New Zealand eventer Tim Price made the most of his first trip to Rolex in 2015, finishing in second place with Wesko, the 13-year-old Dutch gelding owned by Christina Knudsen and the Wesko Syndicate. When asked in the final press conference if he planned to return to Rolex in 2016, Tim jokingly agreed to come back on the condition that winner Michael Jung stayed home.
The stage is set for a rematch this year, as both Michael and Tim are returning with the top two horses from last year’s event. Tim is also bringing Bango, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by the Numero Uno Syndicate, who will be contesting his second CCI4*.
Both Wesko and Bango are on New Zealand’s radar as potential horses for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and Tim is sticking to his plan of producing consistent results and keeping his horses fit and in the game as the selectors watch closely.
“Right now, Wesko would be my number one and Bango my number two (for Rio),” Tim said. “I’ve got five qualified, and I think you have to base it on performance, and I want to go to Rio and be competitive. I want to take the horse that’s on the best form and performing well, so it’s my policy to go and compete them.”
Wesko has certainly earned the right to be called one of Tim’s top horses. Better known as “Dash” in the barn, Wesko has three top placings at the four-star level, including carrying Tim to the first CCI4* win of his career at Luhmühlen in 2014. Most recently, Wesko finished third at Pau last fall.
“I think Wesko has Rio written all over him,” Tim said. “I’ve felt it since he sort of came of age. He’s proven himself at the four-star level and is finding that job easier. I think he would be an out and out Olympic horse with all three phases and the two jumping rounds at the end. He’s a showman; he enjoys the performance side of things.”
Tim selected Kentucky over Badminton for Wesko as he feels Derek di Grazia’s course better suits the horse. “He’s not a horse to put up on a shelf and wrap in cotton wool; he needs the runs for his fitness and for his wellbeing,” Tim explained. “The cross country lets the horse settle into a rhythm, and the questions come at nice paces at Kentucky.”
The prep for Wesko this spring has been light. He’ll run in the Advanced at Burnham Market this weekend as one of his final prep runs for Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Bango is also stepping up to the plate for Tim, picking up a top-15 finish in his CCI4* debut at Luhmühlen last year. This horse came to Tim as a 3-year-old and “I never let him go.” Known as “Uno” in the barn, he also finished in 12th place in the CCI2* championship for 7-year-olds at Le Lion d’Angers in 2013.
“I’ve brought him through very quietly and patiently,” Tim said. “He’s always been all class. It’s taken him awhile to grow into his body and mature. He finds it all very easy and has cruised up the grades nicely. I feel like this year he feels ready to go. I think of him as a Kentucky/Burghley horse; he just eats up the ground and jump things in stride.”
Tim is looking forward to bringing Bango, as he feels the atmosphere and good footing will give him the best chance of having a confident finish.
“I’m lucky enough to have the financial support to make (Kentucky) an option for him,” Tim said. “A horse like Bango will show his greenness, but having the opportunity to go and school in the ring at Kentucky is a huge advantage. It’s great for a young horse. And I also feel that the travel away from home makes a horse grow up and find themselves in the journey.”
As for himself, Tim relished his time in Kentucky last year and is ready to get back. “I loved all of it,” he said. “The hospitality, the organizers who always find a way to help you, the enthusiasm and the participation — it’s nice to be over there and have so much fun in that environment.”
His one regret from 2015 was having to leave his celebratory champagne glass behind in order to rush to the airport to catch a flight back to the UK. “If I’m lucky enough to be in that position again, I’ll really not look forward to having my champagne glass pulled!”