Houston, we have liftoff
It seemed as though the afternoon group rode a completely different course than their morning competitors on Saturday at Rolex. As Jenni mentioned in her afternoon recap post, only 10 of 20 afternoon starters finished, whereas 18 of 21 morning starters crossed the finish line. Fifty percent compared to eighty-five percent is a huge difference and, although there’s no way to be certain, I would point to a variety of factors as causing the difference. First, more first timers rode in the afternoon. Weather may have played a factor as well. A light rain started in the afternoon, but all reports are that the footing held up well throughout the day. I tend to think that afternoon rides should be better than the morning ones because the afternoon riders have a chance to learn from mistakes made by the morning pairs, but perhaps the afternoon riders got lulled into a bit of a false sense of security as they watched the morning rides. Three for five of the afternoon riders who had morning rides came home clear in the afternoon and the other two were eliminated. Interestingly, Buck noted in the press conference that he feels that the long lunch break takes a bit of the wind out of the sails back in the barns. Buck didn’t lose any wind in his sails, saving the best ride for last with Ballynoecastle RM.
Here are a few notes from the Saturday press conference:
–Saturday night’s leader (and runner-up) Andrew Nicholson said he was quite amazed when he asked Quimbo to up the pace at 8 minutes and Quimbo responded by galloping on. He said he was worried about the Spanish sport horse’s fitness level. Andrew said show jumping isn’t Calico Joe’s best phase but he does surprise Andrew sometimes. In good news for fans who want to see Andrew and William face off for the Rolex Grand Slam at Badminton, Andrew said of Quimbo’s show-jumping: “If I ride him half right he normally does the rest himself.“
–William said “who knows” when asked what happened with dressage leader Chilli Morning, who stopped jumping into the first water and was then retired by William. William said that the stallion might have surprised himself at the double hedges right before the water and just shut down mentally. William said he decided to retire because the 13 year old Chilli wasn’t here for the experience. William described Derek Di Grazia’s track as “very good” and said the challenge was that the distances were slightly unpredictable. He described the footing as excellent as a testament to the hard work done all year long by the Kentucky Horse Park team.
–When asked about the significance of having a good ride around Kentucky with Reggie, Buck said that Reggie’s career was deeply affected by the stop here at the World Games. He said Reggie is a “different horse” after having wind surgery last year to repair a breathing problem. Buck said the footing was perfect and the air quality (temperature) was excellent.
–26,872 people showed up in attendance for cross-country today. It felt like the crowd was a little thinner than past years, with the rain predictions perhaps providing a deterrent.
Here’s video of the press conference:
A few notes of ridiculous commentary on the day:
–Two Canadian horses, Daily Edition and Gin N Juice, attacked the course with unbelievable enthusiasm. Their riders, Kendal and Hawley, were probably the only two riders on the course who couldn’t wait for their horses to get a bit tired. “Ginny” never seemed to wear out, and Hawley is probably still trying to pull her up. Daily Edition “Ed” got better and better for Kendal and this pair finished their first Rolex in great form. Team Canada is still getting used to their new coach, but all 5 Canadian starters finished today and four out of five moved up. Canada just absolutely loves riding here in Kentucky. Adding in Jessica Phoenix and Exponential, who withdrew before the day, I would also guess that the 2014 Canadian WEG team will look a lot like the Canadian team that rode around Rolex today (Update: Should also note that Riddle Master and Port Authority aren’t at Rolex this weekend but they will get a lot of attention for Canada in the lead up to WEGs). I would argue that only New Zealand had a better day as a country.
–It’s Saturday at a 4*, and every single pair that left the start box walked back to the barns today. That’s a tribute to great riding, great course design, great course building, and a little bit of Lady Luck. Course designer Derek Di Grazia and course builder Mick Costello and his team are becoming experts at building courses that cause problems but not injuries. In particular, I’d point to the increasingly heavy use of brush, and stacking the more technical questions earlier in the course as two factors that saved lives today.
–One of three riders who we have been giving attention to as pretty darn injured this weekend finished the course. Lynn Symansky rode with a badly broken pinkie finger and a sore back and made the course look easy. Donner looked like he was ready to tackle any four-star in the world. Lynn crossed the finish line grimacing in pain. Boyd could have and would have finished if Trading Aces hadn’t just run out of gas three fences from home. Word is that Boyd is having surgery on Tuesday to repair his badly damaged ankle and I’m sure he was going through excruciating pain galloping around the course. I have no idea how Marilyn got back on a horse, much less half way around a four-star cross-country course just a few days after separating her shoulder. That was one of the toughest performances I have ever seen and I was sad to see it end with a fall at the Hollow.
–Jenni mentioned this in her afternoon recap, but I want to emphasize the fact that we saw some amazing horsemanship today from all of the riders. Mary and Boyd in particular showed great horsemanship by pulling up just a few fences from home when they sensed their horses weren’t 100% full of run. Both were already carrying a stop. Imagine being a world-class competitor and working your entire spring (heck, your entire life) to get around a course and then stopping with home just a few hundred yards away.
–Jennie Brannigan noted on Facebook that Ping’s bone scan went really well and that “he’ll be back in action sooner than later.”
–Will Faudree and Pawlow might not get a lot of press this evening because of all the other story lines, but Will rode spectacularly and the pair is just one phase away from a phenomenal weekend. They head into show jumping in 5th.
–Buck clearly led the way for the United States today, with three clear rides, two double-clear, and heading into tomorrow with two horses in the top-8. Only Andrew is having a better weekend on the scoreboard.
–Great Britain’s James Alliston made up for a tough 2012 Rolex with three brilliant rides today. James showed his talent by expertly riding three very different horses and I couldn’t have been more impressed.
–If you know this person, please have them email email@example.com and I’ll send them some cool swag. Photo courtesy of Erin Sylvester. And yes, he did go around getting riders (including P Dutty!) to autograph his body.
–Peter Atkins and Henny went clear with 1.6 time penalties. What more can you say about Peter and Henny? They have an absolute unbelievable partnership and they show it off every single time around the hardest courses in the world. Peter was wearing his helmet cam, but he mentioned to me that it might have gotten turned off before his ride. Fingers crossed that it was turned on. Another Peter, Peter Barry, also showed off his unbelievable horse with a clear ride aboard Kilrodan Abbott for Canada.
–I want to take a moment to thank the incredible volunteers and Rolex team for making this even possible today. This sport simply isn’t possible without you and all of us are extremely grateful that you spent your Saturday making Rolex happen.
–This competition seems like it comes down to the jog tomorrow. If Quimbo passes, and I have absolutely no reason to believe he won’t, I think Andrew is obviously the overwhelming favorite to win, especially because Andrew has such confidence in this horse’s show jumping. If for some reason Quimbo drops out, then the competition opens up.
The jog starts at 8:30am and show jumping starts at 1:15pm on Sunday.