Lexington, Ky., April 24, 2004 -- Finally, the sun is shining on everyone's old Kentucky home in this neck of the woods, and that meant good conditions for cross-country day at the Rolex-Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Notice I said good conditions, not great. Actually, they were great for spectators, who swarmed the course glorying in not being soaked with rain, as we were for the two days of dressage.
But riders mentioned that the footing got a little heavy. An expert on that was Phillip Dutton, who hit the ground twice himself. Of course, nothing stops Phillip. He's a two-time Australian team Olympic gold medallist, and you don't get awards like those by being a sissy. So he picked himself up and rode two more horses. He's second with Nova Top in the modified division, and seventh with Hannigan in the CCI.
Now, in case you didn't read every word I wrote to you in yesterday's postcard, here are a few quick sentences explaining the difference between the divisions. The CCI is a traditional three-day event with steeplechase and roads and tracks. The optimum time was 11 minutes, 14 seconds, so that tells you how long a slog it was. Just six competitors did it without time or jumping faults.
The modified is modeled on the format they'll be using at the Athens Olympics this summer; appropriate, since both divisions of Rolex were part of an Olympic selection trial.
The modified had no steeplechase, and only a portion of roads and tracks, with no score for that segment. The optimum time was 9 minutes, 45 seconds, and just five were double clear on that one. I must say that one rider, Will Faudree, was pretty amazing. He was 13 seconds under the time with Antigua, to move himself up from ninth after dressage to sixth. He ripped right by me at the second water (I was in the front row) and I nearly got bowled over by the breeze he created. (Okay, that's a little exaggeration, but it was impressive.)
The cross-country course that Michael Etherington-Smith put together with builder Mick Costello was as beautiful as it was challenging. I just liked looking at the fences themselves, even without having the horses jump them.
There was the wooden fish topped by brush at the head of the lake, and the giant red wooden fox at the summit of "The Fox's Posh Den," which involved quite a drop.
My favorite, though it wasn't the most challenging, was "The Squirrel's Delight." Carved wood squirrels with brush jumps for tails made this a real eye-catcher. I've included a photo of Kim Severson at this one. Interesting, don't you think?
So now I'll get to the results. Sorry, but there's so much to tell about cross-country day. It's an experience for all of us, not just the riders. There are huge crowds swarming around the major fences, and giant screens featuring a televised feed of riders en route.
Kim and Winsome Adante, her favorite equine partner, made the course their own to finish double clear and keep her lead from dressage in the CCI. She went the long way at the final big question, the Lexington Bank, on the advice of Mark Phillips, the U.S. coach. (Here's a cute aside: When someone in the crowd asked the way to the Lexington Bank, they were told, "There's one in town, but there's an ATM machine on the grounds.")
The short way involved jumping The Log Cabin Corners, two little houses topped with turf, but that could be tricky. Mike designed the long way to be more time-consuming, but to show you how fast Kim was going, she still made the time!
She has 37 penalties to Phillip and Nova Top's 43. That gives Kim only one rail in hand for tomorrow's stadium jumping, and she was nervous about it -- while feeling relieved that Winsome Adante had passed such a big test today.
In the modified, Nathalie Bouckaert couldn't manage a double-clear with West Farthing, but her score of 38.6 with 1.2 time penalties added still keeps her ahead of Darren Chiacchia and that fabulous black Trakehner stallion, Windfall II. He had 1.2 penalties as well and is on 41.2. It was a day of mixed blessings for Nathalie, who is lovely to speak with; very refined. Her fiancé, Michael Pollard, retired after a fall off his Psalm XXIII near the end of the course.
"It's really sad," she said. "He's happy for me, but it's disappointing."
Third in the modified is one of my favorite riders, Amy Tryon. She's a firefighter and just as determined as they come. I still remember how she mushed her back at the World Equestrian Games two years ago in a terrible fall off Poggio II and still managed to remount. The next day she completed the event, even though she was obviously hurting.
Anyway, she accumulated 3.2 time penalties when My Beau drifted left at the Head of the Lake, and she had to go the long way.
The Head of the Lake is really a lake, and it's the focal point of the whole course. The short way involved a bounce jump, where the landing of the second element put you in the water. Then it was up onto an island and over another fence that took you back into the drink. Riders finished up by galloping onto land and out over that fish jump I liked. Whew! Just that one obstacle is so much work. What would you do if you had to jump 31 more?
Of course, the Olympic selectors have their eyes peeled here, and you know they have to be impressed with Kim. She needed to fulfill her Olympic eligibility at Rolex with Dan because the two of them were out much of last season -- Kim with a broken leg, Dan with a colic problem.
Too bad Phillip Dutton isn't an American, but it's my guess the Australians will want him for their team. I'm sure they remember the 2002 World Equestrian Games when they selected him as an individual competitor instead of putting him on the team. He was the highest-placed Australian while the team didn't get a medal. I'm sure they've learned their lesson.
I'm impressed by Abigail Lufkin, who hasn't ridden in a 4-star since 2000 because she was in graduate school. She and Kildonan Tug are in third place in the CCI, and I think she could be a very, very solid U.S. team candidate. Ab last year bought one of the world's best-known event horses, Don't Step Back. But he was hurt in a pasture accident in Florida this winter, so Tug had to fill his shoes. She has lost none of her riding acumen.
"I've done it so long on different horses that it has come back to me more easily than I would have thought," she said. Her first few outings with Tug, however, weren't the best, and she was wondering whether she should have bought him.
"I thought, `What have I done?'" she recalled. As it happens, what she did was wind up with a world-class horse.
Others I like after today (though no one has yet had the wisdom to make me a selector) are Amy, of course, and John Williams on Carrick, standing fifth in the modified. Hey, you don't have to be a genius--Amy, John and Kim were all on the 2002 gold medal team that I mentioned, and I think their form has improved, if anything.
Well, I shouldn't make my selections before tomorrow's show jumping. Rails down there have sunk many a victory and made team candidates into also-rans.
I'll be back with you tomorrow to tell you how that went, and give you the final word on this fantastic event.