April 26, 2008

When Becky Holder, of Mendota Heights, Minn., guided Courageous Comet to a score of 39.3 penalties on Thursday, the first day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Farnam, she wasn't sure if her lead would hold. But on Friday her score withstood the challenges from Heidi White, of Aiken, S.C. and Phillip Dutton, of West Grove, Pa.

White rode Northern Spy to a score of 40.6, while Dutton and Connaught finished just behind with 41.3.

Holder, 39, said she only watched the last few rides on Friday afternoon, because she spent much of the day walking the cross-country course. "I have to admit it, I was sweating it out," she said. Dutton and Connaught were the last pair to perform.

White, 42, is riding Northern Spy, 14, at Rolex Kentucky for the fifth time, and she was very pleased with their dressage performance. "It's great to have him still so excited about doing his job," she said.

Dutton, 44, is riding Connaught, 15, at Rolex Kentucky for the fourth time. "I was very proud of my horse. It doesn't come easy for him to relax in front of such a big crowd, and he tried very hard," said Dutton, who's also tied for 18th place on Woodburn.

The riders' attention now turns to Saturday's cross-country course, designed by Michael Etherington-Smith, the Rolex Kentucky course designer since 1993. And the pressure will be on them because Rolex Kentucky is a U.S. Equestrian Federation selection trial for eventing this year. All three of the these riders are hoping to be selected for their first U.S. Olympic team, although Dutton won two team gold medals riding for his native Australia before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2007.

They each admitted that the pressure of Olympic selection adds an additional twist to the always-challenging cross-country course. "The head game has always been the most difficult part of the competition for me. I'll just try to jump one jump at a time and not think about anything else," said Holder, who's been in the lead before at North America's only four-star three-day event and not won the blue ribbon.

White said that she was "more nervous today than I've ever been, perhaps because of the Olympics and perhaps because my horse has done so well here before."

But the pressure doesn't seem to be bothering Dutton, who has placed second at Rolex Kentucky three times but never gone home with the Rolex watch that the winner earns. "There's no point in thinking about the things that are not going to help you," he said.

Dutton added about the cross-country course, "I don't think there will be any one area where people will have trouble, but you have to be on the money all the way around."

Stephen Bradley, of Leesburg, Va., and Julia Steinberg, of West Grove, Pa., have been named as the men's and women's winners of the Dubarry best-dressed awards, judged at the first veterinary inspection on Wednesday. Bradley is also the only rider with two horses standing in the top 10 after dressage-he's fourth on From (42.6) and eighth on Brandenburg's Joshua (50.7). Steinberg stands 36th on Mr. Big.