It’s Rolex Week, EN! As part of our coverage, Kate and I are teaming up to bring you a preview of each of the 63 combinations slated to trot up on Wednesday afternoon at the Kentucky Horse Park. Keep it locked on EN all week for all the news you need to know from North America’s biggest three-day event. Let the madness begin! Here are the competitors we’ll see in dressage on Thursday — give or take a few toward the end that might go Friday — in the order in which they’ll appear.
Buck Davidson and Petite Flower: I’ve been hoping this lovely mare would make it to Rolex all season, and Buck gave us a nice Easter present on Sunday when he confirmed she made the cut. A homebred of Bruce Sr.’s owned by Sherrie and Caroline Martin, Flower is definitely a meaningful entry for the BDJ team. She’s super game on cross country, and while she’s had stops this year, she definitely has the talent for this level. It will be up to Buck to give her the good introduction she needs to Derek di Grazia’s course in her first go at a four-star.
Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High: Selena’s love for her horses is contagious, and she’s very excited about this one in his four-star debut. Woody had a great final prep at The Fork CIC3* where he went clear in both jumping phases and added just time to his dressage score in an easy run around Tremaine Cooper’s course. His dressage is still coming along, but that won’t prevent them from having a respectable performance here this weekend. While Woody’s still young at 11 years old, he’s brave and bold, and I expect they’ll have a good trip around cross country with Team Canada cheering them on.
William Fox-Pitt and Seacookie TSF: If a European wins Rolex this year, there’s a very good chance it’s going to be William and Seacookie. The runner-up at last year’s event, the horse only continued to get better throughout the 2013 season, putting in an impressive performance at Pau last fall to win the event on a final score of 45.5. Like all of William’s top mounts, the horse is all business when it comes to his job, and he’s incredibly good across all three phases. His weak phase is the show jumping, so the pressure will be on should William and Seacookie be at the top of the leaderboard like I expect them to be heading in to the final day.
Wil Faudree and Pawlow: Everyone loves a good comeback story, and Ernie has persevered over the last six months to get back to another Rolex. The horse had his second colic surgery last October, which meant missing Fair Hill and easing back into things this spring. They won the Pine Top CIC2* in February and were poised to win the CIC3* at The Fork until a silly runout at the big corner coming out of the second water complex ended that quest. Will has said the horse feels fantastic, and while it’s been an uphill battle, they’re poised to have a good go at replicating the top-10 finish they enjoyed at this event last year.
Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice: After injuring himself at this event last year, Happy had a long break before coming back out at Pine Top this February. Phillip is very particular about where his horses run cross country, so we’ve only seen Happy complete all three phases twice this year at Carolina International and The Fork. While he was a bit wild earlier this season, he’s settled nicely now and is prepped for a good crack at Derek’s course. Happy will take a backseat to Mr. Medicott this weekend in terms of who everyone is talking about, but remember this horse was 10th at this event in 2012. Expect him to be right up there when the dust settles on Sunday.
Allison Springer and Copycat Chloe: A personal favorite of mine, Allison and Chloe’s new partnership was coming along very nicely last year until things got a bit derailed at Galway Downs. A tense ride, she’s seemed to become more and more wound up in the dressage with each event this season. Luckily, handling spooky, tense horses just happens to be Allison’s forte, so I have faith we’ll see a very different Chloe canter down centerline on Thursday, as I’m sure Allison has been working very hard to smooth out the kinks we’ve seen early in the season. I’d love nothing more than for this pair to blow everyone away this weekend.
Marilyn Little and RF Demeter: This mare just gets better and better with each event, and she’s peaked at just the right time with a win in the Carolina International CIC3* and very nearly winning The Fork CIC3*. She looks fit, focused and in very good condition, and I expect Marilyn and Demi to rise to the occasion on Thursday. The mare can be a bit quirky in the dressage, but Marilyn has really worked hard on forming the partnership and figuring out exactly how to handle her in the little white box. They’re a virtual lock for a top-10 finish this weekend.
Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti: Jessie is just planning to do dressage with Exponential, so this is the only horse she’ll have in all three phases. Best known as her Pan Am individual gold medal partner, Pavarotti had a good fall campaign in Europe last year, finishing 17th in the Haras du Pin CIC3* and 10th at Blenheim. They’ve had a quiet last month in preparation for Rolex, withdrawing from their Intermediate divisions at both Rocking Horse and The Fork, so they’ll likely have an easy trip around the cross country course on Saturday.
Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville: After getting snubbed during the Olympic selection process in 2012, Sinead is out to show she means business, and this will mean a lot for their chances at the WEG team. Tate hasn’t run a four-star since he
almost won Burghley in 2012, but don’t think that means he isn’t ready. He’s fit and totally full of himself — watch for him to make a scene in the first trot up tomorrow — not to mention coming off an excellent spring campaign in which he finished just outside the top 10 in the Carolina International CIC3* and won The Fork CIC3*. If they can replicate the brilliance we’ve seen from them in the past in the little white box, they’re going to be very tough to beat this weekend.
Jon Holling and Zatopek B: This horse is a freak of nature in every way — freaky good mover in the dressage, freaky bold across the country and freaky careful in the show jumping. And he knows it. He always seems a bit puffed up and proud of himself, and he has a fantastic presence in the dressage, so look for him to really strut his stuff on Thursday as he makes his four-star debut. He does struggle with tension in that phase, and learning to relax is a work in progress, but Jon handles him beautifully. Look for Jon to play up the horse’s big paces and then sit back and enjoy watching him play with the course on Saturday.
Kyle Carter and Madison Park: Slipping a tendon off a hock and tearing a ligament — it’s just not something a horse comes back from very often, much less comes back from to compete at Rolex. But
Kitty Cat Kyle Carter never gave up on Parker, and he’s been rewarded by having his WEG partner back competing at the top level of the sport again this year. Kyle and Parker were 12th at Red Hills CIC3* and second in the Poplar Place CIC3* this spring, so they’re right where they need to be to make this final step toward Parker’s comeback. They’re very much in contention for the Canadian WEG team, so this weekend is meaningful on multiple levels.
Sharon White and Rafferty’s Rules: Another great comeback story! Reggie also suffered an injury while competing across the pond, and Sharon has utilized every form of therapy you can imagine to get him back to competing. Her dedication has paid off, and she’s going to be all smiles coming down centerline on Thursday. They can be very competitive in the dressage, so look for them to take a good score into cross country. Sharon hasn’t really put the pedal down on cross country this season, so the horse’s fitness remains a question, but Reggie is prepped to have a very good performance.
Andrew Nicholson and Avebury: Andrew Nicholson’s only mount after withdrawing last year’s Rolex winner Quimbo, Avebury has big shoes to fill this weekend. I’d personally love to see Rolex turn into a rematch between Avebury and Tate for the win, harking back to the exciting finale at Burghley in 2012 where Andrew ultimately prevailed. Avebury has gone double clear on cross country in his last three four-star appearances, and he’s certainly a major threat to win at Rolex this weekend.
Michael Pollard and Mensa G: This is a lovely team that always seems to struggle from a bit of bad luck. They were on track for a good performance at Pau last fall when the horse glanced off one of Pierre Michelet’s tricky skinnies, and they were sitting near the top of the leaderboard at Carolina International before parting ways on cross country. Michael and Mensa always seem to be hovering just on the edge of brilliance, and I’m hoping luck is on their side this weekend. They can throw down a very good dressage test, so look for them to be in a good position heading in to cross country.
Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda: If EN karma really does exist, please oh please let it help Jennie and Ping this weekend. Forced to withdraw right before dressage when Ping broke his lunge line and scraped himself up at Rolex last year, Jennie and Ping are back with unfinished business to attend to. They’re on track across all three phases — and appear to have conquered their demons with corners on cross country — and are coming off a third-place finish in the Carolina International CIC3*. Look for them to play spoiler this weekend.
Erin Sylvester and No Boundaries: Bucky can be unpredictable in the little white box, so Thursday will set the tone for the rest of their weekend. He melted down in dressage at Rolex last year but scored about 20 points better the year before, where they ultimately finished 13th, so it could really go either way. The good news is he’s been very well behaved this season and is coming off a very strong top-1o finish at The Fork CIC3*.
Emily Beshear and Here’s To You: Another pair with potential to play spoiler here this weekend, Emily withdrew Quincy in the final hour at Rolex last year after he sustained a minor injury at The Fork. She’s brought him back slowly, and he looked in good form at The Fork. As with any horse coming back from an injury, fitness is always a concern, but Emily insists Quincy is feeling great, and she pulled him up about halfway through cross country at The Fork as planned because she said he didn’t need the full run. Look for them to put in a very good dressage score.
Meghan O’Donoghue and Pirate: The sweetheart of American eventing, Meghan O’Donogue skyrocketed into the spotlight last year when she finished 12th in her four-star debut at Rolex with her little OTTB Pirate. Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and they continued their good form later in the season with a very respectable performance in their first international event at Blenheim. They’ve had a quiet spring, as this is another horse that doesn’t really need the runs, and they’re in good form to improve on that 12th-place finish from last year.
Doug Payne and Crown Talisman: Doug announced last week he will just be doing the dressage with Tali before withdrawing and heading to Saumur for the horse’s first international competition. It’s really remarkable how far this horse has come in the past year; once tense and unsettled in dressage, he’s emerged as a real threat in the little white box. Doug is definitely smart to confirm that Tali can replicate the same quality of work they’ve been enjoying in a bigger atmosphere like Rolex, and it will be a treat to watch them go on Thursday.
Debbie Rosen and The Alchemyst: Debbie will always have legend status in my book after piloting this horse around Rolex in 2010 just seven weeks after competing her chemotherapy for breast cancer. They enjoyed their best finish at this event in 2009 where they finished 25th. This is their fifth appearance at Rolex, and they’ll be looked to complete North America’s most prominent event for the third time. Go West Coast Eventing!
James Alliston and Parker: Parker had a long break after his 14th-place finish at Rolex last year and has competed just twice since, finishing 10th in an Intermediate division at Twin Rivers in February and winning the Advanced at Galway Downs last month. He’s had a quiet prep for Rolex, but James always does his homework, and I expect to see an improvement on their dressage score of 66.2 from last year with all that time off to focus on flat work.
Rachel McDonough and Irish Rhythm: This is a fun pair, and this horse positively bounces around cross country. They jumped clear around the CIC3* cross country at Carolina International and did the Advanced combined test at The Fork earlier this month in their final prep for Rolex. The dressage is certainly not this horse’s favorite phase, but he eats cross country for breakfast, so be sure to watch them go on Saturday.
Allie Knowles and Last Call: Allie’s Rolex debut last year started with a bang and ended with heartbreak. After a beautiful dressage test that put them in fourth place after the first two days, Allie and Fergie didn’t make it around cross country. But they’ve come back with a vengeance this season, finishing second in the Red Hills CIC3* in their key prep run leading up to this weekend. The mare looks fit and ready to go, and Allie is ready to prove she can get around Derek’s course. Keep your eyes on this pair.
Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice: Perennial favorites here on EN, Hawley and Ginny will be tackling an unbelievable eighth four-star this weekend at Rolex. They enjoyed a top-10 finish here last year with a nearly double clear cross-country trip and clear show jumping round, and I expect them to replicate that performance this year. While spitfire Ginny can be a handful on cross country — which led to time penalties for this pair at Pau when she was fighting fit at the end of the season — I don’t think that will be an issue with Rolex falling earlier in the season when she’s just super fit as opposed to freakishly fit.
Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz: Rolex spectators might set couches on fire in the streets of Lexington if Colleen and Luke have a good go this weekend. The horse spent much of last fall and winter in dressage boot camp with Mara DePuy, and it paid off with a score of 59.4 at The Fork CIC3*, their best ever score at that level. And while Luke looked a bit feral in show jumping early this season, Colleen countered his antics by taking away his bit, and he looked like an entirely different horse at The Fork. Considering we know the cross country will be a walk in the park, the stars could align this weekend.
Katie Frei and Houdini: Katie and Houdini have struggled this season, failing to complete at both Red Hills and Poplar Place, which is a shame because they looked to be in such good form at this time about a year ago. They pulled it together at The Fork in their Advanced division, having an easy go around cross country to rebuild confidence. Katie is no stranger to Rolex, and she certainly has the skill set to get the horse around this weekend despite a less-than-ideal preparation.
Sarah Bullimore and Reve Du Rouet: This is Blou’s first four-star event, and he definitely has all the tools to deliver a very good weekend. I had the pleasure of seeing him go at Boekelo last year, and he’s a lovely mover on the flat and a stylish jumper in the other two phases. Sarah and Blou were double clear to finish 36th in the big Belton Park CIC3* earlier this year in their key prep run, and they did an Advanced combined test at Weston Park earlier this month. It’s always exciting to have combinations join us from across the pond, so give them a big cheer on Thursday.
Kevin Keane and Fernhill Flutter: Everyone’s favorite vet is one of our Rolex rookies this year, and after watching from the sidelines at Kentucky for many years, I’m thrilled Kevin is getting a chance to go around the course himself. Kevin and Butterfly have been training hard under the watchful eye of Phillip Dutton, and they had a very good showing at both Carolina International and The Fork. Kevin will be looking for an accurate dressage test and a safe trip around Derek’s course in his Rolex debut.
Julie Norman and Consensus: Julie and Thomas are another pair contesting their first Rolex this year, and they’re one of my personal favorites to watch. They just did their first CCI3* at Fair Hill last fall where they jumped clear across the country. While they’re new to the level, the horse is incredibly game on cross country, and he’s definitely the type you want to be sitting on in your first trip around Kentucky. They’re still fitting the puzzle pieces together in the little white box, but look for them to have a good go on Saturday.
Sally Cousins and Tsunami: Always a blast to watch, Sue gets away with her distaste for dressage by being a beast on cross-country day. There’s no question they’ll jump clear in their third trip together across the Kentucky bluegrass. Sue has scored a 60 in the dressage in both of her appearances at Rolex, and I know Sally would love to crack the 50s with this sassy mare. Sue doesn’t need extra runs, so she’s had a quiet spring prep, most recently winning the Advanced B division at The Fork. Look for this mare to play with the course on Saturday.
Kate Chadderton and Collection Pass: Another of the OTTBs competing at Rolex — and one of many talented OTTBs in Kate’s barn — little Cole is a total sweetheart and a real trier. While still relatively new to this level, he’s very game cross country and should have a good romp around the cross country come Saturday. Cole ran the Advanced at Carolina International CIC3* and had his final prep run in the Intermediate last weekend at Plantation Field.
Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM: Last year’s USEF National Champions at this event thanks to their fourth-place finish, Buck and Reggie are back this year looking to improve on that placing. And they’re in a very good position to do it, with the horse looking super following his comeback after the injury that kept them out of Aachen last year. Buck and Reggie were second in the Carolina International CIC3* and fourth in the The Fork CIC3*, so they’ve had an ideal prep for what should be a very good weekend for them.
Lillian Heard and Share Option: Yet another of our Rolex first-timers, Lillian and Whitey are definitely a pair you should keep your eyes on this weekend. They capped Whitey’s comeback season last year with a 10th-place finish in the Fair Hill CCI3*, and they’ve come out very strong again this year, finishing in the top 10 in all three of their runs at the Advanced level this spring. Whitey is very good in the dressage, so they could be right up there with the big names at the end of the day on Friday.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our preview!