April 28, 2008

Connaught and Phillip Dutton during the Kentucky cross-country.
© Michelle C. Dunn

With a completely faultless show jumping round on Connaught, former Australian rider Phillip Dutton, of West Grove, Pennsylvania, scored his first victory in the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Farnam.

Becky Holder lowered two rails with Courageous Comet to surrender the lead she'd narrowly held since Thursday. Dutton's final score was 41.7 penalties; Holder's was 47.3.

Missy Ransehousen urged her Critical Decision to a four-fault score (one rail down) to climb from fourth to third place (57.3).

Stephen Bradley surrendered second place on From by adding 20 jumping penalties, to finish eighth, but a faultless round on Brandenburg's Joshua catapulted him from 10th to fourth. Three-time winner Kim Severson finished fifth, with 8 jumping faults on Tipperary Liadhnan. Dutton also claimed 10th on Woodburn.

Dutton, 44, had finished second at Rolex Kentucky five times previously. Connaught, owned by Bruce Duchossois, was making his fourth start at Rolex Kentucky, with a previous best finish of second place last year.

"It feels a lot better to win than to be second," said Dutton. "But, really, everybody else seemed more worried about it than I was." He said that only once before did he think he should have earned the Rolex watch that goes to the victor, on True Blue Girdwood at the 1998 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Connaught, a 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Ballysimon, out of Bromehill Rouge, was bred by Michael Kelly of Bromehill House, Kilrush, Co. Clare. Connaught is currently owned by Bruce Duchossois, and had represented Australia at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany in 2006. The gelding was fourth at the 2006 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and was also fourth at the Red Hills World Cup Qualifier CIC-W*** in March, 2006.

Holder, 39, had entered show jumping in first place before, in 2006, eventually finishing 13th. "I would have rather won, but I'm thrilled with my round this time," said Holder.

She added that she expected Dutton and Connaught to jump faultlessly, so she knew the pressure would be on her, since he was just 2.4 penalties behind. "So I'd mentally prepared myself for that pressure, and I was pleased with the way I was able to keep my concentration and my focus," she said.

Ransehousen, 37, made her first start at Rolex Kentucky in 2007, finishing 16th after having one refusal on cross-country. Ransehousen bought Critical Decision, 12, as an unbroken three-year-old and has now trained and competed him successfully to the sport's highest level. "I remember all his firsts," she said.

Ransehousen was also pleased with her four-fault round because large crowds can unnerve Critical Decision. "But I felt like we really worked together out there today," she said.

Rolex Kentucky is a US Equestrian Federation selection trial for eventing this year. And with their performances, Dutton and Holder put themselves into strong contention to make the US Olympic eventing team. (Ransehousen did not apply to the USEF to be an Olympic candidate.) But Dutton wouldn't speculate as to whether Connaught might be his Olympic mount, especially since he has three other horses who are candidates. This would be Dutton's first US Olympic team, although he's ridden on three Olympic teams for his native Australia, winning team gold medals in 1996 and 2000.

Holder said she hadn't really considered whether she and her grey gelding would be riding at the Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong. "Rolex has been my goal ever since last fall, and now I'm going to take him home, turn him out, and let him get as dirty as he possibly can," she said.

Some 20,462 spectators cheered for the horses and riders as they jumped around the Sheila C. Johnson arena, over the course designed by Richard Jeffery of Great Britain. The four-day total of 103,521 is a new record for North America's only four-star three-day event.