A high-class field will trot-up at the start of the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event at Lexington, USA, today, many of them on a fact-finding mission before next year’s FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games there.

The course-designer, Mike Etherington-Smith, has indicated that they may not find too many clues in his cross-country course, which has a reverse of direction and changes to the water, but will be radically changed before 2010.

However, first-timers will certainly get a feel for Kentucky’s rolling acres deep in the heart of the Blue Grass county at the epicentre of Thoroughbred breeding and, with 53 horses from nine nations entered, this is arguably the most competitive Kentucky yet.

Combinations with four-star wins under their belts already include last year’s victors, Phillip Dutton and Connaught, plus Badminton (2007) and Burghley (2006) winners Lucinda Fredericks and Headley Britannia, Pau winners Bettina Hoy and the 18-year-old Ringwood Cockatoo, plus last year’s Badminton champions Nicolas Touzaint and Hildago de l’Ile.

Kentucky is the first event in the valuable HSBC FEI Classics, and last year’s top scorer William Fox-Pitt, a perennial visitor here, rides two four-star debutants, Sea Cookie and Navigator, sixth and 10th at Boekelo last year.

If William wins — which is never out of the question — it will spawn another round of Rolex Grand Slam fever, as he has two good rides at Badminton in a fortnight’s time.

Fellow Brits Sharon Hunt (Tankers Town), Oli Townend (Carousel Quest), Nic Wilson (Opposition Buzz) and Lucy Wiegersma (Woodfalls Inigo Jones) make their Kentucky debuts, while last year’s top four come back for another crack: Phillip, his Olympic team mate Becky Holder (Courageous Comet), Missy Ransehausen (Critical Decision) and Stephen Bradley (Brandenburg’s Joshua).

Huge interest is sure to centre around former dual world champion Bruce Davidson, 59, who is the most successful Kentucky rider in history, and his son Buck, with two horses apiece, plus the Netherlands’ Tim Lips, Argentine rider Jose Ortelli Jnr and US-based Ecuadorean Ronald Zabala-Goetschel.

Full results on www.rk3de.org

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