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April 25, 2013

Nicholson Leads; Brannigan Gets Reprieve At Rolex Kentucky

Calico Joe showed off his four-star experience today by trotting straight into the lead with Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand. Photo by Sara Lieser.

April 25—Lexington, Ky.      

New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson rode into the lead after the first day of dressage aboard Calico Joe (40.8) ahead of Becky Holder on Can’t Fire Me (44.2) and Canadian rider Shandiss McDonald on Rockfield Grant Juan (45.7). But the buzz at the Kentucky Horse Park was all about Jennie Brannigan, whose Cambalda broke loose from his groom early this morning and took a nasty tumble on the road.

“Ping” wouldn’t have been able to compete if he’d had to go at his scheduled time of 11:42 a.m., but the ground jury made an unusual decision to allow Brannigan the opportunity to ride her dressage test on Friday instead.

The jury, comprised of president Nick Burton of Great Britain, Christina Klingspor of Sweden and Brian Ross of the United States, is permitted to postpone a ride under “extraordinary circumstances”—in Brannigan’s case, this exception was made at the request of the veterinary delegate, Dr. Catherine Kohn.

“[Kohn], after talking with the technical delegate, [Tom Ryckewaert], went to the ground jury and said, ‘I think that we’ve got to at least give her a chance to compete. If we hold her to her time today, there’s no chance at all,’ ” explained FEI technical delegate Roger Haller, who serves as a press officer at Rolex Kentucky. “So the ground jury said, ‘Let’s at least give her a chance.’

“I think the basis of the decision is just to be fair to the horse,” Haller continued. “I gather that he really scraped himself up when he went down. I’m not sure if it’s going to work; it might not be enough time. But I think it was nice of them to do it. And what they did say was that this is not a permanent thing, so if she does go tomorrow in dressage, she’ll still ride at her regularly scheduled time on Saturday.”

“The ground jury and the technical delegate made the most compassionate decision that has been made at an international event in a long time,” said James C. Wofford in his Thursday review. “It’s hard enough to get to a four-star, and then to have a disaster, such as struck Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda this morning, is too much to contemplate.

“After so many years of ground juries and TDs saying that they’re here for us and then acting against our best interests, it’s gratifying to see a ground jury that knows what to do in the 21st century,” continued Wofford.

Nicholson said Calico Joe has plenty of experience now after competing at Kentucky last year (though they retired on cross-country), and completing the four-stars at Luhmuhlen (Germany) and Land Rover Burghley (England).

“He’s only 11 years old. He had quite an intense year last year, and it showed today,” said Nicholson. “He felt very cool when he went down the ramp. He stayed very cool outside the arena and gave me 100 percent in the whole test. I felt I let him down a little bit a couple of times, but he gave me 100 percent all the way through.”

According to Wofford, foreign riders Nicholson and Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt deserved their good scores. (Fox-Pitt slotted into fourth place aboard Seacookie TSF on 46.2 after riding first in the order of go.)

“William did not have a bad test, but he suffered from going first. The ground jury, as they usually are, were probably unduly cautious considering some of the performances that were yet to come,” said Wofford.

“Watching the dressage today, it was obvious to me what the ground jury was looking for,” he continued. “However, many of the riders are not at a sufficient standard to produce it yet. If you came down the centerline with authority, made a square halt, turned and went into a fancy trot, you were going to get good scores. If you halted crooked with one hind leg sticking off and went shuffling across the diagonal like a crab, you’re going to be just another one of the many tests we saw today that started out like that.

“I’ve been critical of the state of eventing dressage in this country, and I remain so. We have a few stars, and we should see some of them sparkle tomorrow. Which means at least I have something to look forward to,” Wofford added.

In relation to Wofford’s Rolex Kentucky predictions, one of his picks for the top 12, Emily Beshear, wasn’t able to start because of an injury to her horse.

“I say every year that there is a dandelion in the Kentucky Horse Park for every broken heart. And there’s a new dandelion that sprouted up today for Emily Beshear,” said Wofford. “She’s a favorite of mine with a lovely horse, and she’s made the right decision to withdraw, but it must be heartbreaking for her.”

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See all of the Chronicle's coverage, including Wofford's predictions and pre-competition stories. 

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