This article originally appeared in the 2021 Issue 2 of Eventing USA magazine.
U.S. eventers know #LRK3DE is the best weekend all year and on the world stage, the best riders in the sport have realized first-hand just how good a weekend it is. Not only is the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event a key leg of the Eventing Grand Slam, but the Kentucky Horse Park is also a strategic venue for another type of elite achievement – the title of FEI World Number One.
Every single World Number One of the last decade competed at Kentucky the year they were crowned the best in the world and, more importantly, they each relied on and counted their Kentucky result to take them to number one status. Quite literally, the famed Kentucky Horse Park has annually attracted and hosted the best event rider on the globe. Here’s how LRK3DE has made its mark at the top of the world.
The year was 2010. The great William Fox-Pitt was on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park with the 10-year-old Cool Mountain. True to form, Fox-Pitt piloted Cool Mountain around the horse’s first four-star (now five-star) and straight to the top of the leaderboard. Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain won the 2010 Kentucky Three-Day Event by finishing on their dressage score of 28.5 (in today’s scoring), leading the field from start to finish. It was one of the lowest finishing scores at Kentucky during the last decade and the win earned William 111 FEI points, jump-starting his journey to his year-end, chart-topping total of 639 points.
Later that same year, Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain returned stateside to earn second place at the 2010 World Equestrian Games held back in Kentucky. The WEG result earned William his largest FEI points gain that year – 155 points. Between his two trips around the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010, Cool Mountain delivered Fox-Pitt his two largest point grabs that year, catapulting Fox-Pitt to his commanding year-end lead in the World Number One Rankings where he finished over 100 points ahead of the number two that year, Mary King . . .
. . . but Mary King would soon be at the top. Like Fox-Pitt, the Kentucky Horse Park would be home to King’s largest FEI point hauls the year she earned World Number One. Kings Temptress produced the Kentucky Three-Day win for King, along with 111 FEI points, while Fernhill Urco delivered second place and 106 points. Four months later, Kings Temptress followed up on her Kentucky win with a third-place finish at Burghley, earning King another 102 FEI points.
It was a girl-power year, really. Between Kentucky and Burghley, Kings Temptress – a mare – was the biggest contributor to King’s World Number ranking, helping the legendary rider become one of the few female World Number One the sport has seen.
In 2012, Andrew Nicholson piloted Nereo to a fourth-place finish at the London Olympics and a five-star win at Pau. Plus, Nicholson earned the Burghley win on Avebury. While not his top result that year, Nicholson also earned seventh place at the 2012 Kentucky Three-Day with Qwanza. His Kentucky placing registered 86 FEI points and was the first counting result toward Nicholson’s year-end points total of 627, allowing the New Zealander to become World Number One over Fox-Pitt who ended the year 61 points behind.
Nicholson held on to World Number One for the second year in a row but, this time, his Kentucky showing contributed a total of 213 FEI points, over one-third of Nicholson’s year-end total. Quimbo produced the Kentucky win for Nicholson (111 points) on a 26.5 (today’s scoring) which was one of the lowest finishing scores at Kentucky in the last decade. Nicholson earned third place at the same event with Calico Joe (102 points).
Three five-star wins – Kentucky (Quimbo), Burghley (Avebury), and Luhmühlen (Mr. Cruise Control) – a second at Burghley (Nereo), a third at Badminton (Nereo), and a third at Kentucky (Calico Joe) were Nicholson’s 2012 counting results to earn him his World Number One ranking for a second consecutive year; all were top-three finishes at four-star (now five-star) events, and Kentucky delivered two of them.
Fox-Pitt took back his World Number title in 2014, thanks in large part to two counting Kentucky results. His Kentucky win on Bay My Hero (111 points) and his ninth-place finish on Seacookie TSF (78 points) contributed one-third of Fox-Pitt’s counting points that year. Fox Pitt’s single biggest points-earner in 2014 was his third-place finish at the World Equestrian Games with Chilli Morning which gave him a 150-point gain and Bay My Hero went on to take fourth at Burghley that same year, further contributing to Fox-Pitt’s year-end total of 568.
And then there was Michael Jung. Jung first topped the world rankings in 2015 with a convincing 643 points. All of Jung’s counting results were worth over 100 points, the first two being his 2015 Kentucky win (111 points) and a third-place finish (102 points) on Fischerrocana FST and La Biosthetique Sam FBW, respectively. Once again, Kentucky results contributed one-third of the World Number One’s points total en route to the global top spot.
La Biosthetique Sam FBW went on to contribute two more counting runs to Jung’s World Number One that year: a third at Luhmühlen CCI5* and a win at Burghley. The Burghley win was the horse’s fourth five-star win (of six!) and the first victory of Jung’s Grand Slam title.
And then Jung won Kentucky again. It was Fischerrocana FST for the win a second time, Jung’s only Kentucky entry that year, and the second win of his Grand Slam title. Then Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW won Badminton (Grand Slam complete, thank you very much). Then Jung won the Aachen CCI4*-S (FischerTakinou), the most competitive CCI4*-S event in the world according to the EquiRatings Elo Venue Rating. Oh yeah, then Jung and Sam won the Olympics. Then FischerTakinou and Fischerrocana helped Jung polish off his 2016 counting results with second and third-place finishes at Pau, respectively. And then Jung was World Number One again.
And then Jung won Kentucky again, on Fischerrocana FST . . . again. Fischerrocana’s second-place finish at the 2017 European Championships and La Biosthetique Sam FBW’s second place at Badminton were the other major boosts to Jung’s FEI points total that year, making Jung the Number One event rider in the world for the third year in a row. Reign maintained.
Then Oliver Townend had something to say. Of course, LRK3DE had a part to play. With Townend, Cooley Master Class took home his first Kentucky win in 2018 on the horse’s first five-star appearance and MHS King Joules delivered a seventh place – both counting results as Townend made his way to World Number One. After earning over one-third of his counting FEI points at Kentucky (197 points), Townend went on to rack up other big points at Badminton (second place with Willingapark Cooley) and Burghley (second place with Ballaghmor Class). Townend finished the year on 569 points to top the 2018 world rankings.
Ah, 2019. The last year life was normal, the eventing season was full and sure, and the FEI World Ranking points weren’t semi-frozen. Townend kept himself at the top by year-end and he did it, in part, with a second consecutive LRK3DE win. Once again, the U.S. five-star victory came on Cooley Master Class who added just 1.2 cross-country time penalties to his dressage score and still managed to finish on a 25.3 – the lowest finishing score at Kentucky in the last decade.
The Kentucky win was the highest points-earner for Townend that year (111 FEI points). His second place at Badminton and third place at Burghley, both on Ballaghmor Class, were close behind in the points contribution. Though Rosalind Canter held the World Number One spot for a few months in mid-2019 – and was the first female to do so since Mary King in 2011 – Townend was the Number One event rider in the world by year-end.
Townend maintained Number One. It was an odd ol’ year all right and the FEI adjusted the points accumulation to account for the majorly slimmed-down calendar. They did it in such a way that a rider could increase their FEI points total over the course of 2020, but a rider couldn’t lose any points from however many they had as of February 29th, 2020.
There was a bit of movement from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020 as a result of riders bettering one of their previous-best results with a 2020 run but Townend kept his Number One spot, going from a 2019 year-end total of 554 points to a 2020 year-end total of 577 points. Townend went up in points by replacing his 2019 second-place finish at Ballindenisk CCI4*-L with a sixth-place at last year’s only five-star, Pau 2020 (MHS King Joules). However, still critical to Townend’s counting results was that 2019 Kentucky win.
On the last day of this year’s event, we watched the World Number One (Townend) and World Number Two (Tim Price) jump around the Rolex Stadium. We were holding our breath to see not only who would win the event but also who would be the World Number One. If Price had won, he would have taken over the top spot on the FEI rankings. That is how impactful Kentucky is to the best riders in the world. Townend’s threepeat Kentucky win this year allowed him to hold onto the Number One title and, once again, down to the very last second of the event, we all watched Kentucky leave its mark at the top of the world.
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