New Zealand eventer Tim Price put in a perfect performance on Wesko on the cross-country at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, putting up a double clear to jump into the lead ahead of the final jumping phase.
It is Price’s first start in the Kentucky four-star, and he has headed off overnight joint leader, Germany’s Michael Jung, who is in both second and third place on his two rides, with Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt in fourth.
Despite the challenging conditions on the course with heavy rain throughout the morning, the riders from nine nations, delighted the 31,500 fans that attended the Kentucky Horse Park for the cross-country phase.
Jung was the first to go of the top three placed riders on his horse Fischerrocana FST, and gave another impeccable ride completing one of only six double clears. This set the bar high for the other chasing riders. Price was the next of the top placed riders to go mid-morning and he was thrilled with his ride finishing within the optimum time, despite being held out on-course due to a fence needing repairs after a rider fell.
Last year’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event winner, William Fox-Pitt, was the 65th rider out on course and yet again he showed his world class with a clear round, but picked up 8.4 time penalties dropping him down one place into fourth position. Jung was 67th to go out, and under the now testing conditions, he guided his Olympic and World Champion horse La Biosthetique – Sam FBW to a clear round with just 0.4 of a time fault. This could cost Jung dearly in the final show jumping phase if Price can go clear and claim his first Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event title – it will also put him on course for the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing prize.
Price said the primary task was to get home clear. “I went the long way on fences 8 and 9. The last couple of years he has been a very honest horse – when he was coming up through to advanced level he had a couple of blips at little questions like that so I just thought it was one place to mind myself a little bit as its early on, he was fresh and can catch them out a little bit at the hollow – I just had a bit of a gut feeling and he’s very quick on the long way round, he’s tight on his turns and still had plenty of gas in the tank.”
The 36-year-old said he had been worried about the weather since Friday afternoon.
“I opened the curtains this morning and gingerly looked out,” he admitted.
“It was always going to be a track of riding well and using your intuition all the way around. I just went out and trusted my horse and tried to give him a good trip between the fences. I had a great round, really.”
Price wasn’t completely sure he had finished under the optimum time until after he had dismounted, because the long hold on course to repair the jump had confounded his timing.
“I wished I stayed at school a little longer to do those calculations,” he said with a smile. “I just tried to use the break to my advantage. It was a little longer than was beneficial, but I had to make do with what I had and get on with the job.”
Jung said Sam had come back from a long break after Aachen. “I am very happy – he was really wonderful. My feeling here in the cross-country was very good. He was a bit looking also like my other horse at the hollow but on the other fences he was very, very good. He was galloping very well in the end – I was a little bit too easy and a little bit too slow but I am very happy about my round.
Jung did not blame his time fault on the footing, which became increasingly slippery and deep as rain fell throughout the day.
“OK, yes, I’m a little bit sad about the 1 second, but the ground was not very bad, not very deep. Sam started well and jumped clear. The ground was very well prepared, and he jumped and galloped well,” he said.
Fox-Pitt said he was delighted with last year’s winner, Bay My Hero. “I was worried about the ground for him today, going at the end of the day the ground had really deteriorated – he is not a thoroughbred horse and hasn’t got the scopiest gallop and so I knew it was going to be hard work. He really worked hard all the way – he was fab, I was chuffed to bits with him, he was perfect over the fences working really hard all the way. Hopefully he will be feeling good tomorrow and he’ll jump well!”
Some 71 horse-and-rider combinations started the cross-country phase; 46 finished; 15 were eliminated; 10 retired and only six went double clear. Price’s compatriot, Emily Cammock, withdrew Dambala after the cross-country.
On Friday afternoon, the ground jury – Angela Tucker, Wayne Quarles and Ernst Topp – and technical delegate Tom Ryckewaert met with Lee Carter and Vanessa Coleman of Equestrian Events Inc. to discuss schedule changes in anticipation of the strong thunderstorms forecast for Saturday.
They decided to move up the start time by 15 minutes and to shorten the interval between horses from 5 minutes to 3 minutes, reducing the length of the competition day by two hours and 20 minutes. They hoped to conclude the competition before heavy thunderstorms struck the Lexington area during the afternoon.
That plan succeeded, although rain fell throughout the day, with occasional hard showers. Riders said that although the ground was slippery or deep in places, the footing remained firm before and after the jumps. And at no time was the competition halted because of thunderstorms or other severe weather.
TOP 5 PLACINGS AFTER DAY 3 CROSS-COUNTRY
1st Tim Price (NZL), Wesko, 36.3
2nd Michael Jung (GER), La Biosthetique – SAM FBW, 36.7
3rd Michael Jung (GER), Fischerrocanna FST, 39.3
4th William Fox-Pitt (GBR), Bay My Hero, 46.9
5th William Levett (AUS), Improvise, 48.6