Cross-country day at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event started out badly for the British, when William Fox-Pitt and Coup de Couer took a terrible tumble in the Head of the Lake after the black gelding lost both front shoes, slid and hung a leg at the log at the entrance to the water in their first four-star together.

After their tumble in the lake, both horse and rider were up and walked away under their own steam. Coup de Couer, third last year at Rolex with Leslie Law, had some scrapes as a result of the accident, but suffered no serious injury.

Things continued to deteriorate, with Law barely staying in Shear L’Eau’s saddle after he stopped dead at the coffin that was the middle element of a three-part obstacle called “Uncle Frani’s Birch”. Though they eventually got over the ditch through forceful riding from the Olympic gold medalist, Law retired five fences later.

After that, Fox-Pitt wisely retired Mr. Dumbeldore a little more than halfway-through the course, when the bay gelding wasn’t going as well as he should have.

And then along came Polly. Riding Tom Quigley with efficiency and the right touch of brilliance, Polly Stockton (pictured below) saved the day for Britain with a double-clear round, one of 11 logged on Michael Etherington-Smith’s courses.

Tom Quigley tends to like the routes plotted by Mike Etherington-Smith, which is one reason he made the trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. He showed he could handle a course with a classic look — big fences, but not overly technical.

Cross-country completely scrambled the standings and showed that it can still be a major influence, perhaps providing some comfort to those who fear short-format eventing puts too much emphasis on dressage and show jumping. In fact, the first three in the dressage phase did not finish the course.

Overnight leader Darren Chiacchia had a refusal at the birch jump and then encountered trouble at the Head of the Lake, finally crossing his own line as he tried to jump the wooden ducks that were the middle element of that complex. Another refusal later in the course prompted him to retire.

Three-time Rolex winner Kim Severson, Chichaccia’s 2004 Olympic bronze medal teammate, fell off Royal Venture at the Head of the Lake and retired. She had been in second place following dressage. Third in that segment, Mara Dean, had a fall at the ninth of 30 fences with Nicki Henley and was eliminated.

Going into Sunday’s show jumping, Stockton is second on 48.2pen to leader Becky Holder of the U.S., who has 43.7 aboard Courageous Comet. Northern Spy, another American thoroughbred, is third with Heidi White (49.4).

The only other British rider left in the fray is U.S.-based Emma Winter, who had no jumping faults and 6.4 time faults to stand 19th on Mahogany Chief.

British eventing performance manager Yogi Breisner tried to look on the bright side of a rough outing.

“We had a reasonable day in that Polly is lying second, so we musn’t take away from that,” he said. “I thought the course was very well-built, difficult but very fair. Because it’s a proper four-star course, there was a lot of intensity in the jumping, and that is when mistakes happen.”

Photo copyright Nancy Jaffer