Rolex Kentucky Cross Country Course Preview

#5. Photo by Jenni Autry.  #5. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, in addition to being the first FEI Classic event of the year, is a bit like a piece of classical music. There’s a definite feel and theme but each edition offers a distinct variation — a change-up here and there, a redistribution of intensity, a shift in flow and direction.

The 2016 vintage has all the trappings of a quintessential Rolex course — expanse, heft, atmosphere — but presents its own unique calling cards as well. Among them: multiple open oxers and corners, a relatively twisty track, plenty of turning questions and a brand new water complex.

Samantha Clark caught up with 2015 Rolex runner-up Tim Price to ask about his first impressions of the course.

“It’s tougher than last year and there’s more to do,” Tim says. “There are more questions — they are all very fair and conventional and obvious questions, but because there are a lot of them it’s going to be a matter of having a fit horse that can come home close to the time, which I think will put pressure on people to be taking some fences a bit quicker than they would prefer.”

The weather, which looks fairly bleak at the moment …

Weather.com screenshot.

Weather.com screenshot

… could also well play a role.

“If the weather turns a little bit then that might have an influence as far as how heavy the going is,” Tim continues. “Not that it gets that heavy here but there’s a lot to do and it could get a bit sapping.”

Tim originally had two Rolex entries, his top horse Wesko and the less seasoned Bango who has one four-star finish, Luhmühlen last summer, under his belt. Much to the disappointment of Wesko’s U.S. fan base, who would have very much enjoyed watching a rematch between him and 2015 champion Michael Jung’s fischerRocana FST, Tim had to withdraw him due to a soft tissue injury earlier this month.

Tim says Rolex will be a big step up from Luhmühlen for Bango but thinks the horse is ready for the challenge.

“In some aspects I’d rather be sitting on this guy,” he says. “I think it will suit him and I’m excited about taking him around. It’s not the partnership of me and Wesko but he’s a very, very scopey, bold and honest cross-country horse.”

There’s a big difference between a three- and four-star track, and Rolex usually manages to separate those who are ready from those who are not quite there or might shine brightest at a lower level.

“There might be two types of horses evolving in the near future: (Bango’s) type, which are the ones you want for the big league four-star stuff. And then something that’s a bit more all-round — a bit sharper, a bit smarter.”

At its best, Rolex creates an accurate stratification among competitors who are confirmed at the level. It’s a fine line to walk and we’ll see if this year’s course lives up to its stiff reputation come Saturday.

“What an amazing park to build a course from,” Tim says. “I’ve got short experience with it, but speaking to the old guys they say this place has come a long way. It’s always been serious. It’s to be respected.”

Jenni snapped photos of each fence around the course today — check it out!

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