Holy Pau. At the end of cross-country day at Les Etoiles de Pau, William Fox-Pitt is sitting in first, second and third places on scores of 41.5, 42.2 and 43.2 with Seacookie TSF, Cool Mountain and Neuf Des Coeurs, respectively, and four Americans are sitting inside the top 12. And Andrew Nicholson is probably crying quietly at his lorry. Let me say that again: William Fox-Pitt is totally dominating, and FOUR Americans are in the top 12 after cross country. William has been riding through pain this weekend after he tweaked his back at Le Lyon, but he said in the press conference that the injury luckily didn’t flare up today, and he was able to push through to deliver an unbelievable three double clear trips with all three of his horses. Talk about impressive!
Andrew Nicholson, on the other hand — who I imagine came into Pau thinking he would clinch yet another four-star win this weekend — had a bummer of a day on his three horses. He retired about halfway through the course with Viscount George — Kate said she heard the horse loathes keyholes and mounds, both of which made appearances on Pierre Michelet’s course — had a runout at the skinny at fence 20b with Rolex winner Quimbo and I think he might be eliminated with Mr. Cruise Control, who sort of only half jumped the corner at the final combination before galloping for home. Even if he’s not eliminated, he’s still only sitting in sixth place on Mr. Cruise Control, and he’ll have to best William’s three horses to nab a win tomorrow.
Andrew would also have to go through Phillip Dutton and Mr. Medicott, as they delivered a clear trip with just 0.4 time penalties to move up to fourth place heading into the show jumping. That performance meant Phillip spoke in the press conference (see the video below), so be sure to watch Phillip speak at about the 4:55 minute mark. Phillip said Cave was quite strong in the beginning of the course, and he let him get in deep to several fences to encourage him to back off, which the horse ultimately did. While Phillip had originally planned to take the direct route at the final combination — a big brush table with a rollback turn to a corner — he ultimately elected to take the longer route, which cost him that one second over time. But he wisely observed that it would have been very unfortunate to come so far only to have a runout one jump from home.
And that’s just where the good news begins for Team USA. Clark Montgomery and Universe were trailblazers for the Americans this morning, and they delivered the trip of a lifetime, coming home double clear to sit in ninth place and impressing the French announcer so much that she interviewed him in the main arena after their round — the only American to get tapped for an interview all day. Lynn Symansky and Donner brought home another double clear trip shortly thereafter, delivering the fastest round of the entire day for 12th place — which makes the photo I snapped of her checking her watch over the final fence all the more amusing, and it turns out they were up on the clock by a whopping 40 seconds with just one fence to go. Think you made the time there, Lynn.
Marilyn Little and RF Demeter also came home without any jumping penalties and just 1.6 time penalties to sit in 11th place overnight. I chatted with Marilyn after her round, and she said she was 14 seconds over her minute markers toward the end of the course, so it’s really impressive she was able to make up so much time. Michael Pollard and Mensa also made it around Pierre’s course, although they picked up 20 when the horse glanced off the skinny at 20b. This is Mensa’s first four-star, and I imagine he learned a lot out there despite the jumping penalties. And now for the bad news on Team USA. Hannah Sue Burnett parted ways with Harbour Pilot when the horse slipped badly between fences at the first water complex. Though Hannah Sue tried valiantly to hang on, she just couldn’t quite save it.
Of course, the grounds crew eventually dropped gravel at that spot after multiple horses nearly went down, and the rest of the Team USA put in bigger studs to account for any slippery spots after seeing Hannah Sue’s bad luck. Kristi Nunnink and R-Star also ran into trouble at the first water complex. While I originally thought she retired on course — and the live scores also show that she retired — Joanie Morris just confirmed that they received a technical elimination when Rosie blew past the first jump at the water, and Kristi jumped the wrong fence when she tried to re-route to the option. Rosie was absolutely raring to go before they set out on course — rearing in the main arena and putting on quite a show — so I think she would have made quick work of the course.
I’m still hailing this as a major success for Team USA. We’ve spent so much time harping on how we’re not competitive in the dressage that we overlooked the most basic way to move up the leaderboard — deliver clear cross-country trips. Indeed, Phillip and Cave moved from seventh to fourth place, Clark and Buzz moved from 31st to ninth, Marilyn and Demi moved from 27th to 11th, and Lynn and Donner moved from 38th to 12. Of course, the weekend doesn’t end here, and now we need to leave all the poles in the cups tomorrow. But for tonight, let’s savor the victory. Stay tuned for much more from Pau, including Kate’s report, lots of photos, interviews with Marilyn and Lynn, video footage from cross country and video from the press conference. Go Team USA.