April 29, 2011 -- A rising star took the measure of eventing's superstars today, as the USA's Tiana Coudray found herself leading the standings with Ringwood Magister following the second day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky 4-star event.
Can you imagine: New Zealand's two-time Olympic individual gold medalist Mark Todd, who won Badminton last weekend; the world's leading eventer, William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain and 2007 Rolex winner Clayton Fredericks of Australia found themselves in the also-ran category.
Admittedly, none of the above were on the horses that brought them fame, but Tiana is only 22, so I guess that evens things up.
Great Britain's Mary King ranks second with Fernhill Urco, a Portugese-bred (Portugal is not known for its event horses) on 41.7 penalties, in back of Tiana's 40.8. Mary also stands fourth with King's Temptress (47.7), just behind the overnight leader, Allison Springer's Arthur (42.3).? Allison correctly predicted yesterday she wouldn't remain in first place, but she guessed incorrectly that some of the big names would have scores in the 30s.
Tiana understandably couldn't stop smiling, though she knows? tomorrow's cross-country test could reshuffle the standings. We discussed what it's like to have engineered such a big upset.
Her performance had a shaky prelude. As the crowd applauded the preceding horse, Ringwood Magister "leaped in the air and started broncking" on the way to the ring. Then he went into a "hobby horse canter." By the time Tiana got into the arena, she wasn't sure what she'd be dealing with. But her mount settled down and when she got to the canter work, she "felt confident in showing off."
Frankly, the big names' scores (with the exception of Mary's) were disappointing. Clayton had an error of course with Be My Guest (50.2), whose lower lip flapped in rhythm to his trot.? Without the error, he would have tied for fifth. As it is, he's 10th. Mark and Grass Valley (51.8) are equal 17th, while William and inexperienced Neuf des Coeurs are even further down in 19th place, with a mark of 52.7.? Some might argue that their tests were better than the scores they got. But these guys can make up ground tomorrow, and they all have miles more experience than Tiana and her lovely gray.
Bettina Hoy of Germany, known for her amazing career with another special gray, Ringwood Cockatoo, was on hand to coach Michael Pollard, Buck Davidson and Joe Meyer of New Zealand. She came up to Tiana, gave her a hug and said, "Isn't it great to have a gray Ringwood?" While both horses came from the same Irish breeding farm and look something alike, they are not related. In case you were wondering.
The biggest threat to Tiana likely is Mary, since she has two shots, and her experience is second to none (she was third at Badminton last weekend on Imperial Cavalier.) Mary also has an edge, because she feels at home at the Kentucky Horse Park. We talked about that.
Whatever happens, the younger generation of U.S. riders definitely is making itself felt here. In addition to Allison and Tiana, Will Coleman is doing well, equal fifth on 48.2 penalties with Twizzel. And Sinead Halpin is eighth on Manoir de Carneville (48.7), 0.2 behind veteran Kim Severson with Tipperary Liadhnan and 0.3 ahead of the highly touted Boyd Martin (Remington XXV), who surely will recoup on cross-country.
When the dressage ended, the action switched to the Alltech Arena for the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup. All four members of the U.S. team that won gold there at last fall's World Equestrian Games took part, along with singer Lyle Lovett. Lyle had a pro ride his horse at the WEG, but today he was center stage with the glamorous Smart and Shiney, who showed off his below-the-neck white mane with every step. Lyle, who noted that his palomino had more hair than he does, was a good sport despite a run that wasn't his best. He wasn't shy about analyzing what happened.
Having reining tonight and tomorrow is a new deal for Rolex, obviously inspired by the WEG. The arena was only about a third-filled this evening, though, and some of those seats were giveaways. Rolex is, after all, four long days.
Last night, several hundred people gathered at the Horse Park to celebrate the life of Rebecca Broussard, who died in December. A staunch supporter of eventing, she started the widely hailed Event at Rebecca Farm in Montana.
A New Orleans-style jazz band led those attending from the sponsors' tent to the Head of the Lake, where a rainbow appeared. Everybody wrote messages to Becky, then put them in battery-powered paper lanterns atop light wooden blocks.? Eventer Hannah Sue Burnett, accompanied on the keyboard by Bobby Costello, sang "Amazing Grace."? As the lanterns were launched on the water, rain suddenly poured down, swirling them away, a message that seemed sent from heaven.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow's cross-country. Let's hope the footing has dried into a perfect surface for one of the world's greatest eventing tests.
I'll be back tomorrow night to tell you what happened.