April 21, 2010 -- The first veterinary check for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event this afternoon was a fun fashion forward happening for the hundreds of fans who turned out to watch at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Sometimes the outfits in which riders chose to jog their horses mirrored the animals' names. Hilda Hicks Donahue, the U.S.-based Irish citizen, looked as if her chestnut partner Extravagance was her date for a garden party. Dolled up in a big floppy hat and white palazzo pants with wispy strips of floaty white material imitating an overskirt, they were quite the couple. Ditto Kelly Sults, in a wide-brimmed black straw chapeau with a dramatic ruffled blouse, looking as showy as Hollywood, the town after which her horse was named.
Stanislas de Zuchowicz of France (Quirinal de la Bastide) and Capt. Geoff Curran of Ireland (The Jump Jet) were incredibly polished in their uniforms, and I loved the snappy salute the Captain gave the ground jury.
A new venue for the jog offers a fabulous view of the park, broader pathways, and a hill on which the crowd can sit, instead of being jammed alongside the runway, so to speak. Rolex makes the jogs (there's another on Sunday morning) spectator events, but it always amazes me how much of a crowd they attract.
There is a record field for the 4-star this year, with 53 horses from eight countries starting in the dressage tomorrow morning. Who do I think will win? There are plenty of contenders, but I like the chances of Phillip Dutton with Woodburn, one of his four mounts here. Woodburn was supposed to compete at the Mitsubishi Badminton Horse Trials in England next week, but the Icelandic volcano's antics meant Woodburn had to stay home and do Rolex instead.
Also a possibility to take the top prize is Great Britain's Oliver Townend, who is riding ODT Master Rose and Ashdale Cruise Master in an attempt to become only the second person ever to take the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam for winning Badminton, the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and Rolex in succession.
Yesterday, I mentioned Oliver's saga of planes, trains and taxis that got him here over the hurdle of volcanic air travel hell, but I thought I'd let him give you the details. For those of you who don't speak British, I'll offer a brief translation before you hear the sound byte: coach means bus, underground is subway and hole in the wall is ATM. Okay, go ahead and listen.
I sat in on the rider meeting this morning. It took nearly 1 1/2 hours. Who can remember all the ins and outs involved over the next four days. An event of this stature is really, really complicated.
Everyone gave Janie Atkinson, who has run Rolex since its inception, a standing ovation. She is retiring and has done so much that she is being replaced by two people; Christina Gray will handle the competition part of the position, and another person will be hired to deal with the marketing end.
"You have taken our sport in this country to a level that I don't know any of us ever dreamed was going to happen," Karen O'Connor told Janie during the meeting.
"On behalf of the horses and their owners, and the riders and everybody that's in everybody's inner circle, we thank you so much."
After the meeting and talking with the very charming Ollie (can't you tell from the sound byte?) I hiked (the operative word for getting around this huge park) back to the main stadium to watch the Kentucky Cup dressage test event for this fall's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Oh, I took a slight detour past the hall of champions, where I watched Funny Cide snooze. This chestnut gelding, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2003, is having a great life with other special horses that are displayed for the public. I loved Funny Cide's enormous stall, elbow-deep in straw, with a screened vista out to his paddock. I could move in there, it's so lovely. Yesterday was his birthday, and he had several cards on his stall. Nice to know he's still loved and admired.
Anyway, dressage was interesting, as each of the last three riders to go topped each other. Lucky Tiger, veteran of the 2005 Pan American Games with Pierre St. Jacques, looked as good as I've ever seen him, just missing the magical 70 percent mark with a score of 69.333 percent.
Then Bonny Bonnello, third yesterday in the Grand Prix, topped him with a score of 70.292 percent on her Pikardi. Unfortunately, at one point during the test, she veered off the rail when she should have gone straight. That move was greeted by the dreaded jingling of the judges' little bell, telling her she had made a mistake. She got back on track and did some lovely work, but had 2 points deducted by each judge. Ouch.
Though Bonny still managed to top Pierre with 70.292 percent, Mikala Munter Gundersen was able to top that with a flowing test on Leonberg that gave her the win with 70.792 percent. And yes, Bonny would have won without the mistake, but that's how it goes.
It was a nice prize for Mikala, a Florida-based Dane. I saw her first Grand Prix victory with the horse last year at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, so I can say with authority that he has come a long way. And maybe he'll go even further. She's hoping to show at Aachen and then head to the Danish championships, which will be the selection trial for the WEG. Her biggest dream is to return to the park for that as a member of the Danish team.
"I'm really hoping I get to come back here," she said, referring to the WEG.
Explaining why she came, she said, "I couldn't wait to get to Kentucky," noting with a smile that she thought, "If I'm not going in the fall, I want to go now and get the T-shirt."
Bonny, who is 59 and competed for Canada during the early 1980s in the Olympics and world championships, intrigues me. I love the idea that she has a second career, so we chatted about that.
I'll be sending another postcard tomorrow night after I watch the eventing dressage. This is going to be one exciting competition, that I can guarantee.
Visit Nancy's archive to read more coverage from the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.