Derek di Grazia's imposing cross-country course significantly shuffled the standings at the 15th Rolex/USEF CCI4* Championship. At the end of the day, William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Catherine Witt's Parklane Hawk were flying high at the top of the leaderboard having posted one of very few double-clear rounds to just inch ahead of Allison Springer and Arthur who picked up 3.2 time penalties.
Of fifty-four starters, only seven finished double-clear, and thirty-two crossed the finish line. The problems were spread out around the course although the Bridgestone Park Question (the coffin) at fence 9abc proved to be particularly tricky. This course was a true four-star test that separated the best from the rest. Overall, it rode safely and no horse or rider was seriously injured.
William said it was a course that required you "ride as best you can and be as positive as you can." He said the ones that did not get a good start generally did not recover, and many were caught out by the "horrible skinny brush thing" at the C element of the coffin. William used Allison as an example, stating that she came out of the box "really meaning business. She gave [Arthur] a peach of a ride."
Veteran four-star rider and Olympian Andrew Nicholson (NZL) was the first out on course riding the relatively inexperienced Calico Joe, owned by the Twenty Twelve in Mind Syndicate. The horse broke a reverse frangible pin at the first element of the coffin, then Andrew opted to retire after incurring a refusal going the long route. Second to start was Karen O'Connor and Team Rebecca, LLC's Veronica, who took a huge leap into the HSBC Water Park, causing Karen to take an unexpected bath. "When you watch some good horses making mistakes you think, oh crumbs, this is not looking good," William said. "[Parklane Hawk] lived up to all my expectations. He gave me a superb ride and did it very easily. He has given me even more confidence than I had in him before."
During the Friday press conference, William had said he thought the course would have a few tricks and not ride as straightforward as it seemed. "Rolex is one of the top courses in the world. It is not by any means second to Badminton and Burghley anymore," William said. "It has stamped its own mark and has its own following. It has more than merited its four-star status. Long may it continue and long may we be able to come over and compete here."
William complimented the footing, acknowledging the recent dry conditions and the extensive care taken to make the footing as nice as possible. "The riders appreciate that," he said.
Allison Springer was thrilled to cross the finish line on her and William and Carolyn's Arthur. After a disappointing fall at the third to last fence, the Offset Brushes, last year, Allison was determined to stick to her plan of going the long route there despite being close to the time.
While they had a banner round, Allison felt like the course rode hard: "I never walked around thinking it was a piece of cake. Derek had a plan for these jumps. You had to be determined to get to the other side of every fence. It was a fair course. It was tough."
More than 18,000 spectators walked through the Kentucky Horse Park gates to enjoy a day of four-star cross-country, and the often times spooky Arthur held himself together despite the buzzing atmosphere. "This was the loudest I have ever heard people in the galloping lanes. I think people were really pulling for me to get around," Allison said. "He is beginning to realize people are here for him and not trying to scare him. He did not spook at all galloping today. He was on task and knew his job. So I am thrilled for that."
Representing New Zealand in the top three is Jonathan Paget riding Frances Stead's Clifton Promise. On their third trip to Rolex, the pair blazed around the course, maintaining their dressage score of 44.8 and moving into third place. He said his horse found a good gear at the beginning and kept it. "I have complete faith in that horse, but it is nice to confirm it," he said.
An Olympic Year
A common question presented to the cross-country course designer Derek di Grazia has been whether or not he designed the Rolex course to mimic the undulating venue for the London Olympics this summer. To that question he responds that he does not know what the course will be like at Greenwich Park; The general consensus of the riders in this afternoon's press conference is that the horses will need to be adjustable and obedient.
Derek said a designer always tries to find a track that flows well, and although Rolex cross-country day had an interesting start, several combinations jumped really well.
The Show Jumping Finale
With less than a rail separating the top three, Richard Jeffrey's (GBR) show jumping course and a tightly packed top ten will keep the pressure on the leaders. Both Boyd Martin and Rolex first-timer Marilyn Little-Meredith, who was the first to cross the finish line clear today, have two horses in the top ten. Karen O'Connor found her rhythm today with Mr. Medicott, owned by the Mr. Medicott Syndicate, and will look to capitalize on that positive energy tomorrow. William Coleman and Jim Wildasin's Twizzel's streak of bad luck seems to be behind them, and they lie in sixth place heading into show jumping. Andrew Nicholson and his second ride, the lovely mare Qwanza, owned by Rosemary and Mark Barlow, posted a double-clear round to move up from 24th to ninth place.
Riders will present their horses to the ground jury for the final inspection Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. Show jumping begins at 12:30 p.m. NBC will broadcast the finale live between two and three o'clock p.m. ET.
Full results and live scoring is available on the Rolex Kentucky website.
Enjoy a slideshow of today's images below or click here.
Leslie Threlkeld/USEA Photos