The stage is being set for a super showdown in the finale of the Rolex Grand Slam at Badminton Horse Trials, as Andrew Nicholson moved up to first and second place at the Rolex Kentucky three-day event after cross-country,

Andrew was double clear on both Quimbo, who had been second after dressage on 38pen, and Calico Joe, third after dressage with 40.8pen.

William Fox-Pitt’s lead evaporated early during his tour of Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course at the Kentucky Horse Park, when Chilli Morning had a stop at the seventh obstacle, the HSBC Water Park. At that point, William turned around and headed to the stables, figuring there was no reason to finish the course.

He speculated the chestnut stallion might have over-jumped the previous fence and then shut down at the rails before the water.

“Whatever the reason, there was no point in carrying on — he’s 13 years old, and he’s not here for the experience. We’ll try again another day,” said William.

William Fox-Pitt and Seacookie at Rolex Kentucky three-day event

But all was not lost for him. William moved up from 10th to fourth on Seacookie (pictured above), the pathfinder for the cross-country, who added nothing to his 46.2pen dressage score, putting in one of 10 double-clear trips logged during the day. He also was spot-on the optimum time of 11min, 21sec.

Buck Davidson, son of multiple Rolex winner Bruce Davidson, was the highest-placed American in third, also double clear and moving up from eighth with 45.2pen on Ballynoe Castle RM, just one penalty ahead of Seacookie.

If Andrew wins Kentucky, he and William will both be riding head-to-head for the Rolex Grand Slam at Badminton next week — if they can better Michael Jung of course. A Rolex Kentucky victory for Andrew is not yet a sure thing. In a video interview (below) he admitted Calico Joe is not at his best on the final day, although he is more positive about Quimbo. Andrew does not quite have two rails in hand over Buck.

Mary King, who had been equal fifth after dressage, rode a tiring Fernhill Urco into the signature Head of the Lake water complex, fences 19 and 20 ABCD. After he jumped out of the water, he stopped at the brush corner that followed it. Mary brought him around and cleared it, but bowed out after taking five more fences.

He didn’t really feel himself early on on the course,” said Mary, noting he was lacking energy, but didn’t think it was a real problem.  “He seems very well and hopefully we’ll go on and have a good autumn in England.”

California-based British rider James Alliston stands ninth on Tivoli with 7.6 time pen cross-country added to his dressage score of 49.5.

Only 30 from the original starting field of 45 finished cross-country. There were four falls, none of which appeared serious with horses and riders walking away.

Rolex Kentucky three-day event results after cross-country

  1. Andrew Nicholson/Quimbo (NZL) 37.7 + 0 = 37.7
  2. Andrew Nicholson/Calico Joe (NZL) 40.8 + 0 = 40.8
  3. Buck Davidson/Ballynoe Castle RM (USA) 45.2 + 0 = 45.2
  4. William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie TSF (GBR) 46.2 + 0 = 46.2
  5. Will Faudree/Pawlow (USA) 47.2 + 6.3 = 53.6
  6. Lynn Symansky/Donner (USA) 54.8 + 0 = 54.8
  7. Jonelle Richards/The Deputy (NZL) 52.7 + 2.4 = 55.1
  8. Buck Davidson/Mar de Amor (USA) 55.2 + 0 = 55.2
  9. James Alliston/Tivolo (GBR) 49.5 + 7.6 = 57.1
  10. Kristi Nunnink/R-Star (USA) 55.3 + 4.4 = 59.7

Find out if Andrew does manage to claim his first Rolex Kentucky title on Horseandhound.co.uk later and don’t miss the full report, complete with in-depth analysis of where the competition was won and lost in Thursday’s magazine