By Nancy Jaffer
The standings at the top of the leaderboard for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event were shuffled just a bit after cross-country this afternoon, when the weather and ground were perfect.
But it was enough to put three-time winner Michael Jung of Germany back on top with FischerRocana FST and move Oliver Townend up to third place from fifth on Cooley Master Class as he aims for victory in the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.
The leader following dressage, Marilyn Little of the USA, accumulated eight time-penalties after touring Derek DiGrazia’s route at the Kentucky Horse Park on RF Scandalous. That dropped her to sixth and enabled Michael to rise from second place after missing the 11-minute, 3-second optimum time by just one second.
Michael, who is going for his fourth straight victory at Kentucky, was tabbed with a mere 0.4 of a time-penalty after his mare left a hind leg at a brush jump in the featured Head of the Lake obstacle complex.
His total of 27.5 penalties is less than a rail from the scores of the four riders behind him in the standings. Australia’s Christopher Burton moved up from third to second with 27.9, while Oliver has 28.7 with Master Class and 31.3 with MHS King Joules. Previously equal eighth, King Joules is tied for equal fourth with Donner, ridden by the USA’s Lynn Symansky.
“It’s nice to be in this situation with two nice horses,” said Oliver, who, like Christopher, Lynn and seven others, had no time-penalties.
Oliver called the 3.91-mile cross-country route, “An unbelievable track. The man Derek is one of the best course designers in the world, if not the best at the minute.” In that regard, Oliver characterized the course as having “a huge amount of feel and empathy for the horses, but still a serious four-star and a proper, proper test.”
It’s good news for those who liked the route at Kentucky that Derek is designing the cross-country for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and much of the work for that already is finished.
Oliver had two different experiences on the Kentucky course with his mounts.
“King Joules is notoriously strong, which is possibly why I got the ride,” he said with a little grin.
“Trying to stop him…is quite a problem, so I got basically run off with for 11 minutes. But he was exceptionally honest and put himself between the flags. Basically, I spent my whole round going ‘whoa, whoa’ and just steering. The second ride was completely different; the first time at this level for Master Class and I couldn’t be happier with him. Not quite as confident, not quite so used to the crowds. He grew in confidence as he went. He was looking about, his ears pricked all the way.”
Sunday’s showjumping is being laid out by British designer Richard Jeffery. It will decide not only the results, but also whether Oliver goes to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials next week with two legs on the Grand Slam, which is worth $350,000. In September, Oliver won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, starting his cycle of vying for consecutive victories at the three four-stars.
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Full report from Kentucky in H&H next week (issue dated 3 May).
Pick up the current issue of H&H (dated 26 April) for our Badminton preview, including course walk with Mary King and form guide for every horse and rider.