William Fox-Pitt rose to the top of the rankings in the Rolex Kentucky four-star with a smooth trip aboard Parklane Hawk on a tough cross-country course at the Kentucky Horse Park, but it turned out to be a difficult day for the rest of the British contingent.
A double clear enabled William, who had been second after dressage, to switch places with the overnight leader, America’s Allison Springer. She accumulated 3.2 times penalties after going the long way at the double brushes where she and her Irish-bred mount Arthur fell last year.
Going into today’s show jumping, only 3.5 penalties separates the top three: William with 41.3, Allison with 43 and New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget, who was fifth in dressage, with 44.8 on Clifton Promise. Should William retain his lead it will put him on target to become only the second rider collect the Rolex Grand Slam after winning Burghley Horse Trials last autumn.
The challenging course designed by Derek Di Grazia had a number of difficult spots, and the morning started off with unexpected trouble for the first three in the order. Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand retired after a fence deconstructing refusal with Calico Joe.
The next rider, American Olympic medalist Karen O’Connor, fell off Veronica into the first water jump and Rolex veteran Becky Holder on Courageous Comet was eliminated at the Normandy Bank.
Out of 54 starters, 20 had no jumping faults and seven of those were double clear. Twenty-two entries were eliminated, retired or withdrawn on course. The rest had faults that ran into the three-figure range in some cases.
Speaking about the course, Jonathan said: “I didn’t expect it to cause as much carnage as it did. You know you’re in for a bad day when Andrew Nicholson walks home.”
The rocky start was unnerving, but as William put it: “There wasn’t anything else to do, but ride it as best you can; be as positive as you can. I think the horses respond to that.”
His certainly did, but his compatriots enjoyed no success. Oliver Townend, equal 11th after dressage, was having quite a good go with Pepper Anne until the double brushes. He retired after two refusals there.
“She’s a class horse,” Oliver said. “She jumped great, just jumped into trouble. She’s relatively inexperienced, but now I know what I have for the future.”
Lucy Wiegersma, eighth after dressage, had a fall at the 23rd fence, the Keeper’s Brush, with Granntevka Prince.
“It’s very disappointing for Lucy and Oli,” said William, commenting about the mood back at the stables.
“I think they came here with high hopes. It’s pretty gutting and in a way, it’s a shame; from my point of view, I’m delighted with my horse and everyone else around me is a bit down. That’s how it goes, ups and downs. We’re all very supportive of each other. They were just unlucky and fell victim to whatever caused all the trouble that happened today.”
California-based Brit James Alliston found no luck at all with his two horses. He retired his first mount, Jumbo’s Jake, after two refusals. His second ride, Parker, gave spectators near the second fence a scary moment after he fell at the rock walls and remained on the ground for a while before getting up and being taken back to the stables.
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Photo by Nancy Jaffer