Halliday-Sharp captures third $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing Festival title

Mar. 4—"I wasn't sure I was going to be able to manage it, but that's what I came here hoping to do," said Liz Halliday-Sharp on Saturday after winning the $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing Festival for the third time.

She and her swift mount, the 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding Miks Master C, completed the cross-country course in 4:10, which was well below the optimum time of 4:16, and they also got over all the obstacles cleanly.

"He's a phenomenal horse, full stop. I think he's probably the best horse that I've ever had," Halliday-Sharp said. "He has a gigantic stride, it's just that sometimes when you (let him) open up the stride, the trouble has been getting the horse back (under control) again at the end."

Before Miks Master C tackled the cross-country course, Halliday-Sharp decided to make a change in the gelding's equipment.

"I tried a different bit in his mouth, and I felt like that he was really happy with it," she said. "He was really, really with me and really rideable."

Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C were second in the standings following the dressage and show jumping phases of the competition Friday, so the rider knew speed would be important if they wanted to have a chance to win.

But "I was not going to go fast at all costs because I wanted to think about the big picture for him," Halliday-Sharp said. "Certainly though, I took a few risks and jumped out of stride in some places, but I didn't feel like I had any moment where I was doing something that was crazy, which was the goal."

In eventing, the horse-and-rider combination with lowest score wins, and Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C finished with a final tally of 24.6.

"I'm thrilled," Halliday-Sharp said.

In 2019, she captured the inaugural Grand-Prix Eventing Festival, then known as the Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase, aboard Fernhill By Night.

Then in 2020, Halliday-Sharp guided Dinero Z to victory.

Doug Payne and Starr Witness were the runners-up, with a score of 25.9.

Leading after dressage and show jumping, they didn't make any mistakes while negotiating the cross-country course's jumps. But their time of 4:21 was above the optimum, so they were penalized 2.0 points.

"She is such a wonderful horse," said Payne of Starr Witness. "This is her first run in quite a long time, and I couldn't have asked for any more effort on her part.

"Time, in a situation like this, is tricky for her because she's quite careful (when jumping)," Payne continued. "I knew it was going to be tough, but I think that she gave me just about everything she had. And for that, you've got to be thankful that you have a good (equine) partner."

Payne was a member of the U.S. eventing team during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.

His Olympic teammates from two years ago, Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton, finished third and fourth, respectively, in this year's Grand-Prix Eventing Festival.

Martin rode Fedarman B, and they turned in a score of 26.4.

Even though Martin and Fedarman B failed to defend their 2022 Grand-Prix Eventing Festival title, Martin enjoyed himself.

'I thought it was a fantastic day for the sport, and congratulations to Liz and Doug," said the three-time Olympian. "I really feel like the top six, seven or eight horses this weekend were some of the best horse-and-rider combinations in the country."

The score for Dutton, a seven-time Olympian, and his mount, Z, was 27.5.

Dutton also rode Z in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Aboard Mighty Nice, Dutton earned an individual bronze medal during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

While representing Australia, where he was born, Dutton won team gold medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Tara Bostwick, the Aiken Horse Park Foundation's chief operating officer and treasurer, estimated that several thousand spectators turned out for this year's cross-country competition on a warm, sunny afternoon.

She thought the crowd might have been the Grand-Prix Eventing Festival's largest ever.

The presenting sponsor for the Grand-Prix Eventing Festival was Taylor, Harris Insurance Services.