April 26—Lexington, Ky.
Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt found himself in a familiar position at the conclusion of dressage at Rolex Kentucky, as he took over the lead with Chilli Morning (33.3) ahead of Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand on Quimbo (38.0) and Calico Joe (40.8).
The two titans of eventing sport are both gunning for the Rolex Grand Slam—Nicholson must win Kentucky and the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** (England) next week, while Fox-Pitt need only win Badminton, since he’s already won the other two legs and the third was cancelled last year due to rain.
“Your esteemed columnist picked [Chilli Morning] to win it, and I see no reason to change my mind, given that William has almost a 5-point lead over the next horse,” said James C. Wofford in his Friday update to his predictions. “In this business, that’s what you call a cushion.”
Nick Gauntlett of Great Britain produced the 13-year-old stallion (Phantomic—Koralle, Kolibre) to the four-star level, and Fox-Pitt took over the ride last year, finishing fifth at the Pau CCI**** (France).
“He’s a lovely horse to ride on the flat,” said Fox-Pitt. “He’s got a great presence. When you’re riding him, you feel that you’re capturing the ground jury’s attention. He’s there saying, ‘Look at me.’ He’s a very well schooled horse. He holds himself well. He’s very uphill and light. He paints a good picture throughout the test. He did a lovely test. I’m delighted with him.”
Nicholson said Quimbo gave him 100 percent, and that a flubbed lead change at the end was a rider error.
“I was trying to press for more marks,” he admitted. “I could see on the scoreboard before I started the serpentine that I was going to have to squeeze the maximum out of him to catch William. I got a bit carried away by the end of it, but you’ve got to try these things, don’t you? He’s only 10 years old. For these four-star tests they have to be physically strong to maintain the necessary collection and fluency. He’s young for this level. In another year he’ll be even smarter. He fixed himself and finished the test off smoothly. I couldn’t wish him to be any better.”
Rolex Kentucky first-timer Alexandra “Allie” Knowles finished as the highest-placed U.S. rider in fourth with Last Call (43.3). She’s had the 13-year-old Mecklenburg mare for the last seven years, and they’ve ascended the levels together.
“I just feel so lucky to be here, much less to have done so well in dressage and to be sitting up here between two of the greatest riders ever. I’m a little bit overwhelmed,” admitted the Paris, Ky., rider.
“I’m glad to notice today that the standard of the U.S. dressage has started to improve,” said Wofford. “We had a few stars on Thursday, but the overall performance was pretty shabby. The general standard here on Friday seems better. Certainly, Alexandra Knowles lit up the arena with Last Call, and she deserved every mark she got. If she hadn’t had a bobble in the last change, she might be right behind the leader.
“Having said all those nice things, it remains apparent that the general U.S. four-star rider lacks the polish to perform a 70 percent dressage test, and that’s what it takes to be rich and famous in the 21st century,” he continued.
“Our hearts go out to Jennie Brannigan, who withdrew Cambalda overnight,” said Wofford. “I said yesterday there’s a dandelion for every broken heart in the Kentucky Horse Park. When I pulled in this morning, there was a new crop of dandelions, and we’ll be adding to them today and certainly for cross-country day tomorrow over Derek di Grazia’s very challenging four-star course.”
“It’s a strong track,” agreed Fox-Pitt. “As always here, the undulations play a big part. The ground is very good. I’ve been here before, so I can say it’s got a similar feel to it, but I think it’s a clever track. There are a few decisions to be made, a few distances that could be one thing or another. It’s very much not guaranteed what striding you’ll get through a combination. You’ll have to feel what you’ve got and react accordingly.”
Cross-country begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday.