April 26, 2014 -- For the last two days, William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain was lurking behind the leaders at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, going into cross-country this afternoon in second place on Bay My Hero and standing 10th on Seacookie TSF.
But as the 35,471 spectators who had swarmed over the Kentucky Horse Park headed home, William was back where he feels most at home--at the top of the leaderboard.
Bay My Hero, who only had one 4-star-rated competition to his credit previously, proved to be William's hero, putting in a flawless trip over Derek di Grazia's route that was designed to test the best. The Irishbred gelding turned in one of 19 trips free of both jumping and time penalties, which kept him firmly in second place but also opened the door for a move up if the leader had a problem.
And a few minutes later, she did. Poor Allison Springer, who seemed on target to make her Rolex dream come true with Arthur after an outstanding dressage test, had a ruinous runout at the Normandy Bank, the 21st of 27 fences. That dropped her to 26th and boosted William to the spot from which he will launch a run for his third Rolex Kentucky victory tomorrow.
It also moved up Lauren Kieffer from third to second with Veronica, but the upgrade was a little bittersweet because of Allison's misfortune.
William is by no means home-free. He stands on 44 penalties going into show jumping, while Lauren is close behind on 46.7 and Phillip Dutton is third on 49.5 with the very veteran Mr. Medicott. Since a downed rail in show jumping carries 4 penalties, you can see that things are close between William and Lauren, and maybe Phillip, if luck isn't with them.
Phillip, by the way, got a lease on a fancy Land Rover for coming through the finish line in 11 minutes, 12 seconds, which was exactly the optimum time. Actually, he did that on Trading Aces, the horse he's riding for Boyd Martin, who is still nursing his broken leg and wishing he could have been in the saddle for a day on which both the weather and the footing were perfect.
I realize it isn't over until it's over, but Bay My Hero definitely proved something today. Maybe he bought himself a trip to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this summer? I asked William.
Last year's winner, Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand, always a threat, is less than two rails behind William on 51.7 penalties. Oddly, he is ranked seventh with Avebury, despite the fact that Buck Davidson (Ballynoe Castle RM) and Sinead Halpin (Manoir de Carneville) have the exact same score. Buck is sixth, and Sinead eighth, since the scorer (or someone in authority) decided to rank the tied riders. I presume it was done according to who finished closest to the optimum time, but I've never seen that done except to break ties at the end of the competition. I find it both annoying and misleading.
The fences were a treat for the eye, especially if you didn't have to jump them yourself. My fave was the large wooden fish in the water at the Head of the Lake. But I also liked the quaint "wattle and daub cottage" and the keyhole picture frame at the Land Rover Hollow (did I mention the the Rolex event is presented by Land Rover?)
The only downer of the day came when several horses unfortunately were injured on course. The most serious problem involved Expedience, who banged her right front hoof on the rails in the Head of the Lake complex with Kaitlin Spurlock up. She jumped the next obstacle, but then went sore and Kaitlin jumped off.
The mare was taken away in an ambulance and is being surgically evaluated for a fracture in her hoof.
Madison Park, Kyle Carter's horse, dove into the water at the head of the lake and fell with his rider. Although he also got a ride in the horse ambulance, Madison Park sustained only elbow lacerations and abrasions and was resting in the stable.
Also resting back in the barn is the other horse who fell, Tim Bourke's ride, Luckaun Quality, whose incident took place at the Horse Park Barns, two fences from the end of the course.
All together, 15 entries were eliminated or retired. Derek had upped the ante on the route with an eye on the WEG approaching, and the results definitely told a tale.
I asked Jim Wolf, the chef de mission for the U.S. team at the WEG, what he made of the day.
There is a very low-key team competition here, with the U.S. leading Britain and Canada. Let's hope the Americans can do the same at the WEG.
I doubt many of the fans saw the cross-country as a preparation for the WEG. They just camped out at the most intriguing fences or tailgated, having a great time in the sunshine. While Rolex is serious business for the competitors, it's really a fun thing for those treating themselves to a day at the horse park. There's a new bar across from the grandstand (sadly, I haven't had the time to try it); the trade fair is bursting with all kinds of goodies (luckily, I haven't had a chance to stress my credit cards) and the tailgating--an innovation a few years back--has grown to awesome proportions that even includes a contest for who has the best spread.
This has been a great competition so far, and I imagine the stands at the Rolex Stadium will be packed tomorrow as we see who wins--William, Lauren, Phillip--or perhaps someone further down the rankings who will rise if the others above him or her get unlucky.