The defending Rolex Kentucky Horse Trials champion has got his competition off to an excellent start with a dressage score that puts him nearly five marks ahead of his nearest rival

William Fox-Pitt is going for his third victory in the western hemisphere’s only four-star three-day event after taking a decisive lead after the dressage phase on Chilli Morning.

He’s got great presence,” said William of the flashy chestnut stallion, and “captures the ground jury’s attention”. William also captured the attention of young fans, who swarmed around him looking for autographs as soon as he dismounted.

William’s score of 33.3pen is nearly five marks ahead of 2012 world number one, Andrew Nicholson, who scored 38pen on Quimbo. The eye-catching black gelding moved ahead of the New Zealander’s overnight leader, Calico Joe, now in third place on 40.8pen.

Andrew’s effort to better William’s score fell short when he looked at the scoreboard, saw what he had to do and pushed for the maximum, resulting in a problem in the final flying change as Quimbo broke to trot for a step.

I mucked up my last change at the end which was totally my fault as I was trying to press for more marks,” explained Andrew. “He fixed himself and finished off the test smoothly – I couldn’t wish him to be any better to be honest.”

Thumbs up from William after completing his Rolex Kentucky Horse Trials dressage test on Chilli Morning. Photo by Nancy JafferThe dressage results at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington set the stage for what could be an epic battle at Badminton if Andrew wins Rolex. That would make both him and William eligible to clinch the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing as they go on to Badminton.

It’s an unusual situation caused by the rain-forced cancellation of Badminton last year, where William was poised to try for the prize. Since Andrew won Burghley last year, he is also a contender under the rules for the prize, which has only been won once since its 2001 launch, by Pippa Funnell in 2003.

Standing fourth is American Allie Knowles, 26, a virtual unknown taking part in her first Rolex. She was scored at 43.3 penalties on Last Call, a 13-year-old Mecklenberg mare she has owned for seven years. No American competitor has won Rolex since 2008. Right behind Allie on 43.7 is Mary King with Fernhill Urco, her runner-up when she won with King’s Temptress in 2011. She stands equal fifth with Marilyn Little on RF Demeter.

William, who rode Parklane Hawk to victory in Kentucky last year and did the same with Cool Mountain in 2010, is familiar with the challenges of Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course over terrain that can be quite demanding.

He noted it is not the sort of route for calculated planning of striding.

“You have to feel what you’ve got and react accordingly,” William advised.

I hope it will suit Chilli Morning very well. He’s a bold horse and he’s given me very good rides around Bramham and Pau.”

William will have a chance to suss out the course with his other mount, Seacookie TSF, who goes first and stands in 10th place on 46.2pen.

Rolex Kentucky Horse Trials results after dressage

  1. William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning (GBR) 33.3
  2. Andrew Nicholson/Quimbo (NZL) 38.0
  3. Andrew Nicholson/Calico Joe (NZL) 40.8
  4. Alexandra Knowles/Last Call (USA) 43.3
  5. Mary King/Fernhill Urco (GBR) 43.7
  6. Marilyn Little/RF Demeter (USA) 43.7
  7. Becky Holder/Can’t Fire Me (USA) 44.2
  8. Buck Davidson/Ballynoe Castle RM (USA) 45.2
  9. Shandiss McDonald/Rockfield Grant Juan (USA) 45.7
  10. William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie TSF (GBR) 46.2