April 29, 2017—There’s nothing like a Rolex Kentucky crowd. Through wind, rain, heat and cold, they support their favorite horses and riders, cheering for them when they do well and offering moral support when they don’t. It’s the Rolex Kentucky culture.
These faithful good sports turn out for the horse inspections, dressage and show jumping, but the biggest numbers are always on Saturday for cross-country.
There were 35,677 of them at the Kentucky Horse Park today, putting up with abrupt changes in the weather as they staked out their places along the course with chairs, blankets, snacks, dogs and umbrellas (yes, we did have some rain, but nothing like the downpours of the last two years). Cellphones at the ready, they recorded every move of the competitors at the jumps in their vicinity, another souvenir to add to those purchased in the shops selling Rolex clothing, hats and doo-dads.
Many just like the action and don’t really know the details of who has done what (with 28 jumps around the course, it’s tough to follow exactly where things stand.) But those who are into the game had a lot to take in today, with radical changes on the leaderboard, many of which spectators witnessed firsthand.
The only constant from the top five in dressage was, guess who? Yes, that’s right, German superstar Michael Jung, whose many titles have included world champion, European champion and Olympic gold, as well as the elusive Rolex Grand Slam for the rider who wins Rolex, Badminton and Burghley in the same cycle. And now he’s trying to win Rolex three times in a row.
Second yesterday in dressage, Michael moved up to first with the artful Fischerrocana FST when the overnight leader, the USA’s Clark Montgomery, had two refusals on Loughan Glen to sink to 34th, the biggest drop of any of the 42 riders from today’s starting field of 57 who finished the course. (There were 59 entries in dressage, but two withdrew before cross-country.)
Clark said Glen “never picked up” on the first fence he refused, a skinny chevron at the Land Rover Landing, and ran into it.
“That took the wind out of his sails, and I had to nurse him home,” said Clark, who also had a problem at the next-to-last obstacle, the Horse Park Barns.
But the trip around the Derek di Grazia-designed course was no walk in the horse park for Michael Jung, either. At the Head of the Lake, which Derek had said was the last obstacle before things got really hard, Michael found himself sailing over the Boathouse, three strides after the Cedar Lodge, holding onto the buckle of his reins with only one hand. It was quite a dive into the drink—especially since the next obstacle, a giant wooden rainbow trout, was a mere four strides after the Boathouse.
We talked about his ride and what happened there. Click on the right-pointing arrow to listen.
Michael wound up with 1.6 time penalties. The heat wasn’t at its worst during the competition (by 6 p.m. it was 86 degrees but felt like 90, according to the Weather Channel) though it got progressively warmer during the day. It affected a number of horses, not just Fischerrocana.
France’s Maxime Livio, however, was fault-free on his dressage score of 44.6 penalties with the durable and seemingly weatherproof Qalao des Mers after logging one of only five double-clears on Derek’s track. He had been eighth; now he’s second.
Right behind him was Zara Tindall of Great Britain, another former world and European champion, double-clear on High Kingdom to stand third on 46.6 penalties. So she’s less than eight penalties back of Michael, and less than four back of Maxime, with a knockdown in today’s show jumping costing four penalties. The race may be closer than you think in the test over Richard Jeffery’s course in the Rolex Arena, though Michael is notoriously accurate in show jumping.
If you can’t place her despite her titles, Zara’s maiden name was Phillips. She is the daughter of course designer and former U.S. coach Mark Phillips and his ex-wife, Britain’s Princess Anne.
Anyway, she made a big leap upward, going from sixteenth to second. She said she’d done a rain dance in her room yesterday, because the ground needed some softening and it worked. There was a steady rain the night before cross-country (as opposed to the rather brief rain during cross-country that I mentioned).
She had a fabulous trip around the park, coming in one second under the optimum time of 11 minutes, 17 seconds. Are you curious how she was so accurate about her time? Listen to what she had to say by clicking on the right-pointing arrow.
We’ve gone from an American leading the pack on Friday to folks from across the Atlantic dominating what could be the podium line-up tomorrow.
So who’s the leading U.S. rider? That’s Matt Brown on Super Socks BCF, up from nineteenth after dressage with a double clear today that puts him fourth with 47.8 penalties. Even if he doesn’t move up, as long as he’s the highest-placed American, he will be the national 4-star champion. C’mon, I know you understand Michael Jung can’t be our national 4-star champion!
They’re giving a new trophy this year for that title in memory of Roger Haller, a judge, course designer, technical delegate and all-around leader of the sport to which he devoted his life until he died last year at age 70. Actually, the 2017 trophy will be a stand-in for the permanent trophy, being designed by Kerry Millikin, who is still working on it. You don’t produce a work of art overnight. Not only is she a wonderful sculptor, but it’s also fitting that she is doing the honors because she won an individual bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where Roger designed the cross-country courses.
Matt is understandably quite excited about his standing. We talked about that and the very sensitive Super Socks. Click on the right-pointing arrow to listen to what Matt had to say on the video.
I told you about the biggest drop down in the standings, so I should also tell you who rose the most. That would be Holly Payne Caravella, going from fifty eighth in dressage to fifteenth after accumulating just 1.6 time penalties today to add to her dressage score of 66.4 on the thoroughbred and Burghley 4-star veteran, Never Outfoxed.
Her curb chain broke on the way to the Head of the Lake at 10ABC, and that impeded her progress.
“It kept me from going faster because I couldn’t let him out because I was afraid I couldn’t get him back…the last minute, I kind of cruised conservatively to make sure we’d get home. I didn’t want something stupid to happen. He’s an awesome horse to sit on, on Saturday; not so much on Friday,” she said, noting dressage isn’t Foxy’s strong suit.
I wanted to make a point about the importance of the cross-country. I know that as the dressage has gotten more prominent, and with the end of the long format that included roads and tracks and steeplechase, people worried cross-country wouldn’t have as big an influence as it used to. I cite the cases of Clark and Holly in saying that cross-country obviously is still what it’s all about, though of course you need proficiency in the other phases if you’re aspiring to be the next Michael Jung.
I’ll be sending my last Rolex postcard for this year tomorrow evening, so be sure to check back.