We’re halfway through the field on cross-country day here at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, with seven riders coming home with no jumping penalties and inside the time. So far, Derek Di Grazia’s course has ridden very well and has proven to be challenging while safe — an important factor for the record 12 first-time competitors this year. William Fox-Pitt and Seacookie TSF started things off this morning with a cracking trailblazing round, coming home exactly on the optimum time at 11:21 and showing the riders back at the barn that the time was attainable.
The seven double clear trips this morning came from William Fox Pitt and Seacookie TSF, Andrew Nicholson and Calico Joe, James Alliston and Parker, Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Eagle, Buck Davidson and Mar De Amor, Lynn Symansky and Donner, and Daniel Clasing and Houston. Time is definitely doable but not necessarily easy to make, with 19 riders coming home clear but with time penalties. Thirteen riders finished clear with less than 10 time penalties, and we saw a lot of smart rides toward the end of the course when horses began to tire and riders nursed them home.
Four riders withdrew before cross country, including Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice. Phillip decided to save the horse for another day after his dressage test didn’t go quite the way he wanted yesterday. Happy is a young horse and the jumping isn’t a problem for him, so he really has nothing to prove by running today. Sally Cousins also withdrew Tsunami, as the mare had a rough trip to Lexington and has developed a cough. Jessica Phoenix also withdrew Exponential and will reroute to Jersey Fresh. Jan Byyny and Inmidair are the only other pair to withdraw thus far.
Becky Holder took the only spill of the morning when she fell from Can’t Fire Me at the out element of the Animal Water Park at fence 24B. It was a soft fall, and Becky and Teddy were both up right away and are fine. This fall is a huge disappointment for Becky, as she also didn’t complete at Rolex last year with this horse when he was pulled up due to a cut on his leg. Becky and Teddy were sitting in seventh place after dressage and were on course for a very solid finish here this weekend. While Becky took the only fall of the day thus far, there have been some close calls on course with riders taking some impressive flyers, especially at the Horse Park Shelters at 26AB toward the end of the course.
Maddie Blackman and Gordonstown were the first to have trouble on course as the seventh pair out when the horse stopped at both the first element of the Bridgestone Park Question and the out element of the Land Rover Hollow. She chose to retire on course after the second stop. Caitlin Silliman and Catch A Star had an unfortunate runout at the first element of the Land Rover Hollow, but kicked on to finish well in their Rolex debut. The Land Rover Hollow has been riding sticky for quite a few riders, as have the Curving Brushes at 6AB. The Sunken Road has also seen quite a few creative rides, but so far has ridden very well.
The round of the morning is a tie between Daniel Clasing and Houston and Lynn Symansky and Donner, who both came home double clear. Houston looked fantastic the whole way around in this pair’s Rolex debut, full of running at the end and barely breathing. This is a very long, hilly course, and it’s a real testament to Daniel’s preparation for his first four-star that he was able to come home in such fantastic fashion. Lynn and Donner looked equally brilliant, also coming home double clear despite Lynn riding with her right hand in a cast after fracturing her pinky last month. After watching Donner in his first four-star appearance, it’s clear he is a horse for the future.
Six of the top 10 horses after dressage are still left to go in the afternoon session, including the overnight leader by a wide margin William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Andrew Nicholson’s double-clear trip on Calico Joe puts him one step closer on the road to the Grand Slam. Allie Knowles sat between Andrew and William Fox-Pitt yesterday at the press conference to “separate them,” as Andrew must win here at Rolex this weekend and at Badminton next weekend to clinch the Rolex Grand Slam, while William needs to win Badminton to take the Grand Slam. Allie Knowles and Last Call — the highest-placed American pair after dressage in fourth place — will lead off after the lunch break at 1:30 p.m. Check out the Rolex Cross-Country Open Thread for a breakdown of all the rides thus far.