Land Rover, Land Rover, Land Rover. For 30 years, I always said Rolex Kentucky, or just plain Rolex, referring to what is still the only annual CCI4* event in the Western Hemisphere. And I had a lot of company, folks who also are now busy reminding themselves, “Land Rover, Land Rover, Land Rover.”
It’s a whole new game, as we saw during the first horse inspection this afternoon at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Rolex clock is still with us; Kentucky is, after all, part of the Rolex Grand Slam for the rider who sweeps this event, the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Event and Land Rover Burghley event, both in England.
But there’s lots of new signage and lots of Land Rovers parked along the track, which photographers couldn’t miss when shooting the trot-up.
“We’re so excited to be able to step up to title sponsor,” said Kim McCullough, vice president of marketing for Jaguar Land Rover USA, noting the brand has been associated with the event for nine years. Not surprisingly, the prizes awarded to the winner of the event will include a year’s lease on a Land Rover Discovery.
I don’t remember a first horse inspection at a major event where seven horses were held, making for a bunch of nervous riders. Just to be sure, I checked with 1996 individual Olympic bronze medalist Kerry Milliken (now a sculptor of some note), and she agreed. The second horse inspection, maybe, but the first?
All the horses held are still in the starting lineup of 46, except Erin Sylvester’s Mettraise, spun on her second go-round before the ground jury, and Johnny Royale, who was to have been ridden by Joe Meyer of New Zealand but was withdrawn.
The first horse inspection at Kentucky is always a fashion show, which is fun. Many of the women put a lot of thought into their outfits, though I always feel sorry for those who think they are compelled to wear heels to complete their look while running alongside their horses.
Sara Gumbiner’s gray and white compilation of hat, jacket, skirt and stockings went perfectly with her dappled gray, Polaris, which is why she won the Dubarry boots as the best-dressed woman in the line-up.
Some of the men also like to get flashy. Phillip Dutton showed up in a borrowed checked jacket that was really not his style. Sadly, it didn’t win him the Dubarry boots that go to the best-dressed man. They were awarded to Canada’s Waylon Roberts, natty with a red bowtie and pocket square.
I asked Phillip if the rather outlandish jacket was his attempt at corralling those Dubarry boots.
“I’m always trying to win,” he chuckled, and that doesn’t apply just to the riding, apparently.
While he’ll give it a go this weekend, he’s not counting on a victory. He thinks the world of Z, one of his two mounts, noting, “He’s going to be a great horse.” At the same time, he added, “It’s his first four-star. I’ve got to keep my expectations in check a little bit.” Would his other mount, I’m Sew Ready, be more likely to have a top finish?
“I’m not sure. It’s so hard to predict,” he commented. “I’m not trying to look too far ahead, I’m just trying to get the best out of them each day.”
The biggest question at this running of the CCI4*, though, is whether anyone can beat Germany’s Michael Jung and fischerRoccana FST. He’s going for his fourth straight win here, and if anyone can pull that off, it’s the guy who has won gold at the Olympics, world championships and the Europeans. Don’t bet against him.