April 26, 2013 -- Allie Knowles was the highest-placed American after the second day of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, finishing fourth on Last Call.
Wait a minute--Allie who? C'mon, confess: Did you ever hear of her?
Well now you have, and in a big way. She put in an astounding test for a Rolex first-timer with her charming 13-year-old Mecklenberg mare, who she has owned for seven years. Okay, her mark of 43.3 put her 10 penalty points behind the leader, William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain on Chilli Morning, but I was impressed.
Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand, 2012's number one-ranked eventer, was second on Quimbo (38) displacing himself into third on yesterday's leader, Calico Joe (40.8).
At the post-competition press conference, media chief Marty Bauman made a point of seating Allie between Andrew and William, the defending Rolex champ. My first thought was that he wanted to keep the men apart; Andrew got involved years ago with William's wife, Wiggy, with whom he now has two children. But that apparently is pretty much history. William is married to racing presenter Alice Plunkett, and the couple has three children.
It turns out, though, that Marty just wanted Allie to be able to say she was sitting between two of the greatest eventers, the world number one and a former number one. Of course, she was loving it. Who wouldn't want such handsome bookends?
So would you like to meet the 26-year-old, who trains with Buck Davidson and runs a farm in Paris (not France), about a half-hour from the Kentucky Horse Park?
Listen to our conversation from this afternoon.
Rolex is always exciting enough in a normal year, but a face-off between William and Andrew takes on extra importance because both are shooting for the $350,000 Rolex grand slam. And now you know the back story too, which has to heighten the tension.
Because Badminton was canceled last year due to rain, William can win the award if he takes Badminton 2013. And Andrew, who won Burghley last September, has a shot if he wins here and then goes on to try for victory at Badminton. It is, to say the least, an unusual situation.
And this seems like the right place to insert the big news today, word that show jumpers are getting their own Rolex Grand Slam. This one is for a prize of $1 million Euros. It involves three shows: Spruce Meadows in Canada; Geneva, Switzerland and Aachen. I've heard, however, that it might expand to include five shows, maybe one of which could be in the U.S. Rolex has been generous to the sport, and they have shown time and again they're always open to further innovation.
So, back to dressage. Chilli Morning is a chestnut stallion whose red coat and white stockings make him a real "look at me" standout even before you begin to assess his talent.
"He's got a great presence, and therefore, when you're riding him, you feel you're capturing the ground jury's attention," said William, who also praised his temperament.
"He's a very well-schooled horse and holds himself well. He's very uphill and very light; he paints a good picture throughout the test."
Quimbo, a black gelding who is another eye-catcher, was very much engaged, both with his rider and in his frame.
"I think he pretty much gave 100 percent," concluded Andrew.
"I mucked up my last (flying) change at the end, which is my fault, I was trying to press for more marks," he said, noting he was looking at the large scoreboard looming over the arena as he rode.
"I was going to have to squeeze the maximum out of him to catch William and I got carried away by the end of it," admitted Andrew, who rode next-to-last.
Allie, too, had trouble with her final change, which made her mare a bit tense. She handled it though, and strikes me as someone who is a cool customer.
Mary King, the Rolex winner two years ago, was aboard Fernhill Urco, the runner-up to her Kings Temptress in 2011. She is equal fifth with 43.7 penalties. As always, she gave her fans a big wave and a huge smile as she left the ring. She's one of the sport's great personalities. Tied with her is Marilyn Little on the extremely fit-looking RF Demeter. Marilyn had a separated shoulder, but do you think that would stop her from riding? Never.
Jennie Brannigan's ride Cambalda, who got scraped up yesterday after falling when he ran off while he was being longed, got a day's reprieve and permission to start today. But the horse wasn't right and Jennie bowed out. She has such big setbacks; Jennie lost her good horse a few years ago, and in 2012, she was hobbling around on crutches after hurting her knee. Let's hope her luck changes from now on. But it just goes to show that getting to the Kentucky Horse Park for Rolex doesn't mean you're home free.
Jimmy Wofford was recalling how a number of years ago, Jil Walton's horse stepped on a rock between the warm-up and dressage ring, and that was it for her shot at the event that year.
Rolex competitors always have lots of supporters. It's great to see the number of folks who crowd in at the "kiss and cry" stand beside the ring to watch "their" participant. These are not always relatives, trainers and grooms. Sometimes the connection between those who come to Rolex to root involves the horse.
I spoke with Dr. Tom Meagher, a veterinarian from Ireland, who owns the stallion Ricardo Z. He is the sire of Ballylaffin Bracken, the ride of Kristin Schmolze, who stands equal 17th on 53.7 penalties. It is the first Rolex both for the gelding, known as Rox, and Dr. Tom. We chatted about his involvement with Rox and his thoughts about Rolex on his first visit here.
Tomorrow is the day we've been waiting for, when we see 45 horses tested against Derek di Grazia's big cross-country course. Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to have some rain, which complicates an already challenging situation.