Rolex Kentucky CCI**** – day two

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New Zealander Andrew Nicholson has thrown down the gauntlet in the elusive FEI Grand Slam Challenge to win three consecutive four-star three-day events by taking the lead after the second day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky four-star three-day event at Lexington, USA.

As the winner of Burghley lastautumn, Andrew’s commanding performance at Kentucky on his second ride, Mallards Treat, puts him in a strong position to challenge for the $250,000 grand slam bonus. Their performance was lively, correct and boldly ridden, described by one observer as “the best you could expect from a fit event horse”.

As with his first ride Lord Killinghurst, currently lying equal seventh, it was a first public appearance for Andrew with Ray and Maureen Carroll’s Mallards Treat, who was formerly ridden byFrenchman Franck Bourny. They won two three-star CCIS, Blenheim 1999 and Punchestown last year, but were prevented from representing France at the Olympics due to lameness.

Andrew admitted that the thought of tackling Mike Etherington-Smith’shuge cross-country track cold – none of the British based horses at Lexington have had a cross-country run this year due to foot and mouth – was “nerve-racking”, but he described Mallards Treat as “a pleasure to ride”.

“I don’t knowhim well, but he’s a nice horse. He gives me the impression that he’ll let me help him and I think he will help me as well. My main worry is the fitness; I don’t usually run my four-star horses more than once so I’ve just tried to get him as fit as possible in the normal way.

First-day dressage leader David O’Connor, the reigning Olympic champion, has been relegated to second on Giltedge, ahead of another New Zealander, Bryce Newman on the impressive moving Dunstan Inishturk. Bryce, who was once based in England, is a prolific and successful supplier of event horses to Britain, but he has managed to hang on to the big black New Zealand Thoroughbred Inishturk, who has been placed twice at three-star level in New Zealand.

Fourth is Kimberly Vinosky, last year’s cross-country leader, with Jerry McGerry, an 11-year-old American TB who was fourth at the Fairhill CCI*** last autumn.

US-based Australian Phillip Dutton is lying handily in fifth and sixth with his Olympic team gold medallist House Doctor and the former Lucinda Fredericks ride Simply Red.

The verdict on the course is that it’s a genuine four-star, which would compare favourably with Badminton.

The going is likely to be on the fast side; there are few let-ups and the alternatives provided offer remarkably slow options.

David O’ Connor, also lying equal 10th on his Olympic champion Custom Made after a dressage test which had its wild moments, commented that “the competition would be won or lost at the water and the big bounce at fence 7 on the hillock is another serious test”.

Best of the British is Ian Stark in ninth place on Arakai, whose test was marred by lack of walk steps.

Rodney Powell is 12th on Flintstone and Katie Parker equal 16th on Springleaze Macaroo.

Poor Nigel Taylor had a disaster on the spooky Gamblers Lad and may re-route to the lucrative three-star at Foxhall, Georgia, next weekend.