Britain’s William Fox-Pitt has taken over the lead after the second day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day event.
Fox-Pitt rode Chilli Morning to a score of 33.3, topping arch rival Andrew Nicholson, who led on Calico Joe with 40.8 after the first day. but Nicholson has a strong hand with his younger horse, Quimbo, now in second place with 38.0 penalties.
Just Nicholson and Fox-Pitt sit in the thirties after the dressage, with 12 riders – including the two men on their second mounts – in the forties, leaving no room for any sort of error over Saturday’s Derek di Grazia-designed cross country course.
“I hoped the test would score in the 30s and I did have a sneaky look at the scoreboard, at which point I thought ‘OK, right!” said Fox-Pitt, who has won at Kentucky twice before, in 2010 and last year on Parklane Hawk.
“It can be quite demoralising to look at the marks sometimes, but this was feeling so good I thought it was worth the risk. Chilli has an amazing presence and loves being in the arena where he thinks he’s king.”
Chilli Morning was fifth at Pau last year, but a stallion has never won at CCI4* level before – there are currently only three competing at this level in the world. However, Fox-Pitt, who took over the ride last year after the horse was produced by British rider Nick Gauntlett, explained: “It puts him under extra pressure, of course, but he’s got a great temperament. He’s a very dear, kind horse that you can give a cuddle to. He never puts his ears back and is a real gentleman.”
Fox-Pitt is also 10th on Seacookie. Nicholson’s London Olympic team-mate Jonelle Richards and The Deputy sit in 16th spot on 52.7 penalty points in their first-ever start at the Kentucky event.
In contrast to the vast combined experience of Fox-Pitt and Nicholson, fourth-placed Alexandra Knowles (USA), a young rider and CCI4* débutant based locally in Paris, Kentucky, has found herself in exalted company. She scored the excellent mark of 43.3 on the mare Last Call and is 0.7 ahead of another big name, Mary King (GBR), riding the grey Fernhill Urco. King, the 2011 winner at Kentucky, is tied in fifth place with last year’s HSBC Training Bursary winner, Marilyn Little (USA) on RF Demeter.
Of Quimbo, Nicholson said he gave 100%. “He’s only 10 years old and these four star tests they have to be physically strong to maintain the necessary collection and fluency of it all – he’s young for this sort of level and in another year he’ll be even smarter.
“I mucked up my last change at the end which was totally my fault as I was trying to press for more marks – I could see on the scoreboard before I started my serpentine that I was going to have to squeeze the maximum out of him to start any chance of catching William and I perhaps got a bit carried away by the end of it – but there you go – you’ve got to try these things. He fixed himself and finished off the test smoothly – I couldn’t wish him to be any better to be honest,” he said.
Fox-Pitt, who will be first out of the 46-starter field on the cross-country on Seacookie TSF, says he is looking forward to riding Derek di Grazia’s course. “It looks a superb course, but we all know that things can change. There are some big questions out there, and lots of turns and skinny fences, but the footing is amazing, especially considering all the rain we had on Wednesday.”
Everyone is talking about the size of the cross country course, and with just a single run-out bagging 20 penalty points, expect some changes on that leaderboard.
“It’s very big, but it’s fair,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson is chasing the $US350,000 Rolex Grand Slam for the rider who wins Burghley, Badminton and Kentucky in succession. With Burghley already in the bag, Nicholson needs victory at Kentucky followed by Badminton next weekend.
“I’m not here just to make the numbers,” he said. “I’m here purely to try and win and snowball the thing along for Badminton.”
The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is the Western Hemisphere’s only four star three day event. It is part of the HSBC FEI Classics and features the world’s best horses and riders vying for their share of $US250,000 in prize money as well as a shot at the Grand Slam of Eventing.
Saturday’s cross country will be followed by a second horse inspection and finally the showjumping on Sunday.