Eventers from near and far are converging on Lexington over the next few days for the only four-star horse trials in North America, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day-Event.
Defending champion and Olympic gold medalist Michael Jung of Germany heads an impressive list of entries for the event, from April 28 to May 1 at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The riders have the added goal of increased prize money this year, with the winner receiving $110,000 of the $350,000 total prize pool. Prize money is awarded to the top 20 finishers, and Land Rover will be renewing the “Land Rover Best Ride of the Day” program, which rewards the top US rider who finishes closest to the optimum time on the cross-country course with no jumping penalties. The award went to Will Coleman in 2015 for his exceptional ride on OBOS O’Reilly. This year’s winner will be presented with a 24-month lease of a 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport.
The event also gives riders a shot at the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. As winner of last fall’s event at Burghley, Jung is looking to add the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam (Rolex Kentucky) to put him in position to becoming only the second rider (along with Pippa Funnell of Great Britain in 2003) to win the Grand Slam, when he rides at Badminton the week after Kentucky.
RK3DE is an official selection event for the US Olympic Eventing Team, and has a starting field of 71 riders from nine countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and USA, with some riders entered with up to three horses. Joining Jung are some of eventing’s most famous names including Sir Mark Todd and Blyth Tait of New Zealand and US Olympic veterans Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Kim Severson and Will Coleman.
Defending champion Jung is entered on Fischerrocana FST, the horse he rode to victory last year. Last year the duo completed on their dressage score of 39.3 penalty points to claim the $100,000 winning purse along with the Rolex timepiece that goes to the winning rider. Jung also took third place aboard his Olympic mount La Biosthetique Sam FBW. He is the first event rider ever to hold the Olympic, World and European titles simultaneously, winning the Individual gold medal at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and double gold medals at the 2012 London Olympic Games along with three consecutive European Championships.
New Zealand will be represented by a particularly strong line-up of riders, including two of the sport’s all-time legends. Two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time Olympian Sir Mark Todd will be competing NZB Campino, the horse he rode at the 2012 Olympic Games in London where they won a Team bronze medal. Voted the “Equestrian of the Century” by the FEI in 2000, Todd has won almost every Four Star three-day event in the world, although thus far the Rolex Kentucky title has eluded him despite his attempts in 2014 and 2011. Blyth Tait, a four-time Olympian who won the individual Gold Medal in 1996, is a former World Champion and was the Rolex Kentucky Champion in 2000. He will be riding Xanthus III.
Rounding out the Kiwi contingent is Joe Meyer (Clip Clop), Jonathan Paget (Clifton Signature), and Tim Price (Bango), who was runner-up last year on Wesko.
Two other former winners are in the field this year; Kim Severson (2002, 2004, 2005) riding Fernhill Fearless, and Phillip Dutton (2008), who has Fernhill Cubalawn, Fernhill Fugitive and Might Nice entered.
There are just two British entries this year, Panda Christie and Little Leo, and James Alliston riding Parker. Ireland’s Timothy Burke (Luckaun Quality) is the sole Irish starter, and Ryan Wood is the only Australian rider, but has three entries in Fernhill Classic, Frankie and McLovin.
Equestrian Events, Inc executive director Lee Carter said it would be a must-see competition this year, given that the Olympics are looming.
“With the Olympic Games taking place this summer, this year’s Rolex Kentucky is especially important and the equestrian world will be eagerly watching the results. We’re welcoming some of the very best names in the sport of eventing; — these are the world Olympians you’ll be hearing about at Rio.”