Report: Cross Country Day at the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event

A beautiful but challenging cross-country course made a few changes in the top of the standings, but with the final phase of competition coming up, each of the key contenders has more than a desire to win—they all have their special reasons.

After a glorious cross-country day remarkable for its weather, a fantastic course and impressive performances before a crowd of 33,323, the leaders in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event are neck-and-neck.

That’s a good analogy, because many of the fences in tomorrow’s deciding show jumping phase reflect the state’s racing heritage, from Calumet and Man O’ War to the Keeneland racetrack and Claiborne Farm.

The trophy for the Western Hemisphere’s only 4-star event is up for grabs. Now we’ll see who wants it most.

Michael Jung’s bid for his fourth victory at the Kentucky 4-star nearly went south when fischerRocana FST hung a hind leg at the wide brush jump in the Head of the Lake. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

Will it be the leader, Michael Jung with fischerRocana FST, going for a record, his fourth victory in a row at the Kentucky Horse Park? He was only one second over the optimum time of 11 minutes, 4 seconds, and that was because his mare left a hind leg at a brush fence in the signature Head of the Lake.

“I had a great feeling from the start,” said Michael, but at the brush, where he wanted to do four strides through the water, “I missed this. In the end, I just wait…I just try to keep her straight in front of the fence and she tried to not really jump, but go over. But I think in the end, this is what you need in a partnership, the other one is also fighting for you and she was really fighting for me. It makes me proud that she never gives up.”

A great view of the impressive quarter marks on Nobilis, now second with Christopher Burton. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

Or will the winner be Australia’s Christopher Burton, standing second on Nobilis with 27.9 penalties, just 0.4 more than Michael. He’s eager to repeat the 4-star win he and his mount had at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in 2016. He suggested that after cross-country, “There wouldn’t be anyone in the field today that wouldn’t think it was a great day of sport. What a good day for eventing.”

How about Oliver Townend of Great Britain, in third place on Cooley Master Class, 0.8 penalties behind Chris, and MHS King Joules, tied for fourth on 31.3 penalties.

Great Britain’s Oliver Townend is third with Cooley Master Class. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

Ollie actually gave a master class in riding cross-country, where he had two of the 11 double-clears. Financially, he has the most at stake. After winning the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials last September, he’d be two-thirds of the way to the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam if he won Kentucky. Then all he’d have to do is top the starters at Badminton next week, where he has two horses entered.

As he did after dressage, he emphasized the difference between his horses.

“King Joules is notoriously strong, which is possibly why I got the ride,” he said.

“Trying to stop him…is quite a problem, so I got basically run off with for 11 minutes. But he was exceptionally honest and put himself between the flags. Basically, I spent my whole round going `Whoa, whoa’ and just steering. The second ride was completely different; the first time at this level (for Master Class) and I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Donner’s rider, Lynn Symansky, is the highest-placed American after cross-country. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

What about Lynn Symansky? Her 15-year-old thoroughbred Donner is tied in fourth place on 31.3 penalties with King Joules. There are 3.8 penalties between her and Michael. That’s less than one 4-penalty knockdown. True, the top three and Joules would all need to have knockdowns (or big time penalties on the clock) for her to win with a clean trip, but those things can happen.

And if Lynn won, it would also be a victory for the U.S., because no American rider since Phillip Dutton did it in 2008 has won the Kentucky 4-star.

“I think I’m just going to go out and do the job I would do on any sort of day,” said Lynn about her plans for the show jumping while carrying the banner as the leading American.

“We’ve been battling for years and years to try and defend our home turf. I think these boys all have a very good chance of taking the throne once again,” she continued, referring to Michael, Christopher and Ollie.

“As much as we don’t like losing on our home turf, we really welcome the international attention and it’s really nice to have more competition come over here,” she added.

Look at the form on Polish rider Pawel Spisak as he takes Banderas over a formidable fence. Can you tell he’s a student of Michael Jung? Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

Oh, I should mention Marilyn Little, the leader after dressage on RF Scandalous. Marilyn took over first place from Michael, who headed the pack on the first day of the initial phase, but listening to her talk at the press conference on Friday, you got the feeling that she knew she might be due for a demotion.

Although she was 19 seconds over the optimum cross-country time, she is still in sixth place on 32.8 penalties. It would take a whole bunch of failures above her in the ranking to get her back on top, so while it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible. A Kentucky victory would be the biggest win of her career.

But this just wasn’t her day.

“I am so proud of Kitty and couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Marilyn tweeted, referring to Scandalous by her barn name. “She is a very special horse and I wouldn’t want to be sitting on anyone else heading into the jumping.”

She’s talking about tomorrow’s jumping. But for last night’s inaugural $225,000 Kentucky Invitational Grand Prix, she was on Clearwater, who finished out of the ribbons. And show jumping is Marilyn’s specialty, something she did long before she started eventing.

More from Kentucky:

  • Cross-country course designer Derek DiGrazia, praised by everyone for his efforts, said, “I’m very happy with how the course rode. The faults were spread throughout the course and all the combinations rode fairly well. At the same time, you didn’t have to do them all the same way.” The good news is also that there were no horse falls and only three rider falls, none of which were serious.
  • As I said, it wasn’t Marilyn’s day in several ways. There have been issues with blood in Kitty’s mouth in the past, and it happened again this afternoon. According to a statement from the eventing competition, “Marilyn and her groom noticed some blood in the horse’s mouth. They went to the veterinary delegate to be checked. Marilyn initiated the action. The blood had been wiped away. The vet noticed a small cut inside the (horse’s) lip, which had stopped bleeding. It was away from the bit, implying the horse had bitten herself. The bleeding had stopped. The ground jury was informed and the horse was cleared to start. There was no report of blood at the finish.” Interestingly, the blood issue came up in 2016 at the Fair Hill International, where Marilyn was permitted to proceed on course. The president of the ground jury there was Christian Landolt of Switzerland, who is also the president of the ground jury here.
  • The inception of the show jumping competition at the Kentucky event was deemed a huge success, with 10,635 attending and plaudits both from the participating riders and the eventers who went to the arena to watch them. Stewart Perry, president of the board of EEI, which presents the event, said people always were coming to him after cross-country and asking, `What do we do when it’s over?’ The board said, `look for something and see what works.’” Apparently, it’s show jumping. “We’re thrilled,” Stewart said about the way things turned out. Although no contract has been signed, expect to see show jumping back here next year.
  • From the original starting field of 46, 36 remained after cross-country. We’ll see how many show up for the final horse inspection at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Show jumping starts at 1 p.m.

For a complete listing of the standings, visit this link.

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