The USA’s Allison Springer and the popular Arthur put up the best performance of the day to take the lead after the second day of dressage at the four-star Rolex Kentucky Three-Day-Event in Lexington on Friday.
Their score of 39.5 put them ahead of Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero with 44, and the USA’s Lauren Keiffer and Veronica with 46.7.
Some 13,760 spectators watched the second half of the 60-horse field perform their dressage tests, the precursor to Saturday’s cross-country phase.
First-day leader Michael Pollard and Mensa G stayed in the top 10, and is now fourth equal with Jan Byyny and Inmidair, and Phillip Dutton and Mr Medicott. Will Faudree and Pawlow have dropped to seventh with 49.8.
Fox-Pitt’s second mount, Seacookie TSF, is in 10th place with 51.5, just ahead of defending champion, New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson on Avebury, who sits 11th equal on 51.7 with Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle, and Sinead Halpin on Manoir de Carneville.
Mark Todd and Oloa are sitting in 38th place on 61.5, out of the 60 starters.
Springer, 39, and the 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse Arthur are one of the most enduring partnerships in the sport. Their brilliant score of 39.5, the only sub-40 mark in the field, comes as no surprise, even though good scores have been hard to come by in this phase.
“We know each other well,” Springer said. “As a competitor he has given me most of my mileage so I have learned to be a little bit more relaxed and understanding with him. He was pretty wild when I rode him at lunchtime – I thought ‘uh oh I’m in a little bit of trouble here’ but you just have to do the best job you can. It’s emotional, it’s been a big year and it’s emotional to have my horse back and strong and feeling great.”
Springer is also in 44th place on Copycat Chloe.
Fox-Pitt, 45, a member of Britain’s gold-medal team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park, thought that Bay My Hero did some of his best work.
“I was very happy with him today. He couldn’t have gone very much better,” said Fox-Pitt, noting that the weather had become dark and blustery by the time he and Springer rode, at mid-afternoon. “He can be quite easily distracted, because he likes to look at everything. But he really held it together well.”
“He’s a cool horse and fun to work with. It’s a huge relief to score 44 because the marking has been quite strict.
“You go in there and that atmosphere and that crowd in there was fantastic – you need a horse that’s good and he really tried. There were a couple of rusty moments as he hasn’t had a big day out for a while – I’m really excited.”
Fox-Pitt is also in 10th place on Seacookie TSF.
Fourth-placed Kieffer, who has not ridden at a CCI4* since finishing 29th in 2010 on Snooze Alarm, is trained by David and Karen O’Connor, and now has the ride on the 12-year-old mare Veronica, previously trained by Karen O’Connor. Kieffer, 26, is originally from Illinois.
“I’ve been riding Veronica for about a year now and its definitely a different mind-set this time around – I came to give a shot at it and there is a lot to do tomorrow – it certainly wont be a dressage show, but I’m happy with how it went today,” Kieffer said.
Nicholson has come to Kentucky with the declared intention of having a crack at the Rolex Grand Slam, worth $350,000 to the rider who can win Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley consecutively.
After his dressage test, he said: “It wasn’t as good as he is on grass – I thought he might be a bit like this on this surface [all weather] – grass gives him a little bit more balance. I was having to ride him a bit more strongly in there to keep him looking half active. But he’s good. I know he can do better than that.”
He is perhaps not as highly placed as he would like at this stage, but is still in close contention ahead of what is expected to be a challenging cross-country day.
US riders form the largest percentage of the field and their new team trainer David O’Connor will be earmarking potential combinations for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy in August – the US last won the team title in 2002 in Jerez, Spain.
With this in mind, the general consensus is that course designer Derek di Grazia has increased the difficulty of his cross country track. “It’s a strong course,” concedes Will Faudree, “but it’s beautifully built and inviting.”
The course presents the usual mix of big, bold fences and accuracy tests, most notably a different route at Kentucky’s famous Head of the Lake water complex (18/19) and a new combination at 14abc, the Land Rover at the Hollow, where a keyhole fence is followed by a difficult line to a corner and a forward distance to an oxer.
Also grabbing the riders’ attention is a new creation, fences 16AB, the Angled Brushes.
“I think the angled hedges are about the most severe angle I’ve ever jumped,” said Springer. “But I really trust Derek as a course designer, and I have a lot of faith in Arthur.”
Said Fox-Pitt about the Angled Brushes: “We’ve all been squinting at them to try to make them look better. The horses will need to be really on the ball there – and all around the course. It’s a tough track, but I think the horses should finish well. It’s going to take some jumping.”
Former Olympic gold medalist Jimmy Wofford predicts that this combination will be influential. He describes the field as “relatively inexperienced and extremely talented” and says: “Some will amaze us and some we’ll feel sorry for. It’s a hard course.”
The effect of the cross-country course will likely be substantial, as the horses placed from eighth to 34th have penalties between 51.2 and 59. 8.
In the new Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge, the United States is in the lead, thanks to Springer and Kieffer. By adding Pollard’s score, the US total is 135.7 penalties.
Fox-Pitt is two-thirds of the British team, and when combined with Sarah Bullimore’s 52.7 on Reve Du Rouet, the British team’s second-placed score is 148.2.
Canada, with a 54.7 from Jessica Phoenix on Pavarotti and two scores from Selena O’Hanlon, is third with 168.5.
Buck Davidson (USA) and Park Trader will be first out on the course on Saturday at 11am local time.
Results after Dressage
1 Allison Springer/Arthur (USA) 39.5
2 William Fox-Pitt/Bay My Hero (GBR) 44.0
3 Lauren Kieffer/Veronica (USA) 46.7
4= Phillip Dutton/Mr Medicott (USA) 49.5
4= Jan Byyny/Inmidair (USA) 49.5
4= Michael Pollard/Mensa G (USA) 49.5
7 Will Faudree/Pawlow (USA) 49.8
8 Doug Payne/Crown Talisman (USA) 51.2
9 Marilyn Little/RF Demeter (USA) 51.3
10 William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie (GBR) 51.5
Additional reporting: Kate Green, Rod Kohler, Marty Bauman