Lexington, Ky., April 28, 2007 -- I was in such a great mood this morning. After one day of rain and another of cold, today dawned sunny and sparkling, just the right temperature for the comfort of both the horses going cross-country at Rolex Kentucky and the 46,922 people watching them here.
The morning was relatively uneventful. Two horses made the 11-minute, 26-second optimum time on Mike Etherington-Smith's beautiful course before the lunch break. While there were the usual tumbles and travails, we didn't see any serious problems.
With a wonderful start like that, none of us anticipated what would happen this afternoon. We all eagerly awaited the cross-country trip of Amy Tryon, the leader after dressage on Le Samurai. "Sparky," as he is called, has a reputation as a pistol, and watching him go through the Head of the Lake, where I was stationed, buoyed my opinion that this horse was doing it easily.
Then we heard rumblings that all was not well at the finish line, where Sparky had turned up lame after running into trouble approaching the final fence.
He was taken immediately to the veterinary clinic across the street from the Kentucky Horse Park. The grim dispatch was that he had serious ligament damage to his left front fetlock, having lost the support there. He's resting comfortably, but we won't be getting any more information for awhile, I suspect, as a team of experts goes over him.
But it's a shame for Amy, who needs a successor to her aging Poggio, the horse on which she won the individual bronze at last year's World Equestrian Games. And it put a damper on a day that suddenly seemed to take a wrong turn.
The standings got a right-good shaking up as the hours went on, with Kristin Bachman's Gryffindor rising to the top of the heap from sixth place in dressage with one of only eight double-clears. Her total is 48.2 penalties.
Heidi White Carty and her longtime mount, Northern Spy, moved from 10th in dressage to second courtsey of a double-clear that leaves then on 52 penalties.
Tangleman, who had been second in dressage for Polly Stockton of Great Britain, a Rolex regular, plummeted to 17th place with a refusal at fence 25, the problematic Normandy bank, which claimed two other victims. Bruce Davidson retired on Jam after a stop and fall at the Sheep Shelter halfway through the course, and last year's leader after cross-country, Becky Holder, retired with the lovely Courageous Comet after an uncharacteristic refusal at the Sycamore Corners, the fifth of 34 fences.
With optimum conditions -- perfect weather, perfect footing -- I somehow didn't expect so many upsets. So I asked Clayton Fredericks what he thought.
Clayton Fredericks of Australia
(Click "Play" to listen)
Clayton, the WEG individual silver medalist, is standing third, just as he was after dressage. But, as he conceded, had he not taken so many little tugs on his mount, Ben Along Time, he probably would have been double-clear and finished on his dressage score of 47.4.
Still, he felt, better safe than sorry as he tries to qualify for next year's Olympics, and I know where he's coming from. As inviting as the course looked, the pitfalls were everywhere, to the dismay of so many.
It will be interesting to see if there are any more surprises in today's jumping. I talked to Heidi about her prospects.
Heidi White Carty talks about her prospects
(Click "Play" to listen)
I'm happy to report that the 18-year-old Antigua, a solid campaigner, is fourth after a terrific double clear. With 53.3 penalties, he'll need to be fault-free and have those ahead of him make mistakes to move up this afternoon, but I hope he has a great finish for owner/rider Will Faudree. That would be a fabulous flourish for a career that is drawing to a close.
Gosh, there's so much more I could say about today, but I'm running out of space and time on this postcard. Still, I wanted to mention how much fun it is to speak with foreign riders who are here for the first time, such as Karin Donckers of Belgium. Standing fifth with the graceful Gazelle de la Brasserie (55.6 penalties), was enthusiastic about Rolex Kentucky. Listen to what she had to say.
Karin Donckers discusses her Rolex experience
(Click "Play" to listen)
The sensation of the day was the "bionic pony", Theodore O'Connor, the 14.2 hh whirlwind who was first of the day to compete under the guidance of Karen O'Connor (no relation). Both Karen and the crowd were thrilled with the way the little chestnut handled the fences, never taking a misstep. He may be small in stature, but he's a big time star for sure!
Seeking to sum up the day, I consulted Roger Haller, a longtime friend and the designer of the 1978 world championships course here. Roger, who has been chairman of our national federation's eventing committee, is a real student of the sport, and I was interested in his insights.
"We're beginning to see the next generation of horsemen come through in eventing," he said, citing Kristin Bachman, Sara Mittleider (a Young Rider standing 10th on El Primero) getting her second double-clear in a row here for the second year and the nice performance of Jonathan Holling (12th on Direct Merger).
"It's a comforting feeling and it appears our sport is in good hands and has a bright future," said Roger.
Then he added, "We saw a fine standard of cross-country riding. If you compare it to five years ago, the overall level has risen a great deal and the quality of the horses is good. In 2002, you would not have seen the same smoothness of the performances, the attacking nature of the riding and the forwardness of the horses. Even the falls were not bad falls."
So that put things in a bit better perspective for me, though I'm still saddened by Le Samurai's problem.
Still, it's thrilling to be at Rolex, this country's only 4-star event--in fact, the lone 4-star in this hemisphere. And I'm not the only one. It really draws the crowds. Attendance thus far is 76,757, up 18 percent over 2006, and you can expect tomorrow's crowd to top the 25,900 who dropped by last year.
If you can't be here, I'll tell you all about it, so come back to EquiSearch.com for my final postcard.
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