Lexington, Ky., May 1, 2005 -- One of the things I really enjoy about this job is the opportunity to be in the presence of greatness, and that is the right word to use when describing the performance of Kim Severson and Winsome Adante today.
Only a fool would have doubted that as long as the world kept spinning, Kim was going to win the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event this afternoon. After all, she was the individual Olympic silver medalist and the No. 1 eventer in the world last year.
Although she had a 17-penalty lead over Phillip Dutton and The Foreman before trotting into the arena under the eyes of 10,000 fans at the Kentucky Horse Park, Kim still admitted to feeling some nerves.
"I certainly was not relaxed in the ring," she said. Yes, I suppose the earth could have opened and swallowed her up, but Dan had solid ground to tread, which meant he was going to clear all 16 of the obstacles laid out by Richard Jeffery. Kim was the only rider in the event to finish on her dressage score (an impressive 38.2 penalties) because Dan jumped clean--even though he didn't have to.
"He's a pretty amazing horse," she said of her bay partner. "He was just about perfect. It was Dan's weekend."
That's so typical of Kim. She gives the credit to her horse and is modest, even to a fault, at least for a journalist like me. I'd like her to bubble over so I could revel in a bevy of pithy quotes. But she weighs each word and, it often seems, each movement as she focuses on what she does best.
However, winning her second Rolex title in a row, and her third in four years, struck a joyous chord in Kim. Uncharacteristically, she raised her left arm in triumph as she crossed the finish line, galloped around the ring--then galloped around again.
"This is the first time I've done that," she admitted. "I've seen a lot of other people doing it, but I really felt it this time."
I was impressed at how much her show jumping has improved. Kim usually has a rail down on the final day. This time, though, she seemed destined to be flawless.
"She might be the silver medalist, but she was clearly golden today," said Great Britain's Leslie Law, the Olympic individual gold medalist.
Kim had no idea what she would do with the Rolex watch that goes with her $65,000 first prize, since it's the third that she's won.
"You might think about opening a store or something," suggested Walter Fisher, the president of Rolex Watch USA as he handed over another timepiece.
I wondered if Kim would be trying Rolex Kentucky yet again next year. I mean, been there, done that. But her priority in 2006 is making the team for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Germany, so she said for that reason she wouldn't be eager to put Dan on a plane three months before the WEG and send him to, say, Badminton. So she may work on winning yet another watch next year, much to the regret of Phillip, who good-naturedly wishes she would go elsewhere. But if she doesn't, he'll face as much of a challenge as he did this time.
It's for sure that she'll be just as sharp (if not sharper) in 2006 than she was this year. Kim is the type of athlete who's always trying to improve her skills and match them against other riders and tough courses.
"For me, competing is sort of a necessity," she explained, almost sheepishly. "It sort of makes my world go round."
This was the second time in a row that Phillip has been second to Kim and Dan here. Last year he did it with Nova Top, who was fourth today. The Foreman is much less experienced (it was Nova Top, not him, who went to the Olympics last year for Phillip.) Last year, The Foreman won Fair Hill, but that's only a 3-star. This was his first 4-star.
I asked Phillip how he felt about being the bridesmaid so often at Rolex, and he answered in his usual, down-to-earth way.
"It doesn't worry me that much," said the Pennsylvania-based Australian, who has earned two Olympic team gold medals for his homeland. "I've won a lot more things than I thought I would ever win. I would love to win it, don't get me wrong. I'd like to win it for some of the people I ride for. But that's (Kim and Dan) a great combination and to be second to them is nothing to be ashamed of."
The Foreman is developing into what Phillip believes is "as good a horse as I'll have. He's got plenty of scope in all phases. Dressage is always something we need to work on, but he's developing a really nice trot, and the canter is still not quite as balanced as needed for 4-star test. But in a year's time, I think it will be a lot better."
Phillip loves talking about The Foreman, who is not without his quirks. He lay down in the first awards ceremony of his career, and he appeared to be thinking about it again today as he stood beribboned in the line of winners. Phillip quickly, and wisely, hopped off to forestall any mishaps.
The quirks, however, are outweighed by the bay Thoroughbred's abilities.
"He's an incredible cross-country horse, or will be; very fast," said Phillip. "He's a very careful show jumper."
Surprisingly, he had 4 penalties at the liverpool, the fifth fence on course.
"That was my fault today with the rail down," said Phillip. "He got in a bit deep and weak and hesitated, and I nearly fell off."
I'm surprised that Phillip could ride at all. He was the only competitor with three horses in the event, and he traveled 35 miles on horseback yesterday by the time he had finished all his tours of the roads and tracks, steeplechase and the cross-country course.
After cross-country, Phillip was tied for third with himself. Both Nova Top and The Foreman had 51.2 penalties, while Hannigan stood fifth on 55.2. Leslie was second aboard Coup de Couer. But a knockdown and a time fault put Leslie third on 55.4 penalties and promoted Phillip and The Foreman, who had just 0.2 penalties less. Nova Top wound up fourth, and Hannigan remained fifth. The only American besides Kim in the top six was Jan Thompson on Task Force, who finished sixth. I've been told by no less an authority than U.S. eventing coach Mark Phillips that this combination is one to watch.
While Jan jumped clean, she did have 4 time penalties. There were only three other double-clears besides Kim's in the show jumping, where 23 horses participated from the field of 36 that started in dressage.
There's so much more I'd like to tell you about Rolex Kentucky. The atmosphere here is incredibly festive (even in the rain), and the people are very knowledgeable about what they're watching. This event draws folks like you who really love the sport and can appreciate the abilities of combinations like Kim and Dan, or Phillip and his equine entourage.
Why don't you make plans to book a trip here next year, so you can see Kim win again?
Visit Nancy Jaffer's postcard page to relive all of the action at some of the world's top equestrian events, including the 2005 Rolex dressage and cross-country segments.