Germany’s Michael Jung has won the four-star Kentucky Three-Day-Event for the third consecutive year, on the same horse, the incomparable FischerRocana.
The pair had a fence down in the final jumping phase, but he kept his lead, with French rider Maxime Livio on Qalao Des Mers second and sole British entrant Zara Phillips Tindall third on High Kingdom.
Both Livio and Tindall finished on their dressage scores. Tindall was ecstatic with her placing and it must have laid the ghost of the disappointment two years when she had to withdraw before dressage when the horse suffered a freak injury.
Matthew Brown (USA) slipped from fourth to sixth after hitting the very first rail with BCF Super Socks, so it was compatriot Phillip Dutton, who has now completed Kentucky an amazing 40 times, who captured yet another national title as highest placed USA rider, as he moved up to fourth with a clear round. His mount, the 18-year-old Mr Medicott, was having his last four-star run after an illustrious career. Hannah Sue Burnett (USA) was fifth on Under Suspection.
Kentucky 2017 was Jung’s 10th four-star win – William Fox-Pitt holds the record with 14 – and the German Olympic champion, who is only 34, is wasting no time catching up. Just hours after his triumph on US soil Jung was catching a flight to England en route to defending his title at Badminton this weekend.
Here’s how the event panned out.
The USA’s Clark Montgomery rode a superbly smooth dressage test on Loughan Glen to take the lead in front of his new home crowd at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Montgomery, who has returned to the USA from a spell based in Britain and now lives in Kentucky, headed the 59 starters at the USA’s premier event on the score of 33.6, with defending champion Michael Jung only 3.5 penalties behind.
US rider Kim Severson, who has achieved the rare distinction of winning Kentucky three times on the same horse, Winsome Adante (albeit not in succession), finished in third place on her rising star Cooley Cross Border.
Speedy Frenchman Maxime Livio scored the first victory in the current FEI Classics series, at Pau, France, and brings his winning horse, Qalao Des Mers, for a first attempt at Kentucky. They were eighth on 44.6.
Tindall, the 2006 world champion, was near the bottom of the Badminton waitlist and decided to cross the Atlantic instead with her 2012 Olympic silver medallist High Kingdom. They ended the dressage phase in 16th on 46.6, just 0.3 ahead of fellow traveller Tim Price (NZL) on Ringwood Sky Boy, 17th.
Kentucky’s last home winner was Phillip Dutton way back in 2008; he finished joint ninth on 44.8 with two of his three rides, Fernhill Fugitive and Mr Medicott.
Cross country day was a tough one, with Derek di Grazia’s track posing a serious challenge. But Michael Jung moved into pole position on FischerRocana FST, despite finishing four seconds (1.6 time penalties) over the optimum time of 11 minutes 17 seconds and surviving a precarious moment when the brave little mare made an enormous leap into the lake.
Jung’s nearest challenger is Frenchman Maxime Livio, who rode a masterful round to finish exactly on the optimum time on Qalao Des Mers to rise from eighth place after dressage to second.
The leaderboard changed dramatically and a brilliant, committed ride by Zara Tindall has propelled her from 16th to third place. A determined Matthew Brown, previously 19th after dressage, leapt to fourth place on Super Socks BCF and is the highest placed US rider.
Demonstrating the openness of the competition, Erin Sylvester (USA), who was 51st after dressage, is now 13th on Mettraise after finishing bang on the optimum time.
There were 26 clear rounds from the 42 finishers and six within the optimum time. Dressage leaders Clark Montgomery (USA) and Loughan Glen lost their chance of retaining their position with a disappointing refusal at a skinny brush at fence 18a.
Three other riders in contention after dressage also disappeared off the leaderboard: both Kim Severson (USA), third on Cooley Cross Border, and Jessica Phoenix (CAN), fifth on Bentley’s Best, retired after run-outs at corners and Elizabeth Halliday-Sharp (USA), fourth, parted company from Fernhill By Night at the Normandy Bank.
Following the demanding cross-country, 39 horses headed into the final phase of the competition over a course set by Richard Jeffery. It featured a 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible and a 2017 Range Rover Sport, and the course proved tricky for the field with only four competitors finishing clear within the time. Third-to-go, Tindall produced a stunning clear round to put the pressure on the final two competitors. Maxime Livio kept his cool to ride the fourth and final clear round of the day. The stadium fell silent as Jung and fischerRocana FST began their round, with a fence in hand, hoping to make history once again. Despite incurring four faults, the crowd erupted as Jung pumped his fist in the air celebrating a special moment in his career.
“fischerRocana FST is a top horse, the mare fights so hard for me and our partnership is so strong,” Jung said. “She gave me a very good feeling in the warm up ring which made me feel good entering the arena. I did not have enough power in the triple combination so I was little nervous with two jumps to go! I am so grateful for my team and really pleased with the result.”
Land Rover Ambassador Zara Tindall was thrilled with her third-place finish. “I am so lucky to be here and I am very thankful to Land Rover and Rolex to have me back here, I wouldn’t be here without their support,” she said.
“My horse is fantastic, all through the competition he has been amazing, he owes me nothing and I have loved riding him this weekend. I have really enjoyed being here it as it is an amazing event to be a part of. ”
Fourth-placed Phillip Dutton said it was rewarding to finish as the top US rider. “It has been a great event and it is the perfect way for Mr Medicott to finish his four-star career.”
A record number of spectators watched the action this year at Kentucky, with 34,000 attending cross country and 24,000 at the jumping finale.
Ride of the day
Erin Sylvester produced a thrilling round aboard her 13-year-old thoroughbred mare Mettraise to win the “Land Rover Best Ride of the Day” that rewards the top US rider to complete the cross-country course closest to the optimum time without jumping penalties. Sylvester was presented with a 2017 Land Rover Discovery Sport 24-month lease.
The optimum time of 11 minutes and 17 seconds proved difficult for the horse and rider combinations with only five out of 57 starters finishing within the time set. Despite accurate clear rounds from fellow U.S. team mates, Holly Payne Caravella and Matthew Brown, Sylvester demonstrated true perfection, finishing spot-on the optimum time.
“I was really pleased with Missy, this is her first four star! I didn’t go out with the aim to get closest to the optimum time but towards the end I realised I could do it. The conditions were perfect for her and she tried her heart out,” Sylvester said.
“I am really happy with the ride today but I am especially excited to win the ‘Land Rover Best Ride of the Day’ and can’t wait to have my new Land Rover Discovery Sport at home”.