Andrew Nicholson and Calico Joe put up the best score (40.8 penalties) on the first day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Becky Holder of the United States, on Can’t Fire Me (44.2), stands second, and Shandiss McDonald of Canada, on Rockfield Grant Juan (45.7), is third.
William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, the Rolex Kentucky winner in 2010 and 2012, is fourth on Seacookie TSF (46.2).
The second half of the 46-horse field performs their dressage tests on Friday.
In the morning Nicholson had a tense moment as the ground jury of Nick Burton (Great Britain), Christina Klingspor (Sweden) and Brian Ross (United States) held his second-day mount Quimbo, but then accepted him when he was presented a second time.
Nicholson, 51, is a six-time Olympian and was a member of New Zealand’s bronze-medal team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park. Nicholson needs to win this Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event to continue his quest to win the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam, awarded to the rider who can win the world’s three oldest CCI4* events (Burghley in England, Badminton in England, and Rolex Kentucky) in succession. Nicholson won Burghley last September and, if victorious here, would need to then win Badminton next weekend.
“I’ve come out here with the Grand Slam in mind, certainly, but at the moment I’m just trying to win this one first. I’ll worry about it more next weekend at Badminton,” Nicholson said.
“It’s a great arena to ride in here,” he added. “When you go down that ramp into the ring, it gives you a buzz that you’re somewhere special, but [Calico Joe] stayed cool around the ring and gave me 100 percent in the whole test. I let him down a couple of times, but he came through for me.”
Unlike Nicholson, McDonald, 28, of Oakville, Ontario, is riding at Rolex Kentucky for the first time. “I was just so happy to be here, and I was just happy that my horse was so settled and willing and did his job in the ring. We were able to do what we’ve been working on at home in the ring,” she said.
Holder, 44, of Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, has placed several times at Rolex Kentucky, but she said that she always looks forward to dressage day. “It’s always an amazing feeling to ride down that ramp into the Rolex ring,” she said. “It was really nice to have [Can’t Fire Me] be calm and relaxed in the ring and do what he really can do today.”
Even though there’s still another day of dressage ahead, these riders are looking ahead to the cross-country test on Saturday. They gave a thumb’s up to Derek di Grazia’s imposing course.
“Derek has done an unbelievable job. It’s very big, but it’s very horse fair,” said Nicholson. “All the fences give the horse enough time to see what he has to do, and, to me, that’s very important. I think it’s a good test, and I’m looking forward to riding it.”
Holder and McDonald both said they were relieved to hear Nicholson say that di Grazia’s course was big. “I thought it was huge!” said Holder. “It’s a true four-star track. But it’s always a pleasure to walk and ride Derek’s courses – if you ride them positively, you end up with a much more experienced and confident horse at the end.”