Bouts of torrential rain made for challenging conditions on Saturday’s cross-country day at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* Three Day Event in the United States.
New Zealand still has two in the top 15, but the leaderboard is spearheaded by defending champion and dressage leader Michael Jung aboard FischerRocana FST with 35.2 penalties, followed by a slew of US combinations.
The USA’s Phillip Dutton is in second and third, with Fernhill Fugitive (47.5) and Mighty Nice (49.8). Dutton is also ninth on Fernhill Cubalawn (55.4).
Jung, the seemingly unstoppable Olympic and European champion, has three jumping fences in hand over Dutton. The world number one gave a masterclass in brave, accurate riding in difficult conditions, as pouring rain and wind made Derek di Grazia’s course a true test of horsemanship.
Jung took the most economic lines and encouraged his gallant mare all the way, finishing the course with a flourish and the most enormous flying leap over the last fence. He was only two seconds over the optimum time of 11 minutes 15 seconds, which was the fastest time of the day.
“When I say ‘Come on, we can do this’, she trusts me completely. She’s an absolutely great mare,” a visibly thrilled Jung said touchingly. “When you finish a four-star course with a horse that has trusted you like that, it’s a great feeling.”
Jung aside, the leaderboard changed considerably and time proved influential on a track that contained not only big island fences but combinations on continually turning lines and ground that turned from slippery to sticky as the rain poured relentlessly down.
Lying in both second, third and ninth place, Dutton said: “It was not easy today with the conditions, especially as the day went on. I was so pleased with how my guys went and was a great learning experience for them.”
It is the second time at the RK3DE for Maya Black and Doesn’t Playfair, who rose from 12th place to fourth place with one of the fastest rounds of the day. “That’s about as much experience as I have at this level. I wasn’t worried about any specific fences, but just more concerned about getting around safely with my horse and making sure I did the best thing for him.”
Boyd Martin is fifth on Shamwari 4 and 10th on Blackfoot Mystery, an inexperienced Thoroughbred and bred just down the road from Kentucky.
Lauren Keiffer is in sixth and seventh on Veronica, her 2014 runner-up, and Jaqueline Mars’ home-bred grey gelding Landmark’s Monte Carlo. Buck Davidson rode a brilliantly determined round on Petite Flower, a horse bred by his father, Bruce, and is in eighth place.
Sir Mark Todd is the best of the Kiwis aboard NZB Campino, sitting in 12th place on 56.4 penalty points, with Jock Paget and Clifton Signature a further three places back on 57.1.
No-one managed to go inside the time allowed, with even leader Jung going two seconds over and adding 0.8 time penalties to his score to sit on 35.2. As the day drew on, the track became more and more taxing, making it even tougher to go inside the time allowed.
Tim Price and Bango looked to be the ones to do it, but parted company at a corner with just one fence to go.
Paget was very pleased with Clifton Signature’s efforts.
“I had a ball on my horse,” he said. “We found it a little hard work with all the hills and the twisting and turning. He’s quite a big horse.”
But Paget loved the Derek di Grazia-designed course. “Derek is one of my favourite builders and I really enjoy riding his courses.”
A few times Paget had sought fresh ground in an endeavour to preserve his horse as much as possible.
While he had started with the intention of chasing the time, he said he stopped watching the clock later in the course when the horse tired.
“He has a great mind, a big heart and he just kept trying. I wanted him to finish as nicely as possible. I would like to have him there for the Olympics so the priority was that he had a nice experience.”
Blyth Tait and Xanthus III had a run out at a pair of brushes mid-course to finish on 108.5 in 50th place, while Joe Meyer’s Clip Clop stopped early on to finish right behind them on 118.6 in 51st.
Allison Springer, the runner-up after dressage on long-time partner Arthur, endured a nerve-racking long wait for her round. She set off at the end of the day amid great expectations, but any chance of her pressing Jung in the finale evaporated with a run-out at the flowerbed in the coffin at fence 24c.
Marilyn Little, third after dressage, also had a bitter disappointment. Somehow, she arrived 53 seconds late into the start box, but this problem became irrelevant when she parted company from RF Demeter on landing over the table fence at 22.
Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp decided to withdraw Fernhill By Night, third after dressage, because the horse had sustained a minor injury that had required stitches just a few days before the start of the competition.
Boyd Martin summed up a challenging, but exciting day: “This is the pinnacle of the sport and it’s not meant to be easy – but I wouldn’t like to do it every weekend!”
Fifty-six combinations finished, five were eliminated, three retired and seven withdrawn before starting the cross country.
Mention should be made of Daniela Moguel, the first Mexican rider ever to compete at Kentucky; she finished clear on Cecelia with 14.8 time penalties to lie a creditable 24th of the 56 finishers. “I feel amazing!” she said afterwards. “I can’t describe it. My mare was unbelievable. She said: ‘Hold on, I got it’!”
Jung has travelled to the Kentucky Horse Park as the new Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing ‘live contender’, as well as defending champion.
A win in this year’s event will put him one competition away from the coveted $US350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing prize.
• Lauren Kieffer won a 24-month lease of a Land Rover Discovery Sport for the Land Rover Best Ride of the Day, awarded to the US rider closest to the cross-country optimum time of 11 minutes and 15 seconds with no jump penalties.
The final result came down to a three-way tie on between Kieffer, Lynn Symansky riding Donner and Holly Payne Caravella riding Never Outfoxed, who all finished on 11 minutes 22 seconds, seven seconds over the time. Kieffer won, having the best dressage score.
“I said to my friends last night that I really just wanted to win the Land Rover, I am ecstatic!” Kieffer said. “My horse, Landmark’s Monte Carlo, rode perfectly today and I couldn’t be happier.”
1 Michael Jung/FischerRocana FST (GER) 34.4 + 0.8 = 35.2
2 Phillip Dutton/Fernhill Fugitive (USA) 43.1 + 4.4 = 47.5
3 Phillip Dutton/Mighty Nice (USA) 45.0 + 4.8 = 49.8
4 Maya Black/Doesn’t Play Fair (USA) 45.5 + 4.4 = 49.9
5 Boyd Martin/Shamwari 4 (USA) 44.6 + 5.6 = 50.2
6 Lauren Kieffer/Veronica (USA) 43.9 + 7.6 = 51.5
7 Lauren Kieffer/Landmark’s Monte Carlo (USA) 50.0 + 2.8 = 52.8
8 Buck Davidson/Petite Flower (USA) 46.7 + 7.2 = 53.9
9 Phillip Dutton/Fernhill Cubalawn (USA) 48.2 + 7.2 + 55.4
10 Boyd Martin/Blackfoot Mystery (USA) 52.0 + 3.6 = 55.6
Reporting: Diana Dobson, Kate Green.