Andrew Nicholson put in a composed performance with Quimbo, the leader after cross-country, to win the Rolex Kentucky three-day event today. Their careful showjumping round set the stage for a battle of titans at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials next week as the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing comes to a thrilling climax.

The victory at the Kentucky Horse Park qualified Andrew for the last round of the $350,000 prize, which has only been won once since its inception in 2001. He took the first of the Grand Slam’s three legs at Burghley last year.

William Fox-Pitt, second on Seacookie with a fault-free performance in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,989, qualified last year for the Grand Slam’s last chapter.

The situation is unique because Badminton was rained off last year, so William’s wins at Burghley in 2011 and Kentucky in 2012 have been carried over to offer him a chance at the bonus this year.

Both men will not only have to face the formidable challenge that is Badminton, but also Germany’s Michael Jung — considered by some as the best rider in  the world in any discipline — before they can realise their dream.

William said: “It would have been nice if Chilli [Morning] had done his stuff yesterday [on cross-country, where he was retired] … but I’ve got to win next week anyway. It doesn’t matter what happened here; it’s all about next week.”

Asked for his thoughts after he cleared the final show jumping obstacle, which appropriately was the Grand Slam vertical, Andrew said: “You realise it’s a lot more important than the normal four-star.

Quimbo is a very smart horse, very clever, and an unbelievable showjumper. That’s what he’s bred to do. To go round and jump the last fence and you’ve gone clear is a little what you expect to do if you ride him properly.”

Andrew finished with 41pen after adding three showjumping time penalties to his dressage score of 38, which had him in second place behind William and Chilli in the first phase. William was double-clear in the showjumping on Seacookie (pictured below), adding nothing to his dressage score of 46.2pen.

William Fox-Pitt riding Seacookie at Rolex Kentucky three-day event. Photo by Nancy Jaffer

Seacookie went from 10th to fourth after cross-country, but rose over Andrew’s other mount, Calico Joe, when that notoriously bad showjumper had three fences down. Calico Joe dropped from second after cross-country to third on 52.8pen.

The highest-placed American was Buck Davidson (son of two-time world champion Bruce Davidson), who had the last two rails down with Ballynoe Castle RM on Richard Jeffery’s course to finish fourth on 53.2pen.

California-based British rider James Alliston was 14th on Parker and 23nd on Jumbo’s Jake, while his other mount, Tivoli, was the only horse eliminated at the second horse inspection this morning.

A total of 29 started in show jumping, left from the original field of 45.

Don’t miss Horse & Hound’s full report, complete with in-depth analysis of where the competition was won and lost, in Thursday’s magazine (2 May).

Photos by Nancy Jaffer