April 25, 2008

Becky Holder celebrated her 39th birthday yesterday by easily topping the first of two days of dressage riding Courageous Comet, at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

"For once I don't mind my age being the same as my dressage score," Holder said after earning a score of 39.3 penalties on her grey thoroughbred gelding.

Stephen Bradley, of Leesburg, Va., rode Brandenburg's Joshua into second place, with a score of 50.7, while Canadian rider Mike Winter rode Kingpin into third place with a score of 52.6.

Some 20 riders performed their tests in the Kentucky Horse Park's Sheila Johnson Arena on Thursday. The remainder of the field (22 horses) will perform their dressage tests today.

Although Holder said that the best part of her dressage test was "the last halt-when it was over," she said she's eager to test the cross-country course, designed by Michael Etherington-Smith of Great Britain, on Saturday. "It starts with a really good stretch of galloping, which will be perfect for Comet. I'm excited to take a shot at it," she said.

Bradley, 46, said that he was pleased with the willing and obedient attitude Brandenburg's Joshua displayed in the ring today. He believes he 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding is ready for a clear round on Saturday, because "rideability like that is a major factor that's going to be important on this cross-country course."

The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is a US Equestrian Federation selection trial for eventing. Holder was a reserve rider for the 2000 Olympics after placing well at Rolex Kentucky that year, and she knows that a top-placing performance in this Olympic trial will put her in the running for the US team headed for Hong Kong this summer.

Bradley, who's also riding From at Kentucky, has two chances to make his second Olympic team. He rode on the 1992 team in Barcelona and also rode as an individual in the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Winter was one of Canada's two individual riders at the 2004 Olympics and a member of the silver-medal team at the 2007 Pan Am Games. That medal qualified the Canadian team for the 2008 Olympics, and Winter, 33, is cautiously optimistic about the Canadian fortunes. Six Canadian riders are vying for selection to their team at Kentucky, under the direction of technical advisor David O'Connor, a three-time Rolex Kentucky winner and the individual gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics.

"I genuinely hope that all the Canadian horses have their best performances ever to give us a boost going to the Olympics," said Winter, after recording his best dressage score ever in a four-star event. "But I think we're two years away from being medal contenders, and I certainly hope that will happen in 2010," when the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will be at the Kentucky Horse Park.