Rolex Kentucky CCI**** – third day report/cross-country

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Despite having never ridden either of his horsesacross country before, Andrew Nicholson was at his typical brilliant best to maintain pole-position after cross-country day at the four-star Rolex Kentucky CCI, USA.

The 39-year-old New Zealander has held his dressage lead with Ray and Maureen Carroll’s Mallards Treat as one of 12 riders to finish inside the time on Mike Etherington-Smith’s huge but inviting track.

He is also lying fifth with Nicky Salmon’s Lord Killinghurst, with whom he was the first of the 52-strong field to crack the optimum time of 12min 7sec.

Andrew reported that he had switched Mallards Treat, formerly ridden by Frenchman Franck Bourny in a gag, to a snaffle and was surprised to find him pulling hard: “I thought I’d made a bad mistake at first, but then he settled and was lovely to ride. Whereas with Lord Killinghurst I expected him to be awkward with his low head carriage and tendency to pull hard, but he settled more easily than I expected.”

It is currently a New Zealand one-two at the head of the leaderboard, with Bryce Newman, a vastly experienced horseman who is nonetheless riding in his first ever four-star, in second place on the impressive Dunstan Inishturk whose lavish stride easily compensated for his jockey choosing a couple of long routes.

“I took the slow route in the arena [at 17] because I wanted to give him a breather and he just flew after that,” explained Bryce. “I don’t think I had a single messy spot. I can honestly say it was one of the easiest rides I’ve had.

David O’Connor is best of the home side in third and sixth with his two Olympic veterans Giltedge and Custom Made, while it was third time lucky for the three-handed Australian Olympian PhillipDutton, now lying fourth with his third ride Simply Red, a British-bred Thoroughbred originally produced by Lucinda Fredericks.

Dutton was first out on the course with Drizzle, who slipped on the dewy going and ran out at the brush arrowhead out of the Head of the Lake (fence 18) and then slipped on the flat after fence 19. He then had a surprising fall on his Olympic gold-medallist House Doctor, who breasted the first of two huge corners at 22.

Fellow Australian Merran Wallis riding Belmont Ballygowan also ended up on the deck, at the beautifully carved Reynard the Fox fence in the arena, and was taken to hospital for observation.

Fitness did not seem to be a problem for the English-based horses, none of whom have had the luxury of a preparation run due to FMD, and the bulk of the clear rounds inside the time have, interestingly, been scored by the horses flown in from Britain and New Zealand.

Ian Stark is best of the feisty British contingent, lying seventh with Arakai who remains on his dressage score. He is also 24th on Rangitoto, who he reported to be “a different horse” thanks to a wind operation over the winter.

Rodney Powell finished exactly on the button to lie eighth on Flintstone and Karen Dixon was impressive on The Honourable Bob to finish easily inside the time and lie 15th.

Katie Parker tipped off Springleaze Macaroo at the big drop at 19, while Nigel Taylor has re-routed Gamblers Lad to Foxhall CCI*** next weekend following a disastrous dressage.

In what has been a great day for the sport, there were 31 clear rounds, but perhaps a most noteworthy performance was that of 51-year-old Bruce Davidson who showed he has lost none of his accuracy or enthusiasm when he rode three clear rounds to lie 11th, 13th and 14th.

The only major departure from the top of the leaderboard was Kimberley Vinoski, who stopped with Jerry McJerry in the middle of the influential bounce of huts on top of a bank at fence 7 and then retired after an unfortunate fall at the coffin.

Course-designer Mike Etherington-Smith said: “It was great to see so many people going so well. The standard goes up and up, which makes it difficult for course-designers. Guys like this (Nicholson, Newman and O’Connor) make it look so easy. They’re just bloody good.”