Postcard: 2009 Rolex Kentucky Cross Country

Australian rider Lucinda Fredericks is the leading rider after a perfect round in the cross country at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. Buck Davidson remains the highest placed American rider.

April 25, 2009 — Foreign women blithely continued their dominance of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in today’s cross-country segment, but Buck Davidson still was waving the American flag as he held onto third place with the impressive My Boy Bobby, taking the measure of such big names as Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and France’s Nicolas Touzaint.

Australia’s Lucinda Fredericks took over the lead at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event on Headley Britannia with a brilliant cross-country round. | © 2009 by Nancy Jaffer

Lucinda Fredericks of Australia and Germany’s Bettina Hoy switched places in the 4-star-rated competition this afternoon, as Bettina’s 18-year-old Ringwood Cockatoo accumulated 9.6 time penalties. He can be forgiven; how many horses his age are able to rise to a challenge like Rolex on a warm day? Added to a fabulous winning dressage score of 28.8, that still left Bettina with only 38.4 penalties, compared with Buck’s 40.2 total, but Lucinda and her stellar little mare turned in one of 10 double-clear rounds to take the lead on 32.3 penalties.

“I just kept motoring and Brit just kept galloping,” said Lucinda, who cautiously chose the long routes at the Sunken Road and the Head of the Lake, but then made up time in the homestretch, coming in on the dot of the 11-minute, 2-second optimum time for Michael Etherington-Smith’s nicely put together course.

Time faults dropped Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo from first to second place after cross-country. | © 2009 by Nancy Jaffer

Lucinda’s husband, Clayton Fredericks, was the winner here in 2007, so I figured he might have given her a leg up on this competition.

There are now three Americans in the top 10, rather than just two as there were on Friday, but it still is not the brightest picture for U.S. prospects in the discipline as we look toward the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that will be held here in 2010.

Defending champ Phillip Dutton stands ninth on Connaught, one of the double-clears, who is still trying to make up for his dressage score of 47 penalties. Stephen Bradley is 10th on Brandenburg’s Joshua after gaining only 0.4 time penalties to make his total 48.6.

While Buck’s ride on Bobby in the horse’s first 4-star was relatively smooth, he encountered trouble with his other mount, Ballynoe Castle RM, first on course this morning.

Buck Davidson is the top American at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event after cross-country with My Boy Bobby | © 2009 by Nancy Jaffer

Buck’s appeal of outside interference to the officials was successful. He moved up from 29th to 19th with this horse when his refusal at the Sunken Road was excised.

It was perfect weather for eventing, sunny but not too hot. There were 40,600 spectators swarming around the Kentucky Horse Park, down about 10,000 from 2008. But remember that was an Olympic year, which heightens interest, and we are in the midst of a recession.

The day was glorious with one exception. Less than half an hour into the action, Canadian rider Mike Winter’s Kingpin collapsed and died after clearing fence 10, a big Trakehner log over a ditch. I was standing there and could see the blaze-faced chestnut looking rather erratic as he headed toward the jump. I thought maybe he had gotten spooked and was going to refuse, but he took off and then crumpled as he hit the other side. Mike was thrown hard, but he’s okay.

Veterinarians say the cause of the horse’s death was abdominal bleeding. Though they’re doing a necropsy to find the cause, we’ve seen death from natural causes before at eventing competitions. As Dr. Catherine Kohn, the veterinary delegate pointed out, it happens with human athletes as well. It should be noted that both Bettina and Lucinda took the time to publicly express their sympathy to Mike, a Canadian, who was examined at the hospital and released.

The situation was handled quickly and well, with the dreaded black screens going up immediately as everyone efficiently saw to their emergency duties. This was terribly sad, but I don’t think you can compare it to the horrific jumping accidents at separate fences that led to the death of two horses last year.

Rolex this year is a dress rehearsal for the WEG, and I’ve been intrigued by the impression of the folks from other countries who came here to see what things would be like for the Games.

I spoke with Hugh Thomas, the director of another famed 4-star, Great Britain’s Badminton, and found his insights noteworthy. It’s fun to see things you take for granted through someone else’s eyes.

It also was interesting to talk with Jamie Link, CEO of the WEG organizing committee. You get a sense of what a huge undertaking the WEG is when you consider all that it takes to put on Rolex — and consider that there will be eight disciplines over the two weeks-plus of the WEG. It is going to be quite the extravaganza, and worth taking in if only to walk the grounds, even if you don’t go to any of the competitions. The trade fair and the “Kentucky Experience” facility will be quite an experience on their own.

Jamie said everything is going well.

As we head toward the conclusion of this event, some random thoughts:

The Netherlands’ Tim Lips had a tight fit at the rails before the ditch, but held onto fourth place with Concrex Oncarlos. | © 2009 by Nancy Jaffer

Expect Dutch champ Tim Lips, now fourth, to move up with Concrex Oncarlos. The horse is a former dressage mount and a former show jumper, which should stand him in good stead over Richard Jeffery’s challenging route that I saw set-up in the arena this afternoon. It looks inviting yet difficult.

Cayla Kitayama’s ride, Esker Riada, is the kind of horse we all wish we had. He’s 17 years old, and reliable as he can be. I love a horse that helps take care of the rider. Forget his 9.2 time penalties. Like Cockatoo, he’s an older boy (17) and doesn’t have to speed around to show what a dependable fellow he is.

Looking ahead toward the WEG, the Brits have two horses I haven’t seen before who appear most competent. Lucy Wiegersma rides Woodfalls Inigo Jones, an Irish thoroughbred who stands sixth with only 1.2 time penalties added for a total of 44.4. Her countryman, Oliver Townend, is right behind her with the handsome gray, Carousel Quest, one of the double-clears who is seventh on 45.2. Watch out for these prospects.

Badminton winner Hidalgo De L’ile, ridden by Nicolas Touzaint of France (see my first paragraph) is another double who bears watching. He’s fifth on 44.3 penalties.

Buck’s father, Bruce, is still going strong at 58. How many people who have a statue of themselves on the grounds are able to get two horses around cross-country? Only the amazing Bruce, who still is a joy to watch cross-country. And the lifesize bronze of him on Eagle Lion, set outside the stadium, is a favorite place for photos this year, as you can imagine. I thought they only gave people statues after they were dead, and Bruce is far from that fate.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the results. I have a feeling the standings may well be both shaken and stirred by stadium jumping.

Until then,

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