It poured with rain as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event began on Thursday, but the bright spot of the day was undoubtedly the dressage performance of William Fox-Pitt (right), who is leading the CCI four-star with Coastal Ties.
Despite the heavy showers, he achieved a score of 43.4 penalties to lead from American rider Abigail Lufkin on Kildonan Tug with 45.8. Both riders coped admirably well with their sensitive Australian thoroughbreds in the conditions.
William was fairly pleased with Coastal Ties first attempt at this test, although he did point out it was far from perfect: “He made a few mistakes, which is disappointing. He doesn’t normally throw his head around and gallop on the wrong leg at the end of his extended canters.”
William is competing for the third time at Kentucky, but has yet to win America’s version of Badminton at the Kentucky Horse Park, which is located near a bevy of thoroughbred breeding farms just outside the city.
“To win this would be fantastic,” said William, whose show jumping problems foiled him the last two years. He’s not thinking about the final phase yet, however. “There’s a lot to be done before we get to show jumping,” he said.
The only other British rider competing on the first dressage day was Polly Stockton with Word for Word (right), who stood fifth in the CCI four-star after a generally pleasing test that was let down by the collected canter work.
In the four-star modified division, which follows the Olympic format that has dropped the steeplechase, World Equestrian Games team gold medalist Amy Tryon of the US took the early lead on My Beau, who won the Chatsworth, Georgia, three-star CIC earlier this spring.
Tryon’s score of 42 penalties put her 8.2 penalties ahead of two competitors tied for second — French Twist, ridden by Jessica Heidemann, who is making her Rolex debut, and Lester Piggott, ridden by Holly Hepp.
Another modified competitor, Olympic individual gold medalist David O’Connor, was putting in a relatively good test on Tigger Too when the horse suddenly acted up a few strides from the final halt.
“He’s been very emotional in the dressage all year for some reason,” David said, who was glad he had produced as good a test as he did to finish tied for 11th place on 59.6 penalties.
The modified is open only to North American riders or foreigners based in North America who already have completed qualifications for the Olympics.
Weather forecasts are calling for a fair day on Saturday for cross-country, but 30 tons of grit are stockpiled around the course in case they’re needed. On Thursday, organisers changed the order for cross-country, with the four-star competitors going first to give those trying to qualify for the Olympics the best footing.
Entries will be thoroughly tested by Mike Etherington-Smith’s course, which has undergone many changes since last year.
“It asks a little more of riders without asking more of the horses,” he said.
CCI Leaderboard after first day of dressage
1, William Fox-Pitt, GBR, Coastal Ties, 43.4;
2, Abigail Lufkin, USA, Kildonan Tug, 45.8;
3, Donna Smith, NZL, Call Me Clifton, 46.6;
4, Bruce Davidson, USA, Little Tricky, 48;
5, Polly Stockton, GBR, Word for Word, 48.4;
6, Linden Wiesman, USA, Primitive Gold, 50.8.
Modified four-star leaderboard
1, Amy Tryon, USA, My Beau 42;
=2, Holly Hepp, USA, Lester Piggott 50.3;
=2, Jessica Heidemann, USA, French Twist, 50.3;
=4, Karen O’Connor, USA, Joker’s Wild 52.4;
=4,Hawley Bennett, Canada, Livingstone, 52.4;
6, Robert Costello, USA, Dalliance, 53.