April 30, 2017—Germany’sMichael Jung did it again—but he made it interesting.
The emperor of three-day eventing added yet another jewel to his crown this afternoon by becoming the only rider ever to win Rolex Kentucky three times in a row.
His victory on Fischerrocana FST was hardly unexpected. I certainly wouldn’t have bet against it. Coming into the final show jumping phase, he had a rail in hand over Maxime Livio of France and Qalao des Mers.
Maxime, who bested Michael in the show jumping last year to win the Pau, France, 4-star, was one of only four entries in a starting field of 39 able to jump double-clear over a clever course designed by Richard Jeffery, who has been doing the routes for the event’s final phase for years.
In 2016, Michael became just the second rider in history to win the Rolex Grand Slam, a trifecta of Kentucky and Britain’s 4-star Badminton and Burghley events in the same cycle. The new cycle started today, and will continue next week at Badminton, where he will ride La Bioesthetique Sam. That is the horse on which he competed during his first visit to Kentucky at the World Equestrian Games in 2010, where he won gold and served notice he was a force to be reckoned with in the sport.
He speaks English a lot better now than he did then. He’s had plenty of practice, because he’s been through plenty of interviews as a two-time Olympic individual gold medalist, European champion and winner, in total, of 10 4-stars.
So there was confidence that Michael would win again this afternoon, but nothing is certain with horses. The crowd of 24,159 let out a collective gasp when Roxie faltered at the oxer that was the middle element of the 12ABC triple combination, just before the final fence.
She gathered herself, not used to making mistakes, and deftly cleared the vertical that was the triple’s C element before flying over number 13 and the finish line.
"This is a very wonderful horse,” Michael said after he collected the lion’s share of the $400,000 in prize money, a Rolex watch, trophies and assorted prizes.
“Fischerrocana is absolutely a top horse, and she is always fighting for me,” he continued, believing that she was spooked at the 10AB combination, which led to the problems down the line. But not to worry when he and she understand each other so well.
He said she did not have enough power in the triple, and when the knockdown occurred, with two more jumps to go, “that makes me a bit nervous, but in the end, it works.”
About the mare, Michael said, “We have a partnership, I know everything that she needs for me to motivate her.” A lot of it is about the trust that he always emphasizes is essential between horse and rider.
Maxime, who would like to meet Michael in the arena once again (but we don’t know when that will be) wound up second, while Britain’s Zara Tindall finished third on High Kingdom.
As I’ve mentioned before, Zara’s first trip here two years ago was a non-starter when her horse came up lame in the dressage warm-up, but she was determined to come back and certainly showed what she and Trev, as she calls her horse, can do.
She was double clear, as was Will Faudree on Pfun and Phillip Dutton on Fernhill Fugitive.
Phillip, who had three horses in the top 10, was eighth with Fugitive and tenth with I’m Sew Ready. But it was on the vastly experienced Mr. Medicott, a former German team horse, that he took top honors for the U.S. contingent.
Only one time penalty for his round placed him fourth with 54.6 penalties in what will be the last 4-star for Cave, as Mr. Medicott is known. The blaze-faced chestnut was Karen O’Connor’s mount for the 2012 Olympics, where she was the highest-placed American.
After the horse came to Phillip, an injury kept him out of action for two years, and the rider noted that Cave perhaps wasn’t quite as fit as he needed to be for Rolex. But the placing was enough to give Phillip the Roger Haller Memorial Trophy as the Rolex/USEF 4-star National Champion. It was the fifth time taking the title for Phillip, the last American to win at Rolex in 2008, riding Connaught.
Matt Brown, who had been fourth after cross-country on Super Socks BCF (who finished yesterday’s course in his stocking feet after losing two front shoes) wound up sixth with four jumping and five time penalties for a total of 56.8 penalties. Hannah Sue Burnett on Under Suspection moved ahead of him to fifth on 54.8 penalties with one knockdown. Only the first three in the top 10 were foreigners; it’s nice to see seven American horses so high up on the leaderboard, because the U.S. hasn’t been deep in eventing talent recently.
Phillip has his mind on other things besides eventing these days. Last fall, his stepdaughter, Lee Lee Jones, suffered a head injury in a riding accident. She is in a rehabilitation facility now (where Phillip said she enjoyed watching the livestream of the event), but he has limited his travel over the winter and spring, and this was the first time that his wife, Evie, has not been by her daughter’s side.
All his horses wore Flair nasal strips printed with “Team Lee Lee,” the words that also are on hats worn by so many eventers, all of whom are part of a community effort to support the Duttons and Lee Lee.
I had a chance to talk to Phillip this afternoon about plans for Cave, and how it felt to be the top U.S. rider again. Watch the video by clicking on the right-pointing arrow.
Today was packed with activity, and it started early. The final horse inspection always goes at 8 a.m., after what often is a sleepless night for riders worrying about whether their horses will be fit to start in the morning.
It’s a tense time as the ground jury presides on the jogging strip while hundreds of spectators look on, cheering whenever they hear the word “pass” from the judges, which means the horse can go on to compete in the final phase. They empathize when horses are held for reinspection or worse, eliminated after all the months, weeks, days and hours of work it took to make it through the first two segments at Rolex.
The busiest rider at the inspection was Phillip, who not only had to jog his three mounts, but he also did the favor of taking Tight Lines for Will Coleman, who was limping badly after hurting a tendon in his left foot during his cross-country ride and would have been rejected by the judges had he been a horse.
Two horses, Lauren Kieffer’s ride Vermiculus, twenty-third after cross-country and Jolie Wentworth’s Good Knight, who was standing forty-second, were not even presented. Several horses were held, but only Doug Payne’s mount, Vandiver—who was standing seventh after cross-country--was not passed by the ground jury.
It was basically a replay of last year, when Doug’s sister, Holly Payne Caravella, was told by the ground jury that Never Outfoxed could not continue on to the show jumping. She and I talked about it, how it’s one of the most difficult moments in the sport. Listen to what she said by clicking on the right-pointing arrow.
Doug does a lot of show jumping with Van Diver, and if he had been able to go on to the final phase and finish without faults on his 53.8-penalty score after cross-country, he would have wound up fourth, edging out Phillip as the highest-placed American. Just letting you know why the horse inspection draws a crowd.
Later in the day, before the jumping, there was a retirement ceremony for Ballynoe Castle RM, the Irishbred equine stalwart better known as Reggie. I have been to many retirement ceremonies at Rolex, including Biko’s in 2001 and the goodbyes for Giltedge and Custom Made, among others.
They’re always sentimental occasions, but this one seemed more a celebration than a time for tears. Reggie, the U.S. Eventing Association’s top point-earner of all time, enjoyed himself by snacking on a bunch of carrots as so many of the people in his life came out to give him a sendoff before he enjoyed a final gallop around the arena with his rider, Buck Davidson. Buck and I discussed the occasion, and he had some interesting insights. To see the video, click on the right-pointing arrow.
Be sure to see more photos from Rolex at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman. For results and information on the event, go to rk3de.org. And you can see my three previous stories about the competition here, here and here.
My next assignment in mid-May is another eventing competition, the Jersey Fresh International 3-star, a regular stop for Phillip, Boyd Martin and usually, some of the horses that didn’t finish Rolex. Be sure to check back on May 14 for my postcard. That’s Mother’s Day, so why don’t you treat mom to a weekend at a three-day? Find information at jfi3d.com.
And to get her warmed up, be sure to sit down with her to watch Rolex Kentucky on NBC next Sunday, May 7, from 1:30-3 p.m.