A record number of first-timers (13) means that Rolex 2013 is going to be a clash of veteran skill and young ambition. The first-timers represented themselves quite well on Thursday. Two first-time riders and three first-time horses sit in the top 6 going into the second day of dressage. Here are a few notes from the Thursday afternoon press conference, featuring the top three riders after Thursday — Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand, Becky Holder of USA, and Shandiss McDonald of Canada.
–When asked if he is thinking about the Rolex Grand Slam, Andrew Nicholson noted that he came to Rolex with that in mind, but said he’s just trying to focus on this weekend now that he’s here. Andrew said that Calico Joe did 3 four-stars last year and that the experience helped his horse relax for the Rolex atmosphere. Andrew said “I’m quite sure he gave me 100%.” Regarding the XC course, Andrew called it big but “very very fair and horse friendly.” He said that course designer Derek Di Grazia gives all of the horses time to see their fences, and he praised that approach.
–Shandiss noted the this is her first time at Rolex. She said she was just happy that Rockfield Grant Juan settled in and relaxed for the test. She credited new Canadian coach Clayton Fredericks with helping her flatwork. Canadian high performance has gone through a big transition this year in moving from David O’Connor to Clayton Fredericks as coach. Canadian pairs are placed 3rd, 14th, 18th, and 20th overnight, but their bottom three horses are all jumping specialists and should move up big time throughout the weekend.
–The always gracious Becky said that she is excited and tremendously grateful to be here, and she thanked her owners (Phil and Melissa Town) and her husband for their help getting here. Becky said that Comet and Can’t Fire Me are completely different horses. She said Comet loved an atmosphere, and “Teddy” is a workman who always gives 110%. Becky said that she walked around the XC course and said she was impressed with the size. She said the course calls upon the riders to use all of their “gears.”
–The consensus from all three riders is that the course looks particularly big, and all praised Derek’s design. Derek has been getting lots of love from the riders I have spoke with so far this week.
A few of my thoughts from the morning rides:
–No one is surprised to see Andrew Nicholson and the 11 year old Calico Joe on top of the leader board after Thursday. This pair was tied for 10th last year after the dressage at Rolex. They retired on the XC but went on to place 4th at Luhmuhlen and 13th at Burghley. Andrew Nicholson is an absolute legend and he’s riding for the Rolex Grand Slam — he needs to win this weekend and next weekend at Badminton.
–It’s no surprise either to see Becky and “Teddy” in second. I knew Becky would come into this weekend with a real sense of purpose after retiring on the cross-country last year. They improved their dressage score by 6 points and, whatever happens tomorrow, they will be in great position going into the weekend.
–I admit I am a tiny bit surprised (but very glad) to see Canada’s Shandiss McDonald and Rockfield Grant Juan in third on a 45.7. Shandiss rode an impeccable test with lovely rhythm. As usual, Canada’s riders were out in force to support their countrywoman. I felt that Shandiss absolutely deserved her great score. Shandiss has only had this horse for two years and this is her first four-star — what an impressive ride today.
–William Fox-Pitt and Seacookie are predictably close to the top of the leader board, sitting 6.2 points back from Andrew in 4th. William might have suffered a bit from being the first ride of the event, but he has the lovely Chilli Morning to ride Friday afternoon.
–Will Faudree and Pawlow are appropriately renown for solid performances. However, the talented “Ernie” can and should do better than just solid and they took just the right step forward today. Lovely flying changes helped put them in 5th on 47.2.
–Caitlin Silliman, the second youngest rider in the field, delighted her many fans with a 53.7. She sits tied with Kristin Schmolze and Ballylaffin Bracken in 6th. Caitlin is coached by Boyd Martin and she is Boyd’s first student that he has really built up into a four-star rider himself. I spoke with Boyd briefly earlier this week and he said he is incredibly proud of Caitlin and “Hoku” especially considering all that they went through with the tragic True Prospect barn fire in 2011.
–Ballylaffin Bracken put in a nice test, but his movement showed that he can clearly score better in the future. Pan Am competitors Lynn Symansky and Donner should be thrilled with their 7th place result. Lynn told me before the week that her major goal in the dressage was to keep Donner calm — he can get excited with big crowds. She accomplished that goal perfectly.
–The first, second, and eighth placed horses after Thursday are all OTTBs.
–In a moment of unexpected…non-greatness, the EN servers decided to start feeling strained right as we started the live blog this morning. I’ll pretend to spare you the technical aspects, when in fact I don’t even understand them myself, but we ended up doing a complete server reset during lunch time. I apologize if you experienced any technical difficulties this morning with our live blog. We have massively upgraded our configuration and, fingers crossed, we should be good to go for the weekend. I want to thank Jenni and Visionaire in particular for holding down our coverage as I spent most of my morning trying to fix the servers.
–As bad as our servers’ day was, Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda’s was far worse. ”Ping” got loose while lunging this morning and slipped and fell on pavement as he ran back to the barn. Jennie and her team of vets and supporters is working incredibly hard right now to get Ping sound for a rescheduled dressage time tomorrow. The Ground Jury showed a lot of grace in giving Jennie the possibility of rescheduling her original Thursday ride time to Friday, but we won’t know if Ping will be good to go until tomorrow.
–This is also a great time to thank the volunteers who made today possible and also the fine folks at EEI, Classic Communications, and everyone else who makes this event so enjoyable for all of us. Rolex has an absolutely brilliant team working behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly.
–In an odd, but I think nice, change of pace, the riders with multiple horses got to pick the order that they ride them this weekend. If for that reason alone you can probably expect the Friday group of horses to score better than Thursday’s. My bet is that the leader board will look very different this time tomorrow.