Stage Set for Nail-Biting Finale at Rolex

Your top three going in to the final day: William Fox-Pitt, Lauren Kieffer and Phillip Dutton. Photo by Jenni Autry. Your top three going in to the final day: William Fox-Pitt, Lauren Kieffer and Phillip Dutton. Photo by Jenni Autry.

That’s a wrap on cross-country day at Rolex. With the dust settled, eight American pairs are in the top 10, and just two rails separate the top eight, so it’s going to be a nail-biting, thrilling conclusion to the competition here in Lexington. The top three after cross country — William Fox-Pitt with Bay My Hero, Lauren Kieffer with Veronica, and Phillip Dutton with Mr. Medicott — joined us in the media center following the day’s festivities to break down their rides and offer their thoughts on Derek di Grazia’s lovely course.

Lauren said she was thrilled with Veronica, affectionally called Troll, especially when you consider that they were pulled up just before the Head of the Lake for a hold on course. It’s always challenging to stay focused and continue on under those circumstances, and Lauren and Veronica got the job done. “She really fought for it,” Lauren said. “We went out, and I knew I had to ride every combination. There were lot of big combinations. After the hold, she had to fight for it at the Head of the Lake. Everything rode the way I expected it to. I knew going out I was going to have to fight for it and focus on being accurate. I was quite happy with it.”

Peter Barry and Kilrodan Abbott. Photo by Alec Thayer.

Peter Barry and Kilrodan Abbott. Photo by Alec Thayer.

William agreed that the course really encouraged forward riding, which worked well for the 19 pairs that came home double clear. “I was delighted with how the course rode,” William said. “I knew with my two horses it was a decent track and a big test … It was a transparent course. The horses could see their way through the fences. Bay My Hero has much less experience. This is the first time he’s done a three-day with up and down hills like that. A lot of his three days have been flat, like Pau and Tattersalls. It’s very different there. He was a bit surprised by the Head of the Lake, but he’s clever as a cat and super genuine. I was delighted with him. He carried his tubby little body around clear and inside the time.”

In other news, Sharon White and Wundermaske win the biggest move up award thanks to their double clear trip; they sky rocketed up the leaderboard from 58th to 27th place. Other big move ups include Rachel Jurgens and Ziggy, who came to Rolex this year with a vengeance after failing to make it around last year. They had a fantastic trip to come home with just 2.8 time penalties to move up from 57th to 30th place. James Alliston and Parker had the fastest round of the day to move up from 55th to 25th, and Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz moved all the way from 48th to 23rd. Colleen and Luke have never made the time at a four-star … until today, and they’re on track for a very strong finish.

Meghan O'Donoghue and Pirate. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Meghan O’Donoghue and Pirate. Photo by Alec Thayer.

We were lucky to finish the day with just a few injuries to discuss. The most serious is Kaitlin Spurlock’s Expedience, who unfortunately suffered a hoof fracture at the Head of the Lake and has been transported to a local equine hospital for surgical evaluation. The horses that fell on course — Madison Park and Luckaun Quality — are all fine. Just Madison Park required any type of serious medical attention due to an elbow laceration, and he’s been stitched up. We know of just one unsound rider right now, as Sinead Halpin pulled her groin Thursday in the dressage and looked in serious pain after finishing her amazing ride with Manoir de Carneville. She’s gritting her teeth through the pain and doing OK.

Looking ahead, William has been in the top 5 after cross country at this event for the past four years, and it’s the second time time he’s been leading after cross country in the past three years. The last time he was sitting in this position in 2012, he ultimately won with Parklane Hawk. Looking at William’s show jumping record at this event, he’s pulled just one rail in the past three years, so it’s safe to say he’s probably feeling pretty confident tonight heading into show jumping. That said, though Bay My Hero is a trier and jumps well, William said he will find the atmosphere very exciting and will likely be peeking at everything. “For now, I’m enjoying the moment and hoping he’s OK, and hopefully he is,” William said. “If he jumps clear, brilliant; and if he doesn’t, he still had a great competition and will learn a lot for it.”

Jan Byyny and Inmidair. Photo by Alec Thayer.

Jan Byyny and Inmidair. Photo by Alec Thayer.

Phillip agreed he’s also cautiously optimistic about the show jumping with Trading Aces and Mr. Medicott. “Mine are both good jumpers, but it’s a long competition for them, so we’ll just be out there and try to do our best.” His partnership with Mr. Medicott continues to improve with each competition, in large part because the horse’s way of going suits Phillip’s riding style, he said. “He sort of goes more like a Thoroughbred, and I learned a lot of my trade on hot Thoroughbred horses, so it’s been a bit like coming home on a horse like this. I’m not always comfortable with the slow, cold ones. I had to give in a little bit to how he wants to go, and now he’s starting to get respectful of how I want him to go. We’re starting to form a partnership that way.”

Lauren wisely noted that for the American riders, virtually all of the show jumping rounds at the key prep events for Rolex have come before cross country when the horses are more fresh. “Tomorrow we’ll be dealing with horses that are at a four-star, and we’ll be hoping they carry over that carefulness,” Lauren said. The final horse inspection is at 9 a.m. tomorrow, followed by the course walk for the riders at 10 a.m. and then show jumping at 12:30 p.m. with the riders up through 21st place. Then there will be a quick ring drag, and the top 20 will jump, followed by awards. We still have much more to bring you from Rolex. While the chinchillas continue working away, enjoy these random statistics, and Go Eventing.

Observations compiled by two neurotic EN reporters:

  • Time played a crucial role today. Just 3.2 time penalties moved Jan Byyny from a tie for fourth place down to 11th.
  • Selena O’Hanlon is the highest-placed Canadian in 14th with Foxwood High.
  • Hawley Bennett and Gin & Juice jumped clear in their 8th CCI4*.
  • Ballynoe Castle RM has been in the top six going into show jumping for the past two years.
  • This is the second car Trading Aces has won this year. Boyd Martin won a Mercedes after the win at Red Hills, and Phillip Dutton won a Range Rover Evoque today after being bang on the optimum time.
  • There are 8 U.S. combinations in the top 10 after cross country.
  • Only two foreign nationality pairs failed to complete cross country (Kyle Carter and Tim Bourke).
  • Marilyn Little and Phillip Dutton piloted both of their rides to double clear rounds.
  • Buck Davidson had just 2.4 time penalties between his two rides.
  • Rachel McDonough and Irish Rhythm were the only Rolex rookies to go double clear.
  • Four mares jumped double clear: Veronica, RF Demeter, Gin & Juice and Tsunami.
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