|William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain are at the top of the scoreboard after the completion of the dressage phase at the 2010 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo: Lesley Ward|
The second day of competition at Rolex dawned gray and rainy. Phillip Dutton kicked things off with his third horse, Woodburn. A steady test in the downpour yielded a very respectable score of 47.7.
The sixth ride of the day was highly anticipated, as Rolex Grand Slam shot Oliver Townend of Great Britain rode his first of two horses into the dressage ring. The bay gelding ODT Master Rose had a rough moment or two, but overall the test was solid for a score of 49.8.
Several rides later, Allison Springer turned heads by being the only rider to wear a certified helmet instead of the traditional top hat. Her horse, Arthur, was excellent as usual in the dressage phase, tying Karen O’Connor’s provisional second-place score from the previous day with a 43.7. When asked about her decision to wear a helmet, Springer said her brother had passed away from a severe head trauma. “I never used to wear one very much; I love to look pretty, and I think top hats look pretty, but I started wearing a helmet for horse trials [less formal competitions than Rolex]. This morning, Charles Owen gave me a helmet, and I thought it looked great. It’s just a personal thing; something I’m doing for me. I made a big stance in my blog about wearing helmets, and I love all of my friends who were adamant that I should just wear a helmet [for dressage at Rolex]. They’re comfortable and beautiful, so why not? It is something I think people should think about.”
It was 10 more rides before another pair would score below a 50. William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain put on a show for the crowd just as the sun began to shine, riding an excellent test that included scores of 8, 8 and 10 (which shows up alarmingly as a “1” on the jumbotron) from the three judges on one of the halts. When the final score of 42.8 was announced, it was enough to vault them into the lead. “[Cool Mountain] is a very talented horse on the flat; he has always been a pleasure to train,” said Fox-Pitt. “He always has a go, even if he doesn’t find everything easy. Therefore, when things start coming together, it creates a good test. I didn’t expect it to, but I hoped it might. This year he’s really come on. It’s a credit to him in this atmosphere. He’s very solid, but there’s a bit more to come, which is very exciting.” (Don’t you just love the way the British speak?)
Two rides later, the crowd was pleased to see Kim Severson, a three-time Rolex Kentucky winner with her now-retired Winsome Adante. Her current four-star horse, Tipperary Liadhnan, was very professional, earning a 44.8, positioning them in fourth place. “There is no other Dan [Winsome Adante],” said Severson. “It’s the showjumping [that’s more of a challenge], at least for me, although the cross-country is rather stiff! But I have a lot of faith in him.”
Oliver Townend’s second and final horse to go, Ashdale Cruise Master, had a good test with a few 8’s and even 9’s, good enough for a 46.2. For a rider with the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam on the line, however, that score may not be as pleasing as it would otherwise. “My placings aren’t high enough,” said Townend. “Both horses were just about as good as they could have been, but they’re both relatively green. Ashdale Cruise Master is a very good horse for the future, and to have such an experience in that arena is a huge accomplishment. I’m looking forward to the [Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall] and [London summer Olympics in] 2012, so the more we can get the horses into those sort of [high-pressure] situations, the better.”
Asked how they felt going into Saturday’s cross-country phase, the answers varied. “It’s going to be my horse’s first four-star,” said Fox-Pitt. “There are a few good questions around that course–it’s bigger than anything he’s seen before. As far as four-stars go, it’s more straightfoward than last year. He’s very ready for it, and I’ll be giving him all the confidence I can for his education for the future. I didn’t come here expecting him to win, but I’m not going to let go without a bit of a fight!”
Karen O’Connor’s mount, Mandiba, is more experienced on the world stage, having competed at the 2008 summer Olympics in Hong Kong. “My horse has had a struggle the last couple of years with Hong Kong and Burghley, but he stepped it up at Fairhill and feels more confirmed than ever before. His experience matches the questions we’re going to ask him tomorrow. I’ve been going progressively quicker with him, so tomorrow I’ll make every effort to get inside the time and not make any mistakes,” she stressed.
As a spectator, the rain certainly put a damper (no pun intended) on the day’s activities. This lead to extra time during the lunch break hiding out in the indoor arena trade fair … which in turn lead to doing some shopping at the VTO Saddlery booth! Thankfully I didn’t buy anything I hadn’t already been pondering and casing out the previous day.
I suppose that expenditure was somewhat offset by the delicious free media lunch catered by Land Rover, one of the competition’s sponsors. They said some of the test drivers from the day before were back for a spin in the mud on a course which includes the famous “teeter-totter” … I’m not sure I could drive a Land Rover over a teeter-totter, but it does sound tempting!