Aug 27, 2019

Derek di Grazia Brings Five-Star Experience to the AEC

By Leslie Mintz - USEA Staff
Derek di Grazia at the Nutrena Splash at the 2019 AEC held at the Kentucky Horse Park. USEA/Leslie Mintz photo

It’s the biggest ever event in North American history and the nearly 1,000 horses will all have the chance to jump around one of Derek di Grazia’s seven cross-country courses. Boyd Martin and Barry will be the first pair to christen the 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena cross-country course at the Kentucky Horse Park at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday in the Intermediate and three more days of cross-country will follow.

Di Grazia has designed the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day (LRK3DE) event since 2011 which has given him plenty of practice working with the land at the Horse Park but designing seven courses is quite different than just a single five-star course. “The big [challenge] is that I don’t typically do a horse trials length course here, so I worked on making the distance work and at the same time to get the features I want into that course,” said di Grazia who first rode himself at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1979.

Recently named as the newest designer for the Burghley Horse Trials as well as the cross-country course designer for the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, di Grazia has focused on the top echelon of the sport for the last several years. However, his experience as the world’s top FEI course designer didn’t stop him from agreeing to design all the AEC levels from Beginner Novice to Advanced. He wanted to make sure the courses are true Championships courses, but the riders cross the finish line with smiles on their faces.

The Head of the Lake is ready for the AEC. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

There are many features at the Horse Park that di Grazia wanted to utilize, but of course, the iconic Head of the Lake is the one that is the most coveted. Di Grazia decided to give the lower levels the honor of splashing through the Head of the Lake. “Everyone wants to go through the Head of the Lake, but at the same time I left that for the lower levels because I think it is a good thing for them to get that opportunity,” said di Grazia.

The $60,000 Adequan® USEA Advanced Final riders utilize the three other water complexes at the Horse Park as well as several features of the course that are familiar to LRK3DE attendees including the Normandy Bank and the Sunken Road.

“The beginning of the Advanced track gets you into a good rhythm even though the fences are right up to size,” explained di Grazia. “It is definitely not a small track. I think it is quite forward and galloping and then as you get more to the middle of the course there is definitely more to do, but I think you have to be careful because again at the end there are a couple of questions where you have to pay attention.”

The Adequan Water Park. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Advanced riders start near the same location at the LRK3DE cross-country course and head towards the Alltech Arena before looping back to the first water, the Adequan Water park at fences 7abc.

The riders will then head to the infield where they will jump a maximum brush table and then a ditch and brush before turning to the frog pond at 10ab. A nice gallop stretch up to fence 11 before the stumps at 12ab set cleverly under the trees by the fence line.

The Equestrian Events, Inc. Sunken Road. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

After crossing the road the riders will tackle the Equestrian Events, Inc. Sunken Road at 14abcd before looping back to head to the Nutrena Splash at 17abc.

The Normandy Bank at 19abc awaits the riders after crossing back across the road as well as the Kentucky Classique Coffin at 21ab. There’s one last complex at 23ab before the final fence at 24.

And di Grazia’s final advice to riders of all levels? “They should enjoy it. The footing is going to be great, and [The Kentucky Horse Park] is a great place to ride. You can’t help but have a nice time here.”

All of the cross-country courses are available to be viewed on the CrossCountryApp or you can take a walk around the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final below.

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