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Andrew Nicholson (NLZ) booked around the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* cross-country course to move into first and second, posting double-clear rounds with both Quimbo and Calico Joe, owned by Deborah Sellar and Twenty Twelve in Mind respectively. With at least two rails to spare between them, Andrew is in a very good position to claim the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing and go forward to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials head-to-head against William Fox-Pitt (GBR) in the bid for the $350,000 prize.
[Quimbo] felt very very good. I was very very impressed with him,” Andrew said after cross-country. He and Quimbo were the second to last out of the startbox, making for an exhilarating end to the day. “It was his first time at the level and I was not sure if he would have enough gallop to keep up the pace at the end—his breeding has an awful lot of Warmblood in it. I was amazed when I got to eight minutes and told him we needed to up the pace and he was happy to.”
Andrew said he would celebrate today and worry about tomorrow when the time comes. “You can never have too much of a cushion in the show jumping,” he said, perhaps recalling a nine-rail mistake at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. “Calico is not as strong in show jumping, but he’s surprised me a few times and won competitions I didn’t think was possible to win. Quimbo is a very nice jumper. If I ride him half right he normally does the rest himself.”
William Fox-Pitt had an unfortunate stop early on course with the overnight leader Chilli Morning at the HSBC Water Park and chose to retire there. “Who knows [what happened],” William said. “There’s lots of time to think about it and reflect. Maybe he overjumped slightly the fence before and gave himself a bit of a shock over the hedges. Then he shut down a bit coming through to the rails. For him there is no point in carrying on with 20 penalties. He doesn’t need the experience; he’s a 14-year-old horse here trying to do his best.”
William did, however, move into fourth place with a clear round on Catherine Witt’s Seacookie TSF. “The course rode really well actually. I think everyone would say that. The morning was very good. Perhaps it rode better than everyone thought,” he said. “It had a few more problems this afternoon. Watching it, it was a very big track. It was slightly unpredictable; like I said yesterday the striding wasn’t exact between fences. Riders and horses had to react, which was good to see.”
Today’s weather conditions, cool, cloudy, and slightly damp (thankfully the forecasted rainstorms detoured away from the Horse Park), “couldn’t have been better” according to Buck Davidson, who impressively guided two horses double-clear around the course and will start show jumping in third place with his beloved Ballynoe Castle RM. “The footing was perfect, the air quality was good, it was not too hot, and it didn’t rain,” Buck said. “Derek did a beautiful job presenting the course, and we’re lucky to have this place.” Andrew echoed the same sentiments and pointed out that the day was a good one for our sport.
Buck’s success today also earned him the Land Rover Best Ride of the Day. For 24 months he will drive a free 2013 Range Rover Evoque as a reward for being the top U.S. rider to jump clear and come closest to the optimum time. “Land Rover has been a huge supporter of eventing. I’m very grateful to have three unbelievable horses and thankful to Land Rover for giving me a nice car.”
Buck’s double-clear round with Leigh Mesher’s Mar de Amor, a relatively new ride for Buck, rocketed the pair from 20th to eighth. But if Buck ever admitted to having a favorite, it would probably be Ballynoe Castle RM, commonly known as Reggie. They have been partners since 2006, and though very successful around the country, the Kentucky Horse Park has not always been kind to them. A stop at the 2010 World Equestrian Games has hung over Buck’s head ever since, and he always seems to be the one getting chased by loose dogs. Last year, Reggie had had a “wind surgery” and is, according to Buck, a different horse.
“He’s been an amazing horse for me,” Buck said this afternoon with obvious affection. “I’m so lucky to have him and thankful for [owners] Carl and Cassandra Segal. He does everything I ask him. He shows up every weekend and I’m thankful.”
A Fine Day of Four-Star Cross-Country
Jessica Phoenix (CAN), Jan Byyny, and Sarah Cousins (USA) withdrew Exponential, Inmidair, and Tsunami before the start of the cross-country. Of the 42 that left the startbox, 30 finished and ten were double-clear. A number of pairs leapt up the leaderboard with clear and fast rounds, including Lynn Symansky, who moved from 19th to sixth with her own Thoroughbred Donner.
“The course rode amazing, my horse was ‘on it’ all the way around. It was well-suited to him, a good galloping course. It was an honor to be on him today,” Lynn said. “I am starting to trust him to do his job; he made decisions for himself. I found 6AB [Curving Brushes] the toughest jump. I sat quiet and he didn’t cover the ground. I then kicked on and went forward. That was the ‘conversation’ that we needed to have because he listened and stepped it up a notch.”
Daniel Clasing and Houston, Rolex first-timers, vaulted from 37th to 18th with an impressive double-clear. “The horse was better than I was. We were tentative at the start – it is Rolex – but Houston understood that it was important and rose to the occasion… My favorite fence was the double corners and the fence after the Head of the Lake [the Stepped Table]. I came off the turn and saw the stride; it rode very well.”
The large group of Rolex rookies definitely impressed, blazing around the course with something to prove. Caitlin Silliman and Catch a Star made time despite picking up 20 penalties at The Hollow. “The quarry was a silly stop. I just needed to be there for her and was not, totally my fault,” Caitlin admitted. “I never thought she would come back after the [2011 True Prospect barn fire], and riding here was very special to me.”
Emily Renfroe was all smiles as she piloted a very clever and athletic Walk the Line to a clear round. Meghan O’Donoghue and Pirate were quick and cunning, picking up just 4.0 time penalties to move from 25th to 14th. Shandiss McDonald (CAN), ninth after dressage, allowed Rockfield Grant Juan to confidently cruise around, crossing the finish with a clear round and 20 time penalties.
“Amazing ride – I could have not asked for better,” Shandiss said. “In hindsight, I took some of the turns too slow, and I need to ride smarter with the lines. He’s a big guy, over 18 hands, but he comes back easily for the fences that require a shorter stride.”
Jonelle Richards (NZL) is riding The Deputy at his first four-star and looked very polished to pick up just 2.4 time penalties to lie seventh after cross-country. “I was delighted,” she said. “I’ve though a lot of this horse all along, and it’s nice to come here and have him prove it. He felt classy all the way around.”
As mentioned by the leaders, the course was big and, though not tricky or trappy, required horses and riders to think quick on their feet and make assertive decisions. It was not as hair-raising as last year, but the course definitely caught out a few good pairs.
Yesterday’s fourth place pair, Alexandra Knowles and Last Call, had a heartbreaking stop at the rails into the Sunken Road and was eventually eliminated. Marilyn Little, tied for fifth after dressage, fought through the pain from her injured shoulder but fell at The Hollow. Though clearly shaken, she stood and smiled for the spectators before leaving the course. Mary King, tied with Marilyn after dressage, retired Fernhill Urco at the Horse Park Barns. The horse never seemed to find a rhythm and had picked up one stop at the Rolex Head of the Lake. Many fans were pulling for Becky Holder and Can’t Fire Me, seventh after dressage, to be redeemed from their unfortunate elimination last year. Sadly, Becky was unseated when Can’t Fire Me hit the top of the goose at the final water, just a few fences from home.
Nearly 27,000 spectators visited the Park to watch the Rolex cross-country. The entire day of competition was an incredible spectacle of athleticism, excitement, and above all, horsemanship. Tomorrow’s finale will allow for very little room for error and will be an exciting conclusion to a superb weekend of eventing. The Second Horse Inspection begins at 8:30 Sunday morning and show jumping begins at 1:15 p.m. Don’t forget about the Rolex Kentucky After Party at 4:00 p.m. and the airing of the NBC broadcast of the event in the Rolex Stadium.