Marilyn Little leads Kentucky with ‘courageous’ mare, with British riders in second and third *H&H Plus*

  • Find out how the leading riders reacted after their dressage tests today at the Kentucky Horse Park…

    By Nancy Jaffer

    Britain put two riders in the top three as five-star dressage got underway on Thursday (22 April) at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, but Oliver Townend with his two-time Kentucky winner, Cooley Master Class, had to settle for second, while William Fox-Pitt was third on Oratorio as the USA’s Marilyn Little dominated the standings.

    Her performance with the graceful mare RF Scandalous netted her an outstanding mark of 21.7 penalties – the best dressage score at Kentucky since 2009 – as a chilly wind blew through the Kentucky Horse Park. Even so, Marilyn was disappointed that she couldn’t match (or improve on) her amazing score of 19.4 penalties when she won the Wellington, Florida, Eventing Showcase in February 2020.

    “My goal was to do a little better than that, but you have to remember that was really early in the year, she was not five-star fit and it was not freezing cold. She came up here and looked out there at cross-country and had a sense of Saturday,” Marilyn said. Then she settled into her work with style and efficiency.

    Marilyn, who gave up riding jumpers to focus on eventing Scandalous, noted that the elegant bay is a diva whose barn name is Kitty, and “she has trained us all, like cats do. There is no way but Kitty’s way.”

    At the same time, her mare, she observed, is “very courageous and has a lot of scope,” adding she is going to need it over the Kentucky cross-country course 2021, laid out by Olympic designer Derek di Grazia.

    Oliver agreed that the route will be quite a test.

    “I think it’s the toughest course I’ve seen in Kentucky ever. Technically very tough; shorter distance timewise, same amount of jumping efforts. I think you’ll see a lot of problems Saturday.”

    Derek didn’t disagree, noting wet weather is forecast.

    “Even without any rain, I think the time would still be difficult,” he said. While he considers the ground good right now, a lot will depend on how the horses deal with a little water on the surface, noting the riders must be careful to make sure their mounts are not slipping.

    But Oliver is up for the challenge over the floor plan Derek designed for last year’s event, which was cancelled because of the pandemic.

    Calling Kentucky, “one of my favourite events in the world,” Oliver explained, “it puts a lot of places to shame, how purpose-built, how immaculate and how fantastic the whole thing is. I always love to come to Kentucky. It’s been a financial challenge, but I’ve got five-star horses and they need to run at five-stars. You’re not going to get this time back, so… delighted to be here.”

    He was equally pleased with his horse’s performance in the Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 Thursday dressage.

    “That’s the best dressage test he’s done here,” Oliver said of his mount, who was composed and focused throughout the test marked at 24.1 penalties.

    Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 Thursday dressage: Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class

    Two-time Kentucky five-star winner Oliver Townend on Cooley Master Class at Kentucky 2021, against the backdrop of the Kentucky Horse Park stencil. Credit: Nancy Jaffer

    William was just a bit behind with a respectable total of 27.9 penalties.

    “I was really pleased with him and he really did go well,” William reported. “He was quite excited to be here, he’s done nothing for quite a long time now. So to actually be in there on his own was a bit of a novelty. He was on his toes but he was on the job, he didn’t do any mistakes. I think he did a really all-round good performance.”

    William called Oratorio, “a lovely horse to produce. Laura Collett started him off and he got to be quite a big dinosaur, so he came to me.

    “There’s a glimmer of something about him. He’s got class, he’s got a real way about him. He’s not a fancy dressage horse, not a fancy jumper, but he kind of does the job. I hope his day will come. He’s an exciting horse, a horse for the future.”

    William mused that he might be able to do the European Eventing Championships this year and perhaps be a candidate for the World Championships next year.

    It has been six years since William competed at Kentucky, an event he won three times.

    “It’s quite frightening to think, where have those years gone? It was very nostalgic coming back and remembering how beautiful this place is. Then you look at the course and see the competition and realise, it’s not going to be a walk in the park and a holiday.”

    He called the course “unrelenting,” noting the challenges go right to the end. Mentioning the fact that there are four water complexes, he said, “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

    William added about his mount, “I should think he’s going to have to claw his way up after tomorrow’s dressage, a lot of good horses are going tomorrow, but I don’t think it will be a dressage show.”

    The horses threatening the standings who are set to go on Friday include Oliver’s Ballaghmor Class, Liz Halliday-Sharp’s Deniro Z and Tamie Smith’s Mai Baum, the latter two from the U.S.. Also on the roster is another British entry, Harry Meade with Superstition, and Germany’s Anna Siemer on FRH Butt’s Avondale.

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