New Zealand eventers Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd form a two-pronged Kiwi attack on this weekend’s Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event at Lexington, which starts on Thursday.
Reigning champion and World Number one Nicholson will ride Avebury (owned by Mark and Rosemary Barlow and Nicholson), and Todd rides Oloa (owned by Di Brunsden, Peter Cattrell and Pip McCarroll) at the event, which has received record entries this year vying for $US250,000 in prize money. It is the first of the season’s four-star events and the only one of that level in the USA.
There is an impressive list of Olympic veterans and former Kentucky champs, including two-time winner William Fox-Pitt (Britain), who is 13 points behind Nicholson in the world eventing rankings, and the USA’s Buck Davidson, who is third. Riders from Australia, Brazil, Canada, and The Netherlands are also taking part, with this year’s event also a selection trial for the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games for many countries.
But much of the attention will be on Nicholson, who won in 2013 aboard Quimbo and was also third with Calico Joe. He could be in line for the $US350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of eventing prize for the rider who wins Kentucky, the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley events in succession.
Nicholson saves 14-year-old Avebury “for the top ones”. “He has been going well and is a very consistent and reliable horse,” said Nicholson, who enjoys competing at Kentucky.
“I like it a lot and I think the horses enjoy it there too. It is proper old turf on the cross country – like Badminton and Burghley are too. It’s never the same to ride on turf that has been ploughed up and put back into grass.”
Nicholson makes no secret of his desire to secure the grand slam.
“The plan is to win with Avebury and then follow that up with a win at Badminton with either Nereo or Quimbo! I would love to have my first win at Badminton.”
Missing from his string this year will be Mr Cruise Control, who is out with a sprained tendon.
“Every season is a big season, and you have to take things as they come along and make the most of your chances,” Nicholson said.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance coach Erik Duvander is also picking Nicholson to win.
“He is going there to defend his title and Avebury is looking good to win. They are both in great shape and are well prepared for Kentucky,” he said.
Todd is also tilting for the podium.
“Mark and Oloa are a relatively new combination who were only together three or four months before Burghley (September 2013) where they finished seventh. Kentucky is similar terrain to Burghley so will suit both the Kiwi horses.”
Todd agrees, saying Oloa is coming into the event in good form, with a third at his last start.
Duvander says plenty of training over the winter by the New Zealand high performance squad has seen a “massive improvement” from many combinations.
“All our riders are well prepared for the season ahead, so we are looking strong for the world champs.”