By Nancy Jaffer
German eventing superstar Michael Jung simply widened his lead at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* yesterday as he and FischerRocana FST handled both a difficult cross-country course set by Derek di Grazia and awful weather that hit the Kentucky Horse Park.
Rain that let up for only a few brief moments drenched the ground, which deteriorated as the day went on. Michael was lucky to start 90 minutes into the competition, before the footing really presented a problem. Even so, he was two seconds off the optimum time of 11 minutes, 15 seconds, which none of the 56 who completed the route could attain.
The course had undergone a major re-do from Derek, who will be designing the 2020 Olympic and 2018 World Equestrian Games courses, and was quite technical and tiring toward the end, an effect that was multiplied by the change in the ground.
Praising his mount, Michael said, “I am absolutely very happy about my mare… she was absolutely fighting and really concentrating and always trusts me. That gives you as a rider a very, very good feeling. She was galloping in the end — when I push her a little bit, she galloped as hard as she can and she tried all the best.”
Meanwhile, his chief rivals after dressage went by the wayside as the leaderboard was almost completely jumbled. Although only two people in the top 40 logged jumping penalties, both for activating frangible pins, time-penalties were legion.
Allison Springer, second after dressage with Arthur, went last on cross-country, where her horse ducked out near the end of the course to drop her to 44th place. Pan American Games double gold medalist Marilyn Little, who had been third, fell from her Rio Olympic prospect RF Demeter and was eliminated.
Elizabeth Halliday-Sharp, who spends part of the year in Britain, declined to run Fernhill By Night because he had stitches for a minor injury prior to coming to Rolex. She had been fourth in dressage.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Tim Price, second last year on Wesko, was tied for 20th with Bango until he had a fall at the penultimate fence and was eliminated.
Going into today’s stadium jumping, Michael has 35.2 penalties, with 0.8 added to his dressage score. This translates to three rails in hand over second-place Phillip Dutton, the last American to win Rolex, having taken the trophy in 2008 with Connaught. Phillip is not only second on Fernhill Fugitive (47.5), he also stands third with Mighty Nice (49.9).
Sir Mark Todd, who had been tied for sixth with NZB Campino, rode near the end of the day and came home with 13.2 time-penalties to put him 12th.
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California-based British rider James Alliston made a giant leap from 64th to 21st after his long-time ride, Parker, accumulated only 3.6 time-penalties.
Although she is in 54th place, Panda Christie — the only British rider who came over from England to ride in the competition — deserved congratulations for finishing the course on Little Leo when eight prominent contenders did not.
The 40-year-old mother-of-three collected 31 jumping penalties for activating a frangible pin at one fence and crossing her tracks at another, but still managed to handle the difficult route under tough conditions.