Report: Dressage Day One at the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event

As expected, three-time Kentucky winner Michael Jung is at the top of the heap with one more day of dressage to go.

After a 31.2 percent dressage test this morning on Tsetserleg that would put him in second place after the conclusion of dressage day one at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, Boyd Martin artfully evaded my question about where this horse stands in his line-up of equine candidates for September’s FEI World Equestrian Games.

“I’m not thinking about WEG at all,” Boyd replied, noting this is Tsetserleg’s first four-star. “WEG happens after good performances. It’s pointless getting excited about the World Equestrian Games until you get the job done here.”

Tamie Smith, who came from California with Wembley to introduce the lovely gray to four-star competition, was similarly vague when I asked, “are you thinking about the WEG?”

“No,” she answered. “One day at a time and we’ve got a lot to do out there on Saturday (cross-country day). Tamie stands second on 32.1 with Wembley’s best test ever.

Tamie Smith and Wembley put in their best dressage test ever in the horse’s first 4-star start. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

But when I asked three-time Kentucky winner Michael Jung of Germany which of his horses he is considering for WEG, he wasted no time in telling me, “fischerRocana. Ja.” (that’s yes in German, in case you needed a translation.)

Look at the lightness and connection in the performance by Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST as he seeks his fourth straight victory at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

As expected, Michael finished in first place with a mark of 27.1. The 1.5 coefficient for dressage has been dropped, so if you’re wondering what the score would have been under the old system, it’s 40.7, providing my math is correct.

That is not a stunning mark for fischerRocana, but it remains to be seen if anyone in tomorrow’s lineup can beat it. The only mistake Michael mentioned was an iffy halt before the reinback, but overall, the connection between horse and rider was lovely to see.

“She was very concentrate (d) and very relaxed,” he said, noting that it seems the mare recognizes the Kentucky Horse Park and likes it there.

Whatever happens tomorrow, the big reveal will be Saturday’s cross-country over a course completely redesigned by Derek di Grazia, who is also laying out the cross-country for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

We got a tour of the route from Derek, who has reversed the direction of the track. The effect is both amazing and imposing, over turf that is in perfect shape.

Cross-country course designer Derek di Grazia points out the many changes at the route’s signature Head of the Lake. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

There’s a different layout at the signature Head of the Lake, where two routes are possible. The most direct and time-saving involves a brush drop into the water followed by a brush corner in the water, 18A and B. Then it’s on to the wide double brush and finally, the chevron triple brush, 19A and B. Those who attempt it better be accurate.

Boyd summed up the challenges of Derek’s creativity better than I could.

“The hardest thing with a course like this is, it’s just relentless,” Boyd reported.

“It’s big fence after big fence, after combination to combination. You can’t ever let up a bit. So it’s going to be a huge test. At this level, anything can go wrong at any moment.”

Boyd Martin, the leading U.S. rider after day one of dressage at Kentucky, checks in with U.S. Eventing Performance Director Erik Duvander. Photo© 2018 by Nancy Jaffer

Derek noted, “The jumps are in various places around the course for a reason. Early in the course, they’ve (the riders) got to make sure to give the horses confidence so that they make sure they go forward into the course. As they get into the course, the horses should grow in confidence, so that as the questions get harder, it should be easy for them.”

It certainly won’t be easy for everyone in the field of 46.

Derek predicted that only three or four starters will make the optimum time of 11 minutes, 3 seconds, despite the advantage of “fairly fast” footing.

More from Land Rover Kentucky:

  • When Boyd came to the U.S. from Australia 10 years ago, he was impressed to watch Darren Chiacchia riding the Trakehner Windfall here. Boyd never thought at the time that someday he’d be riding a son of Windfall at this famous venue. Tsetserleg is as black as his sire, but small. “When he goes to a competition, he grows to be an 18-hand horse,” Boyd said with a smile.
  • Wembley belongs to Kevin Baumgardner, a former president of the U.S. Eventing Association, who has also competed on the horse he imported from England. “This is a dream come true,” he said about having his own horse competing in Kentucky. “He’s shown that he deserves the chance to be a world-class horse.”
  • The day ended on a somber note with a memorial service for Mike Tucker, who had a long association with Kentucky and was scheduled to be one of the commentators this year until his death from a heart attack last month. Mike, also a competitor, course designer and BBC commentator, was not one for morbid moments, so all those who spoke shared funny stories that would have gotten a laugh from the man himself. Announcer John Kyle called Mike, “the voice of our memories of this sport, whether the Olympics or a local rope and post show.”
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