Postcard from Rolex 2005: Cross-Country

After a morning of mishaps, the action picked up in the afternoon as Kim Severson and Winsome Adante blazed through cross-country to maintain their lead at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
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After a morning of mishaps, the action picked up in the afternoon as Kim Severson and Winsome Adante blazed through cross-country to maintain their lead at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

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Lexington, Ky., April 30, 2005 -- Kim Severson and Winsome Adante are one of those amazing human/horse combinations, like Debbie McDonald and Brentina or David O'Connor and Custom Made, in which two entities become one.

"I just know what he's going to do, and he obviously knows what I'm going to do," said Kim about the marvelous Dan after she widened her lead today following cross-country in the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

"I actually don't think I'll ever be fortunate enough to have another horse like him," she added.

Kim is working on her third Rolex victory in four years with the bay gelding. The individual Olympic silver medalist is on her dressage score of 38.2 penalties, 12.2 ahead of her closest competition, Olympic individual gold medalist Leslie Law of Great Britain atop Coup de Coeur, who was not his mount in Athens.

Kim had one of only four penalty-free rounds today under gray skies. A small field of 35 starters shrank to 26 finishers over the 11.4-mile test that also included roads and tracks and steeplechase--possibly for the last time. Next year, all the world's 3- and 4-star events will go to the Olympic format, with only cross-country to contend with on what used to be called speed and endurance day. There are those who hope the steeplechase makes a comeback, but Kim isn't one of them, since she feels it puts an extra strain on the horses.

Still, she and Dan handled everything that came up this afternoon like the pros they are. Even though the two react in sync, however, Kim doesn't take anything for granted. She certainly didn't coast on cross-country, where the footing was damp but firm after overnight rain.

"He was way up on the clock, which I have a tendency to do, and I wanted to let off, but at the same time, I was a little too chicken to do that, so I kept going until the last," said Kim, explaining how she pressed her foot on the gas in order to make the 11-minute, 2-second time allowed.

While Kim has plenty of breathing room in tomorrow's stadium jumping, Leslie isn't so lucky. The intrepid Australian, Phillip Dutton, is right behind him with all three of his mounts. Leslie has 50.4 penalties, to Phillip's 51.2 for both The Foreman and Nova Top, who are tied for third. He's also fifth on Hannigan, who has 55.2 penalties.

Nova Top, runner-up in 2004 to Dan, has matured nicely over the last 12 months.

"He's got a lot more experience now; he went to the Olympics," said Phillip, comparing the horse to what he was last year.

"He's not the most orthodox and sometimes shatters your teeth when you land, but he always thinks forward, which is a big thing with event horses."

Kim can drop three fences and still win, even if her rivals go clean, but Leslie didn't express a lot of confidence that he'll be able to leave all the fences in place when he and I chatted today, after I expressed great admiration for his horse.

"I don't feel it's a partnership and that we've totally clicked yet. I think we need a little more time with our show jumping but yes, basically, he is a good show jumper. I've just got to find a little bit more of a theme to it," Leslie told me, adding, "he's thrilling to ride."

There was some reshuffling near the top of the standings when Windfall II, Darren Chiacchia's mount who had tied with Coup de Coeur for second in the dressage phase, failed the vet exam before cross-country. And Amy Tryon, Darren and Kim's teammate on the Olympic bronze medal squad last year, had an uncharacteristic refusal with the feisty Poggio II, who stopped at the 16th fence, the "Shelter & Stumps" that Kim had feared but which she found rode well. The refusal dropped Amy from equal fourth to 14th.

The morning was disappointing and to some extent boring for those in the crowd of more than 28,000 spectators who chose to stand around the jumps near the end of the course at the Kentucky Horse Park. After Phillip Dutton blazed the way on Hannigan, followed by Adrienne Iorio-Borden aboard Urban Legend, there were long time lags. Kim Severson withdrew Maguire when he lost two shoes on steeplechase.

A re-do had to be given to Yoeman's Point, ridden by Australian veteran Andrew Hoy (who should have known better than to go astray) on Phase A of steeplechase. Since officials didn't warn Hoy he was off-course, as they are permitted to do (but only on roads and tracks), he got to start again. (There was some snickering as people recalled the tale of his wife, Bettina Hoy, who lost Olympic gold in Athena for going across the starting line twice.) As a result of the mishap, Andrew didn't go out on cross-country until much later than scheduled.

He is standing seventh with Yoeman but was eliminated at the double corners with Moonfleet, his 2004 Burghley winner. That only goes to show there are no sure things in this sport.

Back to the morning's disasters: Cricket Worthen (Broadstone Whitehall) and Tiffani Loudon-Meetze (Above 'n Beyond) both failed to finish cross-country, as did Jenna Schildmier and Robyn Fisher. Fisher was hurt when her Le Samurai fell, which caused a hold on course.

Although the fences at the end were interesting, particularly the Osage Orange, a free-standing pedestal at No. 27 (that's what Phillip is jumping in the photo at left), and the Trakehner with water underneath it (a new feature) at 28, spectators were better advised to stand closer to the start if they wanted to see any action. My favorite fence in that neighborhood was 9B, the squirrel, complete with acorns and a bushy tail. The water complex, with the challenging-looking decoy ducks as the key feature, appeared to ride rather easily as just a couple of riders had trouble there.

With light entries here, there's more time to shop. That's good news for merchants in the vast trade fair. The aptly named Muddy Creek outfitter seemed a likely stop for rain gear on this wet weekend, while those wanting a natty look when they ride in drier weather browsed Der Dau saddlery, where argyle and green snakeskin half-chaps were displayed along with the company's pink boots I told you about last fall.

We'll see how many horses pass the vet check tomorrow morning, but I'm betting there will be less than 26 for the start of show jumping in the afternoon. Still, we'll see plenty of top class horses and riders. It seems Kim has this competition practically won, though you can never tell (see Andrew Hoy above) but the race for second should be interesting. Though I really like Leslie's horse, my money's on Phillip Dutton, armed as he is with three formidable weapons.

I'll tell you how it all comes out tomorrow.

Visit Nancy Jaffer's postcard page to relive all of the action at some of the world's top equestrian events, including the 2005 Rolex dressage and show jumping segments.