Find out who had to withdraw from Kentucky at the last minute and what USEF director of sport Will Connell said about Oliver Townend’s chances of winning…
By Nancy Jaffer
A dusting of snow this morning (21 April) greeted riders in Lexington, Kentucky, for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, but it gave way to afternoon sun in an area known for its mercurial weather. After the snow melted, it left the Kentucky Horse Park grounds a brilliant shade of green, a lovely backdrop as all the horses presented for the five-star went through the Kentucky first trot-up 2021 with no holds.
Late withdrawals included Clayton Fredericks’ FE Always In Time (number 31), Sara Mittleider’s La Paz (number 46), Waylon Roberts’ Lancaster (number 54) and Holly Jacks-Smither’s More Inspiration (number 57). This left a field of 63 to present to the ground jury.
The trot-up at this event usually draws a crowd of hundreds standing 10 deep to watch their favorites, but with the US Equestrian Federation Covid protocol that bans the general public, only a few dozen owners, sponsors and volunteers were able to cheer for many of the biggest names in the sport. They included William Fox-Pitt with Oratorio; Phillip Dutton, the last American to win the event 13 years ago, who brought his top horse, Z, and Oliver Townend, the victor in Kentucky’s last two runnings, 2018 and 2019. He brought not only his double winner, Cooley Master Class, but also the majestic gray, Ballaghmor Class.
Will Connell, the USEF’s director of sport, was asked if he believed Oliver could win again. He thinks it’s difficult to comment about medals or results in 2021 “because people haven’t been out competing much this year.” But he noted that the Kentucky roster is “just a list of top riders, isn’t it? You’ve got a collection of athletes all capable of winning five-stars.” At the same time, he added, “Oliver hasn’t come here for a holiday, so stand by, he’s going to be out to try and get it.”
Looking at the bigger picture, he said, “It’s fantastic to be back at a five-star in this historic setting.” It’s special not only because last year’s edition had to be cancelled due to Covid, but also because a grassroots fundraising effort enabled the 2021 5-star to be held when it, too, faced cancellation.
“Being able to get some really high-class European and New Zealand riders over here has been great,” said Will, citing “the American system of waivers through the US Olympic Committee that have allowed foreign riders to come over. Having the foreign riders here is really going to challenge the U.S. riders to step up to the mark. Saturday’s cross-country is going to be very interesting.”
Dubarry of Ireland presented best-dressed awards to the most fashionable male and female riders in the Kentucky first trot-up 2021. Will Faudree’s camouflage pants and army green tie apparently put those wearing traditional tweed in the shade, as the judges saw it.
The female winner was another US rider, Meghan O’Donoghue, chic in her brass-buttoned black military-style jacket and knee-high black suede boots. The jacket she bought in Washington D.C.’s posh Georgetown section the day before she headed south; the boots were borrowed from fellow competitor Liz Halliday-Sharp.
Meghan, who will be riding Palm Crescent, said she is “thankful, so thankful and honoured” to be at Kentucky after the “whirlwind of events” that meant it could be held.
“These horses do so much for us. These kinds of competitions are the pinnacle of our sport; to miss something like that would be detrimental to some of these horses’ careers.”
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