Allison Springer and Arthur may not be new to the top of the Rolex Kentucky dressage leaderboard, but she thinks the second time is even sweeter.
“Two years ago I had a great test here [on Arthur],”said Springer (Upperville, Va.), who led the dressage on a 39.8 in 2012. “I think I like this time better - I’m just very emotional about having this horse back [in competition].”
Springer gave the 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Windstar – Kelly) a year off from competition in 2013 after some stellar results in 2012, including a second-placed finish in Kentucky and a sixth-placed finish at Burghley. Her patience has been rewarded in a big way, and she believes that Arthur is better than ever.
“He went into the ring a much more confident horse today. He knew where he was and kept a really good rhythm,” she said. She wasn’t quite sure what sort of horse she would have in her afternoon test after an exciting morning school on the notoriously spooky gelding.
“He isn’t a more mellow guy now, but I think we know each other really well,” she said. “He’s given me, as a competitor, the most mileage of any horse.”
Springer has some breathing room going into Saturday’s cross-country course, as she is the only rider that broke into the 30’s. She scored a 39.5, and is followed by William Fox-Pitt and Catherine Witt’s Bay My Hero, who momentarily took the lead on Friday afternoon (before Springer’s ride) with a 44.0.
The 11-year-old gelding (Cult Hero – Bing Power) hasn’t run a CCI**** since Pau in 2012, and had a light 2013 year, running only three Intermediate horse trials. The horse had never even been on a plane before last week, but Fox-Pitt felt that Kentucky was a better route for “Moonie” to take.
“He hasn’t done Badminton or Burghley before,” the British rider said, explaining that he chose to take his older, more experienced horses to Badminton in two weeks. “He did Pau and I think that this event is a good stepping stone from there, and you find out a bit more about the horse you’re riding… Both horses [Bay My Hero and Seacookie TSF] are owned by Catherine Witt and she was very keen to come, so it just worked out well.”
The horse’s greenness only showed in one or two slight bobbles, including a spook at the flowers, but the professionalism of the test and Fox-Pitt’s expertise earned them a solid score before they take on Derek di Grazia’s course tomorrow.
“This was a big atmosphere for him. He’s generally a great horse to work around but he likes to have a look at everything,” said Fox-Pitt, who is also in tenth place with Seacookie TSF. “He’s a bit like a big pony; all he wants to do is eat, and he enjoys his life every minute.”
Lauren Kieffer impressed the crowd of 13,760 and earned a huge cheer after her test with Rebecca Farm LLC’s Veronica, and earned a 46.7 for third place. The Dutch Warmblood mare was previously piloted by Karen O’Connor, with whom Kieffer is based in Middleburg, Va., at her previous Rolex Kentucky experience in 2012 – to a less than desirable result. Kieffer also had one Rolex experience under her belt before this week, and knew that she wanted to approach this one differently.
“The last time I was here was in 2010 on my young rider horse [Snooze Alarm],” said Kieffer. “I’ve been riding Veronica for about a year now, and so it’s a bit of a different mindset this time [at Rolex]. I came here to really give it a go.”
All three riders echoed yesterday’s leaders’ sentiments about Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course: the course is a proper four-star course and is fair but relentless.
“Derek [di Grazia] is a genius as a course designer,” said Kieffer, whose mare was not able to complete the cross-country phase in 2012 when former pilot Karen O’Connor had an unlucky fall. “The lines are there and the horses will be able to see them if you ride it well, but you can’t lose your focus for a second. If you make a mistake, I think it will punish the riders, but not the horses.”
“It will encourage a forward rider and forward horse,” said Fox-Pitt, who is known as one of the best cross-country riders in the world. “If you want to be in the money you’ve really got to go for it. The angled [brush fences at 16 A and B] look horrible really. I think we’ve all been developing squints looking at them and trying to make them look better!”
“I think the angled hedges are the most angled jumps I’ve ever seen, so I’ve put a bit of thought into that,” Springer agreed. “I trust Derek [di Grazia] a lot and I have a lot of faith in Arthur.”
There is currently a three-way tie for fourth place, with Phillip Dutton and Mr. Medicott; Jan Byyny and Inmidair; and Michael Pollard and Mensa G all sitting on a 49.5. In seventh place is Will Faudree and Pawlow (49.8); in eight is Doug Payne and Crown Talisman, who have withdrawn from competition (51.2); in ninth is Marilyn Little and RF Demeter (51.3); and William Fox-Pitt and Seacookie TSF are in tenth on a 51.5.
Cross-country competition kicks off at 11:00 a.m. with Park Trader and Buck Davidson.