choice but to really go for it [on the cross country course],” said the world no. 12. And he did precisely that. Dutton and the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare were the best on the day, adding just 0.4 time faults to their score to jump to the top of the leaderboard.
“She’s a real beast of a cross-country horse,” he smiled.
A fitting assessment as Derek DiGrazia’s course was a beast of a track. Bromont is known for its difficult, undulating terrain and DiGrazia used it to advantage on Saturday, building the course to height. That prospective challenge was what drew Dutton to the provincial outpost in the first place.
“[Azure] did [the CCI4*-L at] Tryon at the end of last year, so I was trying to find something to step up from that. In theory, she should be ready for a five star at the end of the year. So, I wanted something pretty strong cross-country [wise], which it was.
“It’s a championship course and hopefully they keep it like that.”
Come Sunday’s show jumping phase, the pair had a rail in hand and an Olympic show jumper in their corner.
“It’s always a challenge when you go going so fast the day before. But [Azure’s] a very good jumper,” continued Dutton.
“She’s not been that easy in the ring. And so [I] worked closely with Lauren Hough just trying to get her to slow down at the jump and not let it get quick. And [we] sort of finessed the warm up and how to prepare to go in the ring. But it is really rewarding the way she jumped today.
“She jumped beautifully.”
Dutton and Azure were clear over the fences again, adding just 0.4 time penalties to their score to clinch their first international win. The pair has been partnered for a year, minus time off for an injury, but Dutton concedes he’s still learning the mare’s quirks, one of which is an aversion to the prize giving ceremony.
“She’s not good in ceremonies,” he explained of his decision not to ride in for ribbons. “We went into the one in Kentucky and it was not good. It was a fraction dangerous for people. So we thought we’d stay on the ground with it today.
“You know, she just is an excitable horse and she enjoys life but in a very enthusiastic way.”
Arielle Aharoni (USA) finished second with Dutch Times on a score of 41.3. Hannah Sue Hollberg (USA) and Capitol HIM took third on 41.3.