New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson has jumped into the lead at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event after two clear cross-country rounds.
He is now deservedly holding onto first and second places at the top of a considerably altered scoreboard with a fence in hand over third-placed Buck Davidson (USA) with Ballynoe Castle RM on 45.2.
The world’s number one ranked eventer sits on his dressage scores of 38 penalty points aboard Quimbo and 40.8 on Calico Joe. Team-mate Jonelle Richards and The Deputy, in their first Kentucky start, are seventh after a clear cross country and 2.4 time penalties, to sit on 55.1.
Nicholson put in an excellent early round on a matured Calico Joe, to finish bang on the optimum time, but his performance at the end of the cross-country on talented 10-year-old Quimbo was a masterclass in accurate, sympathetic horsemanship in which horse and rider were as one throughout.
“That was probably my most exciting ride ever,” said Nicholson. “Quimbo is an unbelievable horse. For the first time at this level, that was just an amazing performance. When I got to eight minutes, I said ‘Let’s get serious’ and he amazed me as he went faster and faster at the end.”
Calico Joe also made the cross country look easy, but Nicholson says he expected that from one of his more experienced mounts.
“It’s been a great day for the sport. The weather conditions were ideal for riding cross country, the grounds are superb and the horses just love to gallop on it.”
Nicholson had promised he he would be riding Quimbo like a “hardened four star performer with a chance of winning”, and he did just that.
He will have a one-rail margin of error when he rides Sunday’s show jumping course. “You can never have too much of a cushion in the show jumping,” said Nicholson, who’s lost more events in the final phase than he’s won. “I’ll make the most I can of my rounds today and worry about the show jumping tomorrow.”
Dressage leader William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Chilli Morning bowed out after the stallion, who had been jumping carefully, took a good look at the rails into the first water complex and stopped. But Fox-Pitt proved an exemplary pathfinder on his first ride Seacookie TSF and has moved up six places to fourth with the German-bred gelding, just 1.4 penalties behind Davidson.
Fox-Pitt described Chilli Morning’s exit as “one of those things. Maybe he over-jumped the fence before and gave himself a bit of a shock. There was no point carrying on. He’s a 13-year-old and wasn’t here for the experience.”
There were 27 clear rounds from the 30 finishers, 11 of whom were inside the optimum time of 11 minutes 21 seconds; seven riders were eliminated and five retired, including Mary King (GBR) on Fernhill Urco following a refusal at the brush fence coming out of the Head of the Lake (fence 20), and the USA’s Alexandra Knowles fourth after dressage, was eliminated for three refusals on Last Call after losing impulsion at the sunken road at fence 13, who was fourth on Last Call after the dressage.
Other casualties included Marilyn Little (USA), equal fifth, who was unseated when RF Demeter pecked after the third of a complex of three spreads (fence 17); Becky Holder (USA), seventh, was unshipped when Can’t Fire Me crumpled on landing over the duck fence (fence 24), and Shandiss McDonald (CAN), ninth, slipped from the reckoning with 20 time penalties on Rockfield Grant Juan.
In all, five from the dressage top 10 are now out of the running.
Despite the hiccup with Chilli Morning, Fox-Pitt declared the course as superb: “Derek di Grazia [designer] is really stamping his mark here, giving the riders lots to think about with tricky distances and tricky little turns. He is encouraging riders to think on their feet, which is fantastic.”
Nicholson concurred, saying: “I’d like to congratulate Derek. The course was big and horse-friendly. He started off by getting us thinking positively with big wide fences and then there were technical ones like the hollow at fence six where you had to sit on your backside and work a bit. He mixed it up well.”
Fox-Pitt said Seacookie gave him a fantastic ride. “Time is always very difficult with him because he jumps very deliberately and he is quite a careful horse so we do waste a few seconds at every fence so it was great to finish on the time – that’s the first time at a four star and on these hills here it is tiring.
“He was a superstar today and he is feeling on great form – with making the optimum time that was an added bonus as I was down on my minute markers all the way – as I said he is not the quickest horse but I knew if I took a couple of good jumps at the last two we could be close, and OK I cut it a bit fine but I finished bang on the time.”
In a day of commendably positive riding on perfect footing, Will Faudree (USA) and Pawlow have climbed six places to fifth; and fellow American Lynn Symansky flew round on Donner to rise 13 places to sixth.
Buck Davidson, whose father, Bruce was one of the most successful riders around Kentucky including winning individual gold at the 1978 world championships there, looked justifiably ecstatic at the end of the day. He thrilled both his family and a large home crowd by riding three committed clear rounds; he is now also in eighth place on the young horse Mar de Amor.
Davidson also earned a special prize – the Land Rover Best Ride of the Day for being the US rider finishing closest to the optimum time. Presenting sponsor Land Rover presented him with a two-year free lease on a 2013 Range Rover Evoque. He earned the car for his ride aboard Mar De Amor.
“The Land Rover award was certainly in my head this morning, but I had lots of other things to think about, so it wasn’t really a priority when I was riding around the course,” said Davidson. “This award is great, because I’d been thinking that I’d like to have a Land Rover like this. I’d told my girlfriend that, and she’d asked me ‘Why do you need to have another car?’ Well, now I have one.”
The day brought another landmark for Davidson – a clear and fast round on Ballynoe Castle RM, 13, his mount at the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park. It was there that Ballynoe Castle had a refusal at what this year was fence 13, the Sunken Road. That memory haunted Davidson all day, even after his first two rounds on Park Trader and Mar De Amor.
Ballynoe Castle underwent wind surgery a year ago, and Davidson said it’s made a tremendous difference in the horse’s endurance and his attitude.
“It’s a shame that his entire career has been plagued by that stop at the Sunken Road, because he’s such a great horse and everybody loves him,” said Davidson. “I just about gave up and stopped after he was so perfect through the Sunken Road—I was so happy.”
Davidson, of Ocala, Florida, happily drove his new car away at the presentation, after saying, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world today.”
James Alliston, a British rider based in California, would be far less experienced than the likes of Nicholson and Fox-Pitt, but he also achieved three clears, and is in ninth place on the former Oliver Townend (GBR) ride Tivoli, ahead of fellow West Coast rider Kirsti Nunnink (USA) on her gallant grey mare R-Star.
Coming into the final jumping phase, it looks as though Nicholson will not only easily retain his lead in the HSBC FEI Classics – so far, only British riders have won the title before – but will set up a historic first head-to-head, with William Fox-Pitt, in the Rolex Grand Slam next weekend at Badminton from May 3 to 6.
Nicholson says he “expects” Quimbo to do his job, although it is a discipline that sometimes challenges Calico Joe.
“To be honest I won’t be looking forward to tomorrow’s stadium jumping with this one! My other one yes on Quimbo, but this one you’ve just got to ride him how he is – he’s not a power jumper so what he needs to do is leave them all up – it’s doesn’t matter how much paint he has on his legs as long as he leaves them all up!
“It would be unusual for Calico Joe to have a clear round, but Quimbo is a very nice show jumper and should go well,” he predicted.
“Calico Joe is very good at two phases – his worst phase is tomorrow, but he’s done his job so far – I don’t normally finish the cross country and feel as excited as I do have with Quimbo – to have a young horse at four star level and for him to make it feel like he did for me out there is quite unbelievable.”
The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is the Western Hemisphere’s only four star three day event. It features the world’s best horses and riders vying for their share of $US250,000 in prize money as well as the chance of winning $US350,000 for anyone who can win Kentucky, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley Four Star Events in succession.
Results after Cross Country
1 Andrew Nicholson/Quimbo (NZL) 37.7 + 0 = 37.7
2 Andrew Nicholson/Calico Joe (NZL) 40.8 + 0 = 40.8
3 Buck Davidson/Ballynoe Castle RM (USA) 45.2 + 0 = 45.2
4 William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie TSF (GBR) 46.2 + 0 = 46.2
5 Will Faudree/Pawlow (USA) 47.2 + 6.3 = 53.6
6 Lynn Symansky/Donner (USA) 54.8 + 0 = 54.8
7 Jonelle Richards/The Deputy (NZL) 52.7 + 2.4 = 55.1
8 Buck Davidson/Mar de Amor (USA) 55.2 + 0 = 55.2
9 James Alliston/Tivolo (GBR) 49.5 + 7.6 = 57.1
10 Kristi Nunnink/R-Star (USA) 55.3 + 4.4 = 59.7
Reporting: Diana Dobson, Kate Green, Marty Bauman