Lexington, Ky., October 2, 2010 -- Remember what I told you yesterday? That eventing is "not a dressage competition?" Well, that was proven mostly true during a very influential Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) cross-country day.
William Fox-Pitt was wondering how he went from 12th after dressage to second following today's action. Here's the answer: Michael Etherington-Smith's course. It asked questions, and questions and questions.
"There were demanding jumps all over the course, so every jump you really had to concentrate. Every jump asked for a very big effort from the horse, from the first jump until the end," said Michael Jung of Germany, who nonetheless made short work of it on his intrepid mount, the Baden-Wurtenburg gelding, La Biosthetique-Sam.
(Before I continue my narrative, let me explain this horse's name, since I know you're going to ask. La Biosthetique is a cosmetic company that sponsors the horse.)
Anyway, the reason the saying is only mostly true is because Michael was the winner in dressage. Then he goes out and aces the course to keep his lead, while the standings were changing all around him.
Most particularly, the team rankings were reshuffled with the speed of three-card Monte. I was a little dispirited by the USA's seventh-place finish in dressage on Friday, but the squad's performance today put a whole new light on things.
Former Australians Boyd Martin (Neville Bardos) and Phillip Dutton, the anchorman who rode Woodburn, both turned in double-clear rounds--no jumping faults, no time faults. I watched Phillip closely and knew his determination was fueled in great part by an unsatisfactory dressage test. He was determined to go out there and do what he does best with a powerful ride on a horse who could give him what he asked for. He went from 32nd to 14th, while Boyd improved from 36th to 15th.
Karen O'Connor, who also was disappointed with her dressage, had a great ride on Mandiba, with only 0.8 time penalties, moving her up from 18th to ninth. So you see William wasn't the only one who improved his lot in life with a sterling cross-country performance.
The U.S. stands second going into Sunday's show jumping, with 143.4 penalties to Great Britain's 139.4 penalties. Germany, first yesterday, has dropped to fifth with (ouch) 192.7 penalties. And Canada, which has the USA's David O'Connor at the helm of its progress, is third with 147.50.
The most disappointing performance on the U.S. team surprisingly belonged to Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. They had a refusal at the difficult Red River Gorge, where four other entries also came to grief. After that, Buck was able to get around, but a bevy of time penalties added to his jumping penalties dropped him from 29th to 45th. I know he's doing a big rethink now.
It was especially disappointing for him because his father, Bruce, won the 1978 World Championships here, and he wanted to continue the legacy. Interestingly, Sam Watson, whose father, John, was second to Bruce in the 1978 Championships, is on the Irish team. He is 21st with Horseware Bushman.
Moving to the individual front, Becky Holder is third, just 0.5 penalties behind William F-P, who is 9 penalties behind Michael. Becky had a great cross-country round with Courageous Comet, her ex-racehorse who had only 3.2 time penalties added to his dressage score.
Show jumping has often been her downfall, but she told me she feels confident after intensive schooling by Katie Prudent. Katie is everywhere here: Honestly, if there's a golf cart going by, she's in it. If there's a group of people chatting in the stadium, she's one of them. I've known Katie for decades, and she's a very strong, definite individual to whom it is hard to say no. I think she can will her students to do well, so I have high hopes for the U.S.
There were 19 retirements or eliminations today, and they were scattered all over the course. That was a 76 percent completion rate, and there were 39 clear rounds, 12 of which were within the 11-minute, 14-second optimum time. There were 10 falls, but fortunately, only one bad accident. Juan Carlos Garcia of Italy and his horse, Iman du Golfe, took a tumble at the 20th fence, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, an affair involving a log cabin (all the fences were named for historic or natural sites in Kentucky.) The horse is being treated at the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital down the road for a deep laceration and a small bone chip in the area of his left elbow. Veterinarians believe the horse will make a full recovery.
Also, Ireland's Fernhill Clover Mist, ridden by Patricia Ryan, injured his left hock while he was galloping on course. He was transported to the on-site veterinary clinic and returned to his own stall to recover.
Many of the riders were wise enough to take the long way at fences that were too difficult for their horses. Others had a refusal going the short way, and then went the long way. Eventers have gotten smarter in recent years with an increased awareness of safety and equine welfare. Good on them, as the Australians would say.
I have been coming to the Rolex Kentucky event here for decades (yes, I've been around a long time) and while it always draws a big crowd, it's never had anything like what we experienced today. There were 50,818 spectators crowded around the fences, eight or nine deep in some instances. The festive mood heightened the excitement and fun, showing once again why a WEG is a special experience for anyone who loves horses, no matter what their persuasion. I guarantee that everyone here today was not necessarily an eventing fan, but they all were horse fans.
I'm beat. I got two hours sleep last night after writing my article following the end of the evening dressage program. Then I had to get up early for cross-country. I've got to get some sleep now so I can be fresh to tell you all about tomorrow's show jumping. Can't wait to see the course--designer Richard Jeffery told me he had special fences made for it.
Visit EquiSearch.com's World Equestrian Games headquarters for news, blogs, photo galleries and more!