Attending the Rolex Kentucky **** 3 Day Event is a trip worth making for any equestrian, regardless of their preferred discipline. As the only 4* event in the Western Hemisphere, Rolex Kentucky draws the best horses and riders in the world with expected crowds of 60 to 70 thousand people. The atmosphere of the show is the best of any show attended, magnified to an even greater degree with the excitement of competition, the allure of a hundred different vendors, and the historic Kentucky Horse Park itself. The town of Lexington, Kentucky, where the event is hosted, is also a true horseman’s town with equestrian-inspired accents all around from the town interest signs to the portraiture inside the hotels. This year’s event boasted a record-setting entry of 86 horse and rider combinations, representing 7 different countries.
The fun started on Wednesday afternoon with the vet inspection, known as the jog. This ensures that all horses are sound for the rigors of competition. One horse was spun at the jog, meaning he was not cleared by the vet to compete, while two others were withdrawn from the competition, leaving 60 riders to compete in dressage. The event started early Thursday morning with a beautiful test ride by Lynn Symansky on Donner. The dressage competition covered two days and was full of tough competition, with the weather being a strong factor with the elements ranging from cold and windy on Thursday morning to blistering heat and sun later that day to cold, windy and rainy for most of Friday. The winner after dressage, going into cross-country day on Saturday, was Allison Springer on Arthur, who had an amazing ride with a low score of 39.5. bringing her to joyful tears as she exited the ring. In a close second place was William Fox Pitt on Bay My Hero with a score of 44 and in third was Lauren Kieffer on Veronica with a score of 46.7. For those not familiar with eventing dressage scores, they are based on penalties with the lower score being better, with faults in cross-country and stadium being added on as the competition continues.
Saturday’s cross-country is always a huge draw for fans, and drew over 35,000 spectators for a beautiful sunny day of competition. An unfortunate refusal at the Curvy Brush section of the Normandy Bank dropped Allison Springer and Arthur into 26th place, while faultless rides brought William Fox Pitt and Bay My Hero into first place and Lauren Kieffer and Veronica into second place. While Phillip Dutton and Mr Meddicot completed a faultless round and moved into 3rd place, Dutton withdrew him from competition before the Sunday jog, bringing Marilyn Little with Smoke on the Water into 3rd. Phillip Dutton with Boyd Martin’s Trading Aces finished the course with no faults right on the optimum time of 11:12 to win Land Rover’s Best Ride of the Day and a 2 year lease of a 2014 Range Rover Evoke. At the end of Saturday, 20 horses and riders finished the course with no faults, while 10 were eliminated and 6 were retired on course.
Show jumping on Sunday, and the last day of the competition was particularly intense with only a few points separating the leaders. Running in reverse order, tension for the last few riders was even higher with clear rides for Marilyn Little on Smoke on the Water, Buck Davidson on Ballynoe Castle RM and Sinead Halpin and Manior de Carneville. The second to the last ride was Lauren Kieffer on Veronica and ending on a clear round to thunderous applause took even the seasoned William Fox Pitt aback as he entered the ring for the last round of the day on Bay My Hero. Despite that, Will stayed strong and finished with a clear round to even greater applause to cinch the win for his 3rd time. This win will also put him into the running for the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, which awards $350,000 to the rider that wins the Rolex Kentucky, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley 4* events in consecutive order. To round out the event, the US won the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge, which added the scores from the top 3 riders from each nation, and presented a purse of $20,000 to assist them in the journey to the World Equestrian Games to be held later this summer.
If you were unable to watch the event live, you can check out the highlights on NBC as the Rolex Equestrian Championships at 2-3PM EDT on May 4th.