Your Full Rolex Day 1 Report: Jessica Phoenix & Pavarotti Dance to Lead

Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Jessica Phoenix and Don Good’s Pavarotti made Canada incredibly proud today at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, scoring a personal best of 43.1 to lead at the conclusion of the first day of dressage. It’s familiar territory for the 15-year-old Westphalian (Pavarotti Van De Helle X Fidelia), as it’s his third time scoring 45.0 or better at Rolex.

“Every year we do the migration from Florida back to Canada, and Rolex is literally on our way,” Jessica said. “We’ve taken advantage of coming here often to do a dressage test. We just cannot get into a bigger venue to reproduce the atmosphere of the Rolex stadium. He felt so relaxed coming down the runway, and he felt so confident and happy.”

This is Pavarotti’s fourth appearance at Rolex, though he has never actually completed the event, as Jessica has withdrawn him before cross country each time. We’ll have to wait until Saturday to see if “Rotti” does head out of the startbox, but Jessica said she thinks it’s a course that would suit him, as he has a massive gallop stride.

“The course looks bold and forward with a lot of accuracy questions,” Jessica said. “The terrain is always a big question here at Rolex. It’s open, bold, galloping, not trappy, and I’m really excited to get out there.”

Jessica has two other rides in A Little Romance, who is also looking for her first Rolex completion, and Bentley’s Best, who is making his four-star debut. We’ll be cheering loudly for Jessica and all the other Canadian riders: Selena O’Hanlon, Hawley Bennett-Awad, Rachel McDonough, Lisa Marie Fergusson and Holly Jacks-Smither.

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

We had a very exciting conclusion to dressage, as Jessica and Pavarotti were the last pair of the day to enter the Rolex Stadium, just as Lauren Kieffer and Jacqueline Mars’ Vermiculus, a 10-year-old Anglo-Arabian (Serazim X Wake Me Gently), were exiting the ring following a smashing test in the horse’s four-star debut, scoring 43.8 for second place.

Eventing fans will remember Snooze Alarm, the horse that took Lauren to her first CCI4* here at Rolex in 2010. Now Vermiculus, a full brother to Snooze Alarm bred right here in the USA by Lawson Williams, has returned to Rolex to continue the legacy.

“I got him from the breeder when he was 3, brought him home and turned him out in the field with Snooze, and I couldn’t catch him for three months. He didn’t get backed until he was 4 because I couldn’t catch him,” Lauren said.

“It’s special to have his connection (to Snooze). He’s greener and known for being cheeky in the dressage. This year he’s grown up a little, but I didn’t expect him to be quite so good in there. You can’t match the atmosphere with a green horse, so you just don’t know exactly what will happen.”

Lauren had to laugh when she discovered after her test that a plastic bag blew right through the ring. Thankfully, “Bug” didn’t notice and carried on being a little superstar, though Lauren said she thought she’d made a mistake in the test when she heard the crowd gasp!

Maxime Livio and Qalao Des Mers. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Maxime Livio and Qalao de Mers sit third on 44.6, which is right on par with their other CCI4* scores from last year of 44.9 and 45.3 at Luhmühlen and Pau, respectively. The 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding is making his third career CCI4* start here at Rolex and coming off a win at Pau last fall, where he delivered a clear show jumping round to steal the win from Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST.

With the two-time Rolex winners returning to defend their title, the stage is set for a rematch: Maxime Livio and Qalao de Mers vs. Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST. Unfortunately for Maxime, two mistakes in his test — breaking to canter in both the medium and extended trot — left the door open for Michael and other challengers as we look ahead to day two of dressage, but he said he was thrilled with the horse’s performance.

“He’s an incredible horse and very generous. All the time he wants to do his best, which he did today, but I made two mistakes. It was my own fault,” Maxime said. “The horse was very very focused … and concentrated on what I wanted today. … I just have to ask him to stay quiet and listen to me and don’t do too much. I’m very lucky to have such a horse.”

Katie Ruppel and Houdini. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Katie Ruppel and her own Houdini, our leaders from the lunch break, now sit fourth on their personal best of 46.0. Eventing’s Mr. Miyagi Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready, owned by John and Kristin Norton, round out the top five on 46.1 in the horse’s four-star debut. Click here to read the morning report for more on Katie and Phillip’s tests.

Jenny Caras and her own Fernhill Fortitude, a 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Courage II X Misty Matilda), are leading the way for the Rolex Rookies after day one, scoring 46.3 for sixth place — a performance that had her coach Phillip Dutton giving a “woo hoo!” after her final halt and salute. (Leslie Wylie and I both picked Jenny and “Forty” for Best Rookie in EN’s Team Picks. Cheers, Jenny!)

Groom Dani Dichting Busbee congratulates Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Another shout out for today has to go to Caroline Martin and Spring Easy, who delivered a very respectable test in their four-star debut to sit 11th on 51.5. Diarm Byrne of EquiRatings has been championing these two on the Horseware Eventing Podcast for some time now, so he sends his hearty congratulations. (If you missed the Rolex Preview Episode, click here.)

Looking to the scoring for the afternoon, marks started off 1.02 points above the expected averages for the first session, but dropped significantly in the second afternoon session to 3.33 points below expected. Both Vermiculus and Fernhill Fortitude, who bested or equaled their personal best scores, competed in the final session, accounting for the sudden drop.

Caroline Martin and Spring Easy. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Overall, the horses that competed in the afternoon scored 1.15 below their expected averages, which is not far off the 0.58 below the expected averages the morning competitors received. Throughout the day, all competitors ended on average 0.88 points below their expected scores. Many thanks to EN’s data analyst Maggie Deatrick for crunching numbers throughout the day!

Judges David Lee, Christina Klingspor and Nick Burton varied no more than 5.0 percentage points between their scores on all day. Their largest disagreement was on I’m Sew Ready whose received a 72.14 from David Lee and a 67.14 from Nick Burton. Of the 27 competitors who rode today, 82% of them were scored within 3% from all three judges, indicating a strong level of agreement.”

Ya’ll blew up the internet this afternoon with votes for EN’s inaugural Rolex Groom Award, with nearly 4,500 votes ultimately cast to determine the best turned out horse at yesterday’s first inspection. After a heated battle, Tayler Ravenscroft, groom to Rise Against, is the winner of our 2017 Rolex Groom Award, winning a $100 SmartPak gift card and Athletux backpack filled with swag.

Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Because Caroline Ring, groom to Sparrow’s Nio, was less than 20 votes from taking the win, she is going to receive an awesome EN swag bag filled with goodies. To Tayler and Caroline and ALL the grooms who are working so hard here at Rolex, there’s a mimosa or beer with your name on it at EN’s Rolex Tailgate on Saturday — if you can find time to sneak away! (Stay tuned for more on the tailgate, which will be at spots #S240/241 near the announcer’s tower overlooking the infield.)

Chinch is sending his most sincere thanks to the 737 of you fabulous readers who have downloaded the new EN app. We aren’t lying when we say it’s truly the easiest way to read EN. You can leave comments, mark stories as favorites to read later and receive notifications the second we publish a new story. Spoiler alert: If you show the EN app on your phone at the tailgate, you’ll win swag! [Download the EN app for iOS] [Download the EN app for Android]

Day two of dressage starts at 9 a.m. EST tomorrow with Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night as the first pair down centerline. Check EN first thing in the morning for Maggie’s analysis on the dressage powerhouses of day two, and be sure to keep checking this link for all of our #RK3DE coverage, including Samantha Clark’s incredible interviews and Leslie Threlkeld’s day one photo gallery. All of the links for EN’s Contest Week are bookmarked here.

It goes without saying that Rolex is EN’s Super Bowl. We have been overwhelmed by kind comments, emails, tweets and messages from all around the world from eventing fans who are loving our coverage. EN would not be EN without YOU, and we have to send our sincerest thanks for trusting us as your eventing news source.

Last but not least, we leave you with some key Rolex stats from our friends at EquiRatings:

  • Over the past seven years the three toughest four-star venues to complete are Badminton (62.7% completion rate), Burghley (62.8% completion rate) and Rolex (63.2% completion rate).
  • Rolex itself can vary in this regard, hitting a seven-year high last year with 76.1% of the field completing the event. In 2015 just 54.1% of the field completed.
  • The last five runnings of Rolex have all witnessed dressage tests in the 30s. fischerRocana FST is the only horse in the field averaging sub-40 at four-star level in dressage (37.9), and Michael is the only rider averaging sub-40 at the level (37.8). Loughan Glen averages 39.2 from seven runs (all levels) since start of 2016.
  • In 2011, there were no sub-40 dressage scores and the winner (Mary King with King’s Temptress) finished on a 47.7, which is the highest winning score since Clayton Fredericks in 2007, who finished with 54.0.
  • Lucinda Fredericks holds the record winning score of 32.3, which she set in 2009 with Headley Britannia.

Go Eventing.

#RK3DE Links: Website, Schedule, Ride Times, Live ScoresEN’s Coverage, EN’s Ultimate Guide to Rolex, Live Stream, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram