Luckily overnight leaders Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Master Class had a bit of a cushion over second place as they didn't quite make the time around Derek di Grazia’s cross-country today. However, they jumped the course clear and added just 1.2 time penalties to maintain their lead. The pair will head into tomorrow’s show jumping phase on a 25.3, with no room for jumping faults as American pair Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg are hot on their heels with a 27.9.
Townend is currently ranked the number one rider in the world, and he’s made a return to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event with the intention to claim a champion title for the second year in a row. The defending champions are familiar with the terrain at the Kentucky Horse Park and felt confident leaving the start box today. “He actually came out a lot more keen this time than he was last time, and he felt quite strong for him,” Townend said of the 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Angela Hislop. “He was definitely up for it and he had his ears pricked the whole time. A little bit felt as though he was more in control than I was. He knew his job today, and this seems to be a place he loves, especially after last year, and that’s why we brought him back.”
Watch Oliver Townend's Ride:
Cooley Master Class (Ramiro B x The Swallow) put in a near foot-perfect round today, although he did lose a shoe on course, which inevitably may have resulted in finishing just over the optimum time. “I think I was very conscious of not having the shoe on, and we had a little bit of a slip heading back into the main leg of the course,” Townend explained. “I felt like I was balancing more than I normally would for the big fences, and it probably made me a touch more conservative than normal out there.”
Finishing double clear today was American pair Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg (Windfall x Thabana), bumping the duo up to second place heading into the final phase tomorrow. “He gave me a fantastic ride,” Martin said of Christine Turner’s 12-year-old Trakehner gelding. “He’s a real trier. For a half-bred horse, he has a wonderful gallop, plenty of speed and he’s very, very fit. Throughout the course he kept trying and trying, and never looked for a way out.”
Martin explained that he thought di Grazia’s course walked a bit easier this year, and that he was surprised when there was trouble at the beginning of the day. The first three riders on course this morning all fell off, and it wasn’t until the fourth rider out when the day saw its first completion. “Once I got on course, I quickly realized how in the wrong I was, and that this was quite a tough course,” Martin concluded.
Forty-one horses were set to tackle di Grazia’s cross-country course today, but just 31 pairs completed. Four were eliminated on course, two retired on course, and four withdrew before heading to the start box. Unfortunately, one of those eliminations was Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp, an American rider who was tied for fifth place overnight with Tim Price, but fell on course. Price, on the other hand jumped double clear like Martin today, moving up to third place heading into show jumping tomorrow. Tim Price (NZL) and Xavier Faer (Catherston Liberator x Faerie Dazzler), a 13-year-old British Sport Horse gelding owned by Price, Trisha Rickards and Nigella Hall remain on their dressage score of 30.9 after finishing clean today.
“I had a good trip around on my horse. I was really happy with the fitness – that’s a major part of bringing a horse, especially when you come from Burghley and I’ve come across [from Europe]. You just have to be so much more up on your game,” Price explained. “It’s just so demanding. It walked demanding. To me, this walked a difficult track because of the complexity throughout – there’s no way to get coasting and quietly make up your time and regain your horse’s composure. We stayed upright in all the important places, and yeah, we made it home.”
Cross-country course designer di Grazia explained that he “set the track knowing it could go one way or the other. The riders had to make the decision. Especially, they’d have to be able to make the decision and have a plan A going into riding the course, but at the same time they’d have to have a plan B as they were riding around the course. I designed something that wasn’t going to be very set as in ‘this is what you have to do.’ I don’t think this was that type of course.”
American rider Phillip Dutton earned the third and final double clear ride today aboard Z Partnership’s 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding, Z (Asca x Bellabouche). Dutton sits in fourth place heading into show jumping, just 0.8 points behind Price. “I didn’t have any really bad moments, I don’t think. He was jumping very forward and strong,” explained Dutton. “When I walked the course, I thought it was a little soft, but it was far from soft. It was hard work all the way around.” Both Martin and Dutton had the same feeling about the course feeling softer this year than in past years, but both of them had their minds changed after heading out on course.
Martin said “I was stabled next to Phillip and before we were getting on, we were egging each other on to see who was going to do the Normandy bank, and I wasn’t sure he was going to do it, and then I heard the commentary say that he did it when I was warming up, and I thought ‘oh I better do it now, because I’m going to look like a big wimp if I go around.’ That could have seriously backfired, but he’s a good little horse,” laughed Martin. “I didn’t realize you guys did that bank. Now I feel like a wimp,” Price joked back.
“As it turns out, I think all the jumps got jumped because some people opted to take some of the longer routes, which is good,” explained course designer di Grazia. “For the most part, the jumps to me worked in the way that I thought they would. The way I laid out the course, I think that the riders had options if they didn’t want to go the straight ways. I think that in some ways, that gave them a bit of a break.”
Rounding out the top five is Great Britain’s Piggy French and Quarrycrest Echo (Clover Echo x Royal China), who jumped clear with just 6.4 time penalties to put them on a score of 33.5. There is an 8.2 point difference between first and fifth place, but there is a 67.3 point difference between first place and 31st place heading into show jumping.
Thirty-one pairs will tackle Richard Jeffery’s show jumping course tomorrow in the Rolex Arena. The competitors will jump in reverse order of standings, and the first rider will enter the arena at 1:00 p.m. First, the horses will have to jog in front of the Ground Jury at 8:00 a.m. at the second horse inspection to ensure they are fit and sound for the final phase of the competition.
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