US rider Boyd Martin on Remington XXV leads after the first day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, with a score of 45.3. All three judges placed him first.
He is followed by Karen O’Connor (US) on Veronica with 47.8, and New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson is third on Calico Joe with 48.7. Next in the lineup is Becky Holder (US) and Courageous Comet, with 48.8.
All but one horse was cleared to start at the first veterinary inspection on Wednesday afternoon, with Llewellyn, ridden by Brittany Kart, rejected by the ground jury of Anne-Mette Binder (Denmark), Michel Assaray (France) and Nick Burton (Great Britain).
The jury held two other horses and then accepted them when presented again. This means there are 57 starters from five nations represented — the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. Team selectors from all five nations are in Kentucky to evaluate their Olympic candidates.
Martin, 32, of West Grove, Pennsylvania, said that Remington XXV, 16, was one of the first horses he competed when he moved from his native Australia seven years ago. The Hanoverian gelding, owned by Henley House Stables, had only foxhunted before Martin began working with him.
“He’s a good old horse,” said Martin with a grin. “He’s taken me all around the world now, and it was wonderful to ride a test on a horse who knows what he’s doing.”
Martin, who rode on his first US team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, is now aiming for his first Olympic team.
O’Connor, 54, is pleased to be in such a contending position on the less experienced of her two horses. Rolex Kentucky is the first four-star start for Veronica, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Team Rebecca LLC. Tomorrow she’ll ride Mr. Medicott.
O’Connor scored the first of her three Rolex Kentucky victories in 1991, and now her goal is to ride on her fifth Olympic team. She said that last fall she put herself on a demanding exercise program to be sure she was as fit as her horses.
“This competition is extremely important to me, and I owe it to myself and everybody who’s put a lot of time and effort into me to be ready for it and for whatever may be beyond,” said O’Connor. “If I don’t give it 110 percent, then shame on me.”
Nicholson, 50, has had an international career as long and successful as O’Connor’s, but he said that the two horses he’s brought to Rolex Kentucky are probably not his Olympic candidates this year. Both Calico Joe, 10, and Qwanza, 9, are making their first four-start starts.
“We wanted to see if they’re ready for the Olympics, and this is up to four-star standards, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“Calico Joe has been very consistent all throughout his career in the dressage, but he’s done better than I expected today,” Nicholson added.
Tomorrow, Martin will ride Otis Barbotiere and Nicholson will ride Qwanza.
The rider whom all the others will be watching most is William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, who won in 2010. Fox-Pitt won the Burghley Three-Day Event in England last September, making him the only rider in the world who can win the $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam. This coveted prize goes to a rider who can win the Rolex Kentucky, Badminton (England) and Burghley four-star three-day events consecutively. Only one other rider — Pippa Funnell of Great Britain in 2003 — has ever won the Rolex Grand Slam.
Fox-Pitt is third to go on Burghley winner Parklane Hawk on the second day of dressage.