EN crashed the Rolex Ride the Course tour this afternoon at the Kentucky Horse Park, and I rode a rather cheeky gelding named Cowboy around Derek di Grazia’s track to preview some of the key questions we’ll see come Saturday, complete with wonderful commentary from Bruce Davidson, Lynn Symansky and Gina Miles. We zig zagged through the course, starting at the Head of the Lake, where Bruce said he thought this year’s complex will ride very smoothly. Then we went on to the Offset Brushes at fence 16, a new element on course this year.
The brushes are a bit heart stopping if you see them head on. Sharon White assured me earlier this week that if you view this element from the Quarry it looks much more doable. Lynn Symansky wisely noted that the brushes alone would be nothing more than a Preliminary question, but together and at such a severe angle, the brushes make up a combination that is undoubtedly going to cause trouble on cross-country day. I really like the question, as it showcases Derek’s work at its finest. He specializes in designing technical questions that are still very fair to the horse, and that’s exactly what course designers should be striving for in their tracks at this level.
Next we went to the Land Rover Hollow at fence 16, which this year has had a face lift to include a keyhole to up the ante. Bruce said he really likes the question, which is much more difficult if riders jump the keyhole and hold a straight line to the corner that follows. The more forgiving route is to take the fences in a sweeping line. While we might see some riders choose that gutsy, direct route, Bruce said he thinks more riders will opt to make this a bending line. Gina noted here that Derek has made excellent use of the terrain, and she thinks this question will definitely catch some riders off guard.
Finally we went to the coffin at fence 7, officially called the Park Question, which comes after horses have been through the first water complex — the Water Park at fence 5 — which means riders will have gotten their horses’ attention, as Bruce pointed out. This elements comes at about the 2 1/2 minute marker on course, which is early enough on course to label it as the first major question but late enough on the track that horses will be settled and ready to tackle the challenge at hand. Keep watching this longer video for more colorful commentary, which unfortunately cuts off when my phone ran out of memory.
Many thanks to Rolex for inviting EN to ride the course. It’s beautifully presented, and course builder Mick Costello and designer Derek di Grazia have done a brilliant job of preparing the track for the big day on Saturday. Also, many thanks to Kit Houghton for following along on the ride to snap photos of the festivities, and to Bruce, Gina and Lynn for riding along with us and providing fantastic commentary. All photos in the gallery below are courtesy of Rolex/Kit Houghton. Go Eventing.