April 28, 2013 -- Game on!
Andrew Nicholson, the last rider to go in show jumping this afternoon at the Rolex Kentucky three-day event, kept it all together to win and qualify for the last leg of the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam at Badminton next weekend.
It was "phew" moment for the New Zealander, who rejoiced during a pre-presentation victory gallop as he flew around the ring on Quimbo once safely across the finish line.
After receiving his trophy and a Rolex watch, he did another three laps, some of which he performed while waving both hands to the sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 that packed the stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park.
William Fox-Pitt, who also is in line for the Grand Slam if he can win Badminton, was just as happy but less exuberant, though he smiled broadly as he swept past his fans on Seacookie, who was totally fault free over Richard Jeffery"s course. One four in the starting field of 29 could make that claim.
When the defending champion left the ring, however, he found he wasn"t able to straighten his left pinky. He had no idea how he broke it, but was already bandaged up when he arrived at the press conference. William didn"t think it would affect his riding, however.
Andrew logged 3 time penalties as he made his careful way around the fences, but that was a wise decision, since he had a comfortable cushion. His final score was 41 penalties, to 48.2 for William. Andrew"s other horse, Calico Joe, isn"t much of a show jumper. He also wasn"t much of a steeplechase horse, which is why he originally was purchased. But he"s won a good bit of money eventing, and even with 12 penalties today, he emerged in third place with 52.8 penalties.
Quimbo is a stunner, a Spanish horse bred to show jump who also is versatile enough to handle cross-country and dressage. This one is going to be a superstar. Andrew had some help from Spanish show jumper Luis Alvarez Cevera, who also has been the coach of the New Zealand show jumping team. But I wouldn"t think Andrew needs too much assistance. He is a beautiful rider who know how to let a horse do its best, using guidance rather than interference.
Now it"s time for Andrew and William to concentrate on Badminton, and if he had to guess which of them might earn the Grand Slam (which has been won only once in its 12-year history) a smiling William conjectured, "probably neither."
Not only will they have to cope with Badminton"s demanding cross-country course, but also Olympic, world and European champion Michael Jung of Germany. Yes, their work is cut out for them.
I asked Andrew what he"ll do when he gets home tomorrow as he prepares for Badminton.
Unfortunately for us, and by that I mean the U.S., this is the eighth time in 11 years that a foreign rider has won Rolex. Our event. New coach David O"Connor has a lot of work to do, but there were some bright spots on our horizon.
Buck Davidson, who had been third on Ballynoe Castle RM, dropped rails at the last two fences on course to wind up fourth with 53.2 penalties. He could take comfort from the fact that he was the spring U.S. Equestrian Federation champion, but noted, "I"m bummed to have two down," saying the effort "fell apart a little bit at the end."
Yet he noted if he had to lose, being right behind the world number one (Andrew) and William (who has won more big events than any other rider) is the place to be.
And I"m thinking maybe he--or anyone else--wouldn"t be here at all if it weren"t for his father, Bruce Davidson. It was Bruce"s victory in the 1974 world championships in England that granted the U.S. the right to hold the next world championships in 1978, which he also won. That was the start for the fledgling Kentucky Horse Park, giving it a boost that enabled it to become one of the world"s premiere equestrian destinations.
Notable American finishes included Lynn Symansky with Donner, who achieved a double-clear to come in fifth, and Will Faudree on Pawlow, right behind her in sixth place.
I was happy to see Australia"s Peter Atkins finish 10th on Henry Jota Hampton, coming up from 28th after dressage. Big move! You may know his horse as "Henny," as in "Run, Henny, Run" for their wonderful helmet cam videos. Peter and Henny have had a soap opera"s worth of problems, from an ownership squabble to Peter"s leg fracture. But they"re together now and going well. Next year"s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and perhaps the 2016 Olympics are in their sights.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Peter today. Why don"t you listen in?
I still haven"t gotten a consensus on the difficulty quotient of the cross-country course. I spoke this morning with Great Britain"s Yogi Breisner, the always astute chef d"equipe of the British eventing team, and he felt the course was hard enough.
So when I ran into course designer Derek di Grazia, I wondered what he thought about it after nearly a day to consider.
The best, best, best part about it was that no one (horse or human) suffered a serious injury and it made for a day of great sport without serious consequences.
The main focus at Rolex is, of course, the competition, but for some, a bigger enticement is the trade fair. It is huge, having spread over the years from an area near the stadium to an indoor arena and beyond. One of the big features at various booths is having eventing celebrities on hand to autograph and have their pictures taken with excited fans. When I was walking through the fair this afternoon, I saw a looooong line in front of the Purina booth. So I investigated; the occasion was the appearance of Boyd Martin. He deserves all the admiration he can get; he"s incredibly personable and makes everyone he talks to feel important when they come to see him.
I got a few minutes with Boyd (yes, I cut the line, I was in a rush to cover the show jumping). He told me he"s undergoing surgery tomorrow for an ankle problem, a fracture and ligament damage. I asked how it happened, he told me, "falling off horses."
I hope he"s back in time for Jersey Fresh in two weeks, though that may be wishful thinking. At any rate, I"ll be there, and sending you a postcard on the evening of May 12. Be sure to check back at Equisearch, and go to facebook.com/equisearch and facebook.com/practicalhorseman for more about Rolex.