Lexington, Ky., April 25, 2010 -- I wouldn't suggest going to William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain for any tips on how a three-day event might turn out. His feeling about Rolex Kentucky? William wasn't expecting to collect the $80,000 first prize with Cool Mountain in the horse's first 4-star start, but he said of his countryman, Oliver Townend, "I was sure he'd win it."
So what happened? On his sixth try at the Kentucky Horse Park, William won, leading from dressage through the victory gallop, adding nothing to his 42.8-penalty score in either cross-country or show jumping. Meanwhile, Ollie, as I told you yesterday, had a "cruncher" of a fall with Ashdale Cruise Master at the 20th of 30 cross-country jumps and had to spend the night in the hospital.
"You just never know," shrugged William, moments after posing for scores of photos in the winner's circle of the new stadium.
"It was fantastic to finally win here. I've been very impressed and surprised by my horse all week. He's a real trier." When recalling how he didn't count on keeping his lead throughout the event, he commented, "I wasn't being modest, but he has come out of this competition a better horse without a doubt. He's learned an awful lot. "
However, when it comes to prognostications, I'd like to take a little bow. I predicted that Phillip Dutton would win on Woodburn, and in a sense, he did. He finished second with a clean show jumping round, and as the highest-placed American, he earned the U.S. championship (William obviously wasn't eligible for that.)
Woodburn couldn't make it to Badminton this week as planned because of the havoc the Iceland volcano wreaked on air travel, but he put in a worthy performance that underlined why he looks like U.S. team material for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that will be held here this fall. I asked Phillip to assess this weekend in terms of Woodburn.
I should mention that Phillip has the strongest string of any U.S. rider. He also finished sixth on The Foreman and has Truluck and Connaught waiting in the wings.
Okay, I've given you the basic results. Now let me fill you in about Ollie. As you know, he was going for the elusive $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam, awarded to anyone who wins the Mitubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley horse trials and Rolex in succession.
The Grand Slam jinx persisted, however (it's only been won once.) Ollie cracked his sternum, collarbone, shoulder and four ribs, when he was involved in that rotational tumble as his horse rolled over him. Luckily, he was saved from a far worse fate by his Point-Two safety vest, which inflates like an airbag when a rider falls.
Ollie thinks everyone should wear one, and I see his point. Although he was sore and moving gingerly, asking people not to make him laugh, he was in good enough shape to return to the park today, when the announcement of his presence brought a cheer from the crowd. Needless to say, he couldn't have even begun to think of riding ODT Master Rose, his first mount cross-country, who had been in seventh place. Anyway, it will be three weeks until he is allowed to compete again because the fall knocked him out.
Still, he was able to look on the bright side.
"I was really pleased with both horses until the point of disaster, but at the same time, we'll all live to fight another day..." said Ollie.
Reconstructing the accident at the first element of The Hollow, rails that led down to two steps, he said, "The horse was going unbelievable, he was giving me a real good spin, everything was coming up on good distances.
"I do feel he did just make a mistake...and didn't basically get high enough, but at the same time, it was a cruncher of a fall and I can't remember much of it beyond the point of take-off," he continued, noting he was "lucky to have survived it."
William expressed sympathy for Ollie as he was discussing his day, a mark of class, I think. As he gave his narrative, it was interesting hearing how worried show jumping made this brave 6-foot-5 eventer, who thinks nothing of clearing huge tables, little cabins and even a giant wagon on cross-country.
After all, you might ask, what can go wrong in show jumping? Kim Severson, a three-time Rolex winner, demonstrated that, when her ride, Tipperary Liadhnan, got to the fourth fence and stopped, sending rails everywhere. She recouped only to knock down five more. When she walked into the ring, she was standing second to William by a mere two penalties. When she walked out, understandably dismayed, she was 24th.
Show jumping also has been a bugaboo for Becky Holder, who has never won Rolex with her fabulous Courageous Comet, though she keeps trying.
She said, "He likes a crowd, so he was a bit hamming it up, but I was absolutely sick this morning." Becky revealed that she, William and Kim were trying to relax in show organizer Janie Atkinson's office, but that it didn't work.
Still, she was on when it counted and downed only a single rail (though Comet seemed to rub most of them on Richard Jeffery's course) to finish third on 49.2 penalties, 2.5 behind Phillip.
I had a chance to sit down with cross-country course designer Mike Etherington-Smith to discuss the frangible pin problem I mentioned yesterday. The pins, which are designed to help reduce the likelihood of rotational falls like the one Ollie had, did not break as they are supposed to. It takes "vertical loading" to activate them, and if a horse simply brushes the rails as he turns over, the pins don't work.
Mike isn't sure what happened; he's going to look at video when he flies home to England later this week. But such safety devices are the wave of the future in a sport that has had a hefty share of accidents. Here's what Mike had to say on the subject.
Rolex goes by so fast in a wave of memorable moments, happy and sad. There were a few today that I wanted to mention. Janie, who I told you in previous postcard is retiring after the WEG, was saluted before the show jumping. She and Mike E-S (who is also retiring post-WEG) were driven around the ring in a carriage. Janie, who got a Rolex watch last night at the annual Rolex dinner, wore a (fake) diamond tiara for her big moment. This place is going to miss its queen (and she'll miss it.)
After his double clear round on Neville Bardos, who moved up to fourth (a big jump from his 13th placing following dressage) Boyd Martin raised his arm in triumph (just as he did when he won Fair Hill last fall) reaching out almost as if he were trying to touch the crowd.
Other double clears brought emotion. Buck Davidson, who had a flawless run on Titanium, tapped his mother's hand as he rode by the outgate. His grandmother died a few weeks ago, and I'm sure she was on his mind in the brief contact he had with his mom.
Laine Ashker got a big cheer as she finished with no faults on Anthony Patch. Two years ago here, she had a terrible rotational fall with Frodo Baggins, who didn't survive. Laine herself spent months convalescing and this was her first time competing at Rolex since the accident.
By the way, Rolex was unbelievably lucky this year. Despite storms and tornadoes all weekend, both cross-country and show jumping missed the rain (though the skies were very dark as William took his victory lap.)
Well, that's it from here. Hard to believe it won't be a year until I'm back, as usual, but less than five months before my return for the WEG. Next up for me is another event, Jersey Fresh, so read all about it in two weeks.
Visit Nancy's archive to read more coverage from the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.