Hello from the first day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event! We have two full days of sand dancing ahead of us, but of course we are already looking ahead to Saturday when horses and riders will tackle Derek di Grazia’s cross country course. The total distance of the course is 6,430 meters, with an optimum time of 11 minutes, 17 seconds.
While the course starts and finishes in the same location as last year, Derek has re-arranged the path of much of the rest of the course, shifting the galloping lanes just enough to find even more terrain on the rolling hills of the Kentucky Horse Park. Riders will need a very fit horse to successfully tackle this track, especially if rain saturates the ground on Saturday.
The first three fences on course are bold, straightforward jumping questions to help the riders and horses settle into a rhythm, then they reach the first question on course at fence 4, the Mighty Moguls. Horses will jump over the rails at 4A, then navigate a related distance down the hill over the brush at B before continuing down the hill to a right-handed brush corner at C. It’s a beefy technical question early on the course.
Next we have two more bold, galloping fences before the first water at the Frog Pond at fence 7. There is quite a big drop in over the brush at A, and the log on the way out at B is set at a sharp angle. Accuracy will make all the difference here.
Two more galloping fences, including the imposing Ditch and Brush at fence 9, will then take horses and riders on to the famous Rolex Head of the Lake at fences 10 and 11. Horses will be galloping right into the crowds as the jump a large table at 10A before a quick three strides takes them to a massive drop in at B. Then it’s a quick re-organization before the fish in the water at C.
Riders won’t have anytime to take a breather here at all, as they will have to quickly navigate a left-hand turn to the double brushes at 11AB. With the first brush set in the water and the second brush set on the way out and up a slope, these fences will require forward, positive riding to guarantee success. The Rolex Head of the Lake is sure to provide many thrills from spectators, so this is definitely going to be an awesome place to watch once again.
Then it’s on to a maximum-width table (6-foot-3 top spread) at fence 12 before the Teton Rails at fence 13, a new combination on course this year. The A element is a very vertical set of rails, then on to a big open corner that leaves no room for error. The Open Oxer at fence 14 doesn’t provide much of a let up as riders make their way on a long uphill pull to The Hollow, which has received a facelift.
The cabin at the top of the mound at The Hollow will demand a forward ride, then it’s down a very steep slope to a brush at B, then a lefthand turn to a wide cabin set at C at the top of the mound. There is just a half-stride of flat ground before takeoff over the cabin, so accuracy and scope are paramount to succeed at The Hollow. There is an option here that will prove costly on the clock.
Two more bold, galloping fences take us to the Land Rover Landing at fence 18, a chevron brush with an incredibly narrow face set on the land and then another chevron brush with a slightly wider face set in the water. The chevron brush is very similar to the question we saw at the Head of the Lake two years ago, when horses and riders navigated the narrow front on a slight angle to provide a wider face to jump.
The Footbridge at fence 19 then takes us on another long uphill pull to the Normandy Bank at fence 20. Horses and riders will jump up the bank at A, then one stride on to a log drop off the bank at B before making a right-handed turn to a skinny log at C. At this point in the course horses should be settled into a good rhythm and locking onto the flags, but there is an option here for pairs that encounter trouble.
Another open oxer at fence 21 then leads to the Fox Den, which always tends to be a tricky combination that should not be underestimated. The A element is a big brush table set right on the tree line, and riders will follow the sweeping right turn along the trees to a large corner at B. Horses that are tiring by this point can take a longer option that once again will prove costly on the clock.
One of the most difficult combinations on the course then comes at fence 23, the Park Question, which has also received a redesign this year. The jump in at A will take horses and riders to an angled brush at B, followed by another angled brush at C separated by just one stride. Riders that drift off their line by even a small margin will face the possibility of a runout to the left here.
The Stick Pile at fence 24 takes us on to the Water Park at fence 25, the final water complex on course. This is a straightforward question, with a jump in over the first boat at B and then a right bending line to the second boat at B, but it will still require respect and a forward ride, especially as horses tire with the end of the course in sight.
The iconic Wattle and Daub Cottage at fence 26 then leads on to the final combination on course, the Offset Barns at fence 27. While the fastest route will save valuable seconds as riders are hunting for the optimum time, jumping these angled tables on a straight line means tired horses are navigating a very wide and imposing question this late in the course. Finally the Lucky Horseshoe at fence 28 will welcome horses and riders to the finish.
Looking to the footing, many parts feel perfect, especially the spots that have been aggravated by course builder Mick Costello and his awesome team. There is some rain in the forecast, but if we don’t get much rain ahead of Saturday, Mick said he will likely aggravate the entire course to give the horses “five inches of fluff” to gallop across.
The EN team must tip our hats to Derek, Mick, and Sheila Worth and her decorating team for their hard work on what is truly a beautiful course. If you have a chance to walk the track before Saturday, take some time to admire the handy work at fence 8, the Market Table. All of the vegetables and fruits are real and and arranged so beautifully!