Leading German eventer Michael Jung is returning to the scene of his first championship victory this weekend when he contests the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, which is the third leg of the FEI Classics.
In 2010, Jung, the reigning Olympic and European champion, began a record four-year run of individual gold medals when he took the world title at Kentucky on La Biosthetique Sam FBW.
Five years later and firmly established in the world’s eyes as the consummate horseman, Jung will again be thrilling US and global Eventing fans, as he is tackling the CCI4* for the first time with Sam, now a 15-year-old, plus FisherRocana FST, the game 10-year-old on whom he won world team gold and individual silver medals last year.
Another former world champion is making an eagerly anticipated Kentucky debut. Zara Phillips (GBR), who won the world title in 2006 at Aachen, is bringing High Kingdom, her Olympic and world team silver medallist, for a first crack at the USA’s premier event.
One rider who knows every inch of the Kentucky Horse Park is Phillips’s team mate, William Fox-Pitt. The world number one has been victorious here three times, in 2010 (on Cool Mountain), in 2012 (on Parklane Hawk) and in 2014 on Bay My Hero, his ride this year.
The 12-year-old by Cult Hero is a lovely stamp of horse; the gelding was also fourth at Burghley last year, a result that helped Fox-Pitt secure his third FEI Classics win.
Kentucky is a popular destination for New Zealand riders as well, but the country’s representative this time is a new face to the RK3DE, Tim Price, who scored his first CCI4* win last year, at Luhmühlen CCI4* on the Dutch-bred Wesko.
It is the only four star event the 36-year-old has yet to start in. Wesko, a 12-year-old bay gelding, and also started at Badminton and the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
“I want a good finish for him to set him up for autumn and beyond. I think he is the ultimate Rio (Olympics) horse. He is the one I would like to go and win a medal on,” Price said.
Also competing at Kentucky is fellow New Zeaalnder Emily Cammock aboard her own Dambala, on whom she recently Eventer of the Year at New Zealand’s Horse of the Year Show.
“I rate this horse. He is the most amazing jumper,” said Cammock, 33. “He was bred to showjump and just jumps his heart out. We completely trust each other and when it comes to the big fences, it is as much about that as it is about ability.”
Phillip Dutton, the last US rider to win Kentucky, in 2008 on Connaught, heads a particularly strong home side. He and his compatriot Buck Davidson have three rides apiece; Dutton’s trio is Mighty Nice, Fernhill Cubalawn and Fernhill Fugitive and Davidson has The Apprentice, Petite Flower and Ballynoe Castle RM.
The 2015 running sees one of the strongest line-up for years – nearly 80 riders representing nine nations – and a thrilling competition should be assured from the moment the first combination, Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz, steps into the Dressage arena on Thursday morning.
The prizemoney this year has been increased, with the winning pocketing $US100,000. Riders are also vying for a shot at the $US350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, for the rider who wins Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley Four Star Events in succession.
The event is one of just six four star three day events in the world, and the only one in the Western Hemisphere.
FEI Classics 2014/2015 Leaderboard (after 2 out of 6 events)
1 Ingrid Klimke (GER) 15 points
2 Jessica Manson (AUS) 15
3 Andreas Dibowski (GER) 12
4 Megan Jones (AUS) 12
5 Arnaud Boiteau (FRA) 10
6 Jonelle Price (NZL) 8
7 Katja Weinmann (AUS) 8
8 Joseph Murphy (IRL) 6
9 Erin Sylvester (USA) 5
10 Kathryn Robinson (CAN) 4
11 Lauren Kieffer (USA) 2
FEI Classics 2014/2015 calendar
1 Les Etoiles de Pau CCI 4* (FRA) – 23-26 October 2014
2 Adelaide International 3 Day Event (AUS) – 13-16 November 2014
3 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (USA) – 23-26 April 2015
4 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR) – 7-10 May 2015
5 Luhmühlen CCI 4* presented by DHL Paket (GER) – 18-21 June 2015
6 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR) – 3-6 September 2015