Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Marks 25th Year

April's Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event will be the 25th to bear the Rolex name. Top riders Karen and David O'Connor will be on hand at this pinnacle of eventing in America.

Life in the Galloping Lane is the story of how Karen and David worked their way to the top of one of the most demanding of horse sports. Insights into the O’Connors’ lives and training techniques make this book one that will appeal to eventers and anyone who rides or is interested in horse sport.

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This April marks the 25th year Rolex Watch USA has given its support and name to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington, Ky. Paralleling this unique and successful partnership has been that of another great team in eventing–Karen and David O’Connor.

In fact, it was at Rolex Kentucky in 1981, the inaugural year of Rolex’s title sponsorship, that Karen Lende first set eyes on fellow rider David O’Connor at the competitor’s party following cross country. Sporting two broken arms sustained in a fall on course earlier in the day, David certainly made an impression. That event also marked the first time Karen made the U.S. Equestrian Team–Rolex awarded her and the five other team members Rolex timepieces.

Since then, the O’Connors have continued to figure mightily in the great story of Rolex Kentucky. David won for the first time in 1990, riding Wilton Fair, or “Wilbur,” in monsoon-like conditions that came to be known throughout the eventing world as “Wilbur weather.” His future wife followed suit the following year, winning the event with Mr. Maxwell after retiring her famous 1988 Olympic mount, The Optimist, earlier in the day.

That retirement ceremony, enjoyed by thousands of enthusiastic, emotional Rolex fans, has been followed throughout the years at Rolex Kentucky by that of other famous O’Connor mounts, including Wilton Fair (1994), Biko (2001), Prince Panache and Giltedge (2003), and Custom Made (2004).

“Rolex is so special to us that we make a point of retiring our horses here,” says Karen. “It gives us the opportunity to share these horses with the public and provides a beautiful ending to their careers.”

Rolex Kentucky is the only four-star three-day event in North America, attracting top U.S. and international eventing competitors each year. The success and stature of the event led to the development in 1998 of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, which offers a prize of $250,000 to the rider winning all three Grand Slam events in succession (Rolex Kentucky and England’s Badminton and Burghley). In 2003 Rolex was pleased to present British star Pippa Funnell the award after her unprecedented sweep, which began with her triumph at that year’s Rolex Kentucky four-star with Primmore’s Pride.

Success at Rolex Kentucky is often a springboard to success in the Olympics, as the O’Connors and others have shown. Funnell capped her Rolex Grand Slam with an individual bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Her fellow medalists, Leslie Law of Great Britain (gold) and Kim
Severson of the U.S. (silver), also are graduates of Rolex Kentucky–Severson and her Olympic mount, Winsome Adante, won the event in 2002 and 2004.

In fact, several Athens Olympics horse/rider combinations competed in their first four-star at Rolex Kentucky–Julie Richards and Jacob Two Two, Darren Chiacchia and Windfall 2, John Williams and Carrick, Amy Tryon and Poggio II, and Phillip Dutton and Nova Top, to name a stellar few.

Karen and David O’Connor new book is available from The Equine Collection, Life in the Galloping Lane.

This article is excerpted from an insert that appeared in the May 2005 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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