LEXINGTON, Ky.--Very severe winter weather in England and Europe meant there were only five competitors from there in the Kentucky Three-Day Event on April 26-29, but three of them held the top three positions after cross country, and two, Oliver Townend of Great Britain on Cooley Master Class and Michael Jung of Germany on Fischerrocana FST, finished first and second respectively.
Marilyn Little , 36 of Frederick, Md., on RF Scandalous placed third, with Phillip Dutton of West Grove, Pa., on Z finishing fourth.
Actually, it was a very tight competition, with just one rail separating the top four going into the final, stadium jumping phase on Sunday, and only two rails between the top 10.
Jung, 35, of Horb, Germany and Fischerrocana FST had won the Kentucky Event for the past three years, and were leading after the first day of dressage on Thursday on a score of 27.1, but Little and RF Scandalous on Friday turned in a personal best to take the lead with a score of 24.8, more than 2 points ahead of Jung's 27.1, with Australia's Christopher Burton and Nobilis 18 in third on 27.9.
LITTLE'S stunning score is believed to be the lowest in the history of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
"She gave me a great ride today," said Little. "She was a little bit excited with the Friday afternoon atmosphere, which we are familiar with at Kentucky. I was excited to go on Friday afternoon and knew she could handle it well. She was very businesslike, and it was a great ride. She was looking to please and she did her job."
The 13-year-old Oldenburg mare Little calls "Kitty" was her mount for the Pan American Games in 2015, where they won both team and individual gold medals.
"She's been with me for a while, but she's changed so much," Little said. "I knew she was capable of putting in a great test today. She's been steadily improving. We haven't competed much because we've been focusing on training, but I thought if she had a personal best she could be on top today."
"Everything is perfectly prepared," said Jung of the cross country course. "We have super ground and super weather for tomorrow. It's a good course. It is tough, but really nicely built with many options. I will try to go fast and clear for sure, but in the end we get information from the horse in warm-up and fences 1, 2 and 3, and we have to be open in our mind which plan we go with on which fence. There are some tough combinations (toward the end) that need a lot of power from the horse, so (it's important) not to start too fast."
"There is certainly plenty to do out there tomorrow," Little said. "Kitty is a great cross-country horse. She has great ridability and footwork and plenty of scope. The footing is nice, so I'm looking forward to a nice ride out there. It's very fairly presented and horses that are well prepared should gain confidence as they go."
BEAUTIFUL weather, with temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s, and perfect going allowed 11 horses to complete the Derek DiGrazia designed cross country course double clear, with no jumping and no time penalties.
But unfortunately, Little was not among those. Her fairly conservative ride left her with eight time penalties and dropped her to sixth on a score of 32.8, 5.3 faults behind Jung, who was the leader after cross country on a score of 27.5, despite having .4 time penalties.
Christorpher Burton of Australia on Nobilis 18 was second, double clear, on 27.9, Townend was third on Coooley Master Class, 28.7, and tied for fourth on MHS King Joules, 31.3, with Lynn Symansky on Donner.
Boyd Martin of Cochranville, Pa., was seventh on Tsetserleg on 33.2, and Dutton , incredibly, had the exact same score on both Z and I'm Sew Ready of 33.7 to stand tied for eighth, with Lauren Kieffer on Vermiculus 10th on 34.8.
Jung's time penalty of one second over the optimum time was the result of a near disaster at the big brush corner at 18B in the Head of the Lake.
After getting the striding wrong, the mare twisted badly, and was hung up for a moment on the corner before extracting herself and going on, so despite a big effort to make up the time Jung was not able to do so.
"On jump 18 in the water, I would have liked to do four strides, and I missed it in the end," said Jung. "She tried to keep straight in front of the fence, and she tried not to jump but just to go over."
"But, this is what you need in a partnership," he said. "That the other half is fighting for you, and she was really fighting for me. It makes me proud, she never gives up and every chance she has she fights for me. We lost a few seconds, we were good in time up to there, but then had to go really fast after that. It's a nice feeling when a horse had such great fun on a tough course like this."
"Because there were such good conditions, I was able to enjoy it," said Burton, 36, a two-time Olympian from Godalming, Surrey, England. "My horse has gotten a bit stiff as he's gotten older and it's taken a lot of work to get him here. I'm delighted he came home as well as he did. He looked through the flags really nicely and had a great time out there. It's easy to be happy when you've had a good run, but there wouldn't be anyone who didn't think it was a great day of sport. The course designer has a great feel and it was a great track, and the footing and course were great."
"IT WAS AN unbelievable track," said Townend, 35, Dudleston Heath, Ellesmere, Shropshire, England. "Derek is one of the best designers in the world," he said. "The ground and the track were both fantastic, with a great deal of feel and empathy for the horses.
"I had two very different rides with my horses," he said. "Joules is notoriously strong, which is why I've got the ride. There's no question there's a huge amount of talent and gallop and ability is no problem, but trying to stop or slow down is quite difficult. So I got run off with for 11 minutes on the first horse. I just put him between the flags and went whoa, whoa."
"I couldn't be happier with Cooley Master Class," said Townend. "He's new at this level, and started out not quite so confident and not used to the crowds. He grew in confidence as he went, which is a good sign from a course designing point of view. I couldn't be happier with both horses," he finished.
Townend on MHS King Joules WAS also tied for fourth with Lynn Symanski, 35 of Middleburg, Va., on Donner, a 15-year-old thoroughbred who is competing in his ninth CCI****.
"I don't have any complaints," said Symanski. "He takes a bit to get into the groove, especially with the crowd. But then it was pretty boring, he went around like clockwork. It's a tribute to knowing the horse so well and having a great partnership with him. He tried his heart out, and I'm pleased with how he came home."
The 11 double clear were Burton on Nobilis 18, Townend with MHS King Joules and Cooley Master Class, Symansky on Donner, Dutton on Z, Sharon White on Cooley On Show, Erin Sylvester on Paddy the Caddy, Will Coleman on Tight Lines, Tim Bourke on Luckaun Quality, Kelly Prather onTruly Wiley and Savannah Fulton on Captain Jack.
Kim Severson, fourth after dressage, was going beautifully on Cooley Cross Border and looked about to finish on her dressage score of 28.3, which would have put her n third, when, just two fences from home, Cooley Cross Border had a very uncharacteristic stop at a fence that hadn't caused any problems throughout the day, dropping her to 28th.
Then, to add insult to injury, Severson was clean in stadium jumping over a course that caused a number of rails to finish 21st.
IN FACT, only eight were double clear, and that changed the results quite dramatically in places, beginning with the leader Jung's dropping a rail to lose the win, which would have been his fourth in a row in Kentucky, second placed Burton having two rails to drop him to ninth and moving third placed Townend, who had a clean round, up to first and giving him a second leg the Grand Slam of Eventing.
A cash prize of $350,000 goes to the rider who wins Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky in succession.
Townend won Burghley last September aboard Ballaghmor Class, who is entered at Badminton the following week, along with Cooley SRS, and if he wins there, he will be only the third person in history to take the Grand Slam. Previous winners were Jung in 2016 and Pippa Funnel in 2003.
Townend on Joules and Symansky each had a rail to drop them from tied for fourth to sixth and seventh, moving Little and Dutton on Z up to third and fourth.
Kieffer was double clear to move from 10th to fifth, and White was also double clear to move from 11th to sixth.
Dutton on I''m Sew Ready had a rail and two time faults to drop to 13th, and Martin had a rail to drop to 11th, moving Buck Davidson on Copper Beach up to 10th.
"Obviously it's a fantastic feeling," Townend said. "I had to do a bit of arm-twisting to get the horses here as there was no funding from Britain to come here this year. The owners gambled on me to win their money back, and I'm pleased the horses have come through with great results and that I've repaid the owners' gamble on me."
"This has been a long time dream for me," he said. "We've been cold and wet for four months."
Townend said he was lucky enough to have a very good gallop nearby, which allowed him to get his horses ready while other English riders could not.
"I've had this horse since he was 4, and he really dug down for me," said Townend, This was his first time at this level, and I dreamed he would win his first time. Burghley last year was a dream come true. I'll probably wake up some day.", but I hope it goes on for one more week."
TOWNEND WON a year's lease on a Land Rover Discovery, and he said, "This is a left hand drive, I don't know if I can manage this," before getting in and zooming around the ring to the roar of the crowd.
When asked how fast he was going, he replied with a dry laugh, "I don't know, the man in the passenger seat was screaming too loud."
Little and RF Scandalous won the USEF National CCI**** Championship as the highest-placed Americans with a score of 32.8.
"She is a diva and is notoriously a terror in the stable," Little said of "Kitty". "But she knows her people. Her groom is with her at all times, and she's very trusting. She has an incredible sense of the moment and loves performing for a crowd. She's a real princess, which was a concern early on, as we wondered was she too delicate and fragile and careful for eventing? But she's become a courageous horse, and she gives you 150 percent of all she has."
The morning had started with dramatically when Fischerrocana was sent to the holding box during the final horse inspection, as was Nobilis 18, but the ground jury accepted both horses upon re-presentation.
"I'm very happy about Rocana, a little more sad about me," said Jung. "It was my mistake, I was too far away from this fence. My mare tried hard, and it was a good round, only one down, but it was one down too much. But it was a very nice week here in Kentucky. I really like this event, it's beautiful and I'm happy to be here."
When Jung faulted, Townend covered his face with his hands in disbelief before dissolving into tears.
Ultimately, three others besides Townend would finish on their dressage scores, Dutton on Z, White on Cooley On Show and Coleman on Tight Lines, who was 12th.
Townend has had Cooley Master Class since he was a 4-year-old and says he has always been a barn favorite.
"He came right at the end of a period where I had sold a lot of my good horses to set my life up and buy a property," he said. "He came right at the right time, and when I sat on him, I said 'one way or another we're finding a way to keep this one.'
"I was lucky to sell him to someone who let me keep the ride, and he's never really let us down," he continued. "He had a couple of niggles injury-wise, at certain stages in his career. At times we thought, 'Will he ever come through with what he can really do?' But these last two seasons he toughened up, and we learned more about him and how to manage him. He's always been cheeky and talented and I'm very pleased for him to come through with it."
"With Joules, I'm just thrilled, really pleased. If you'd wanted me to sign a piece of paper saying I'd have one down before the round, I'd have happily signed for that. He is the most difficult horse I've ever ridden and also the most talented. For him to put up the performance this week he did, I'm just as happy as I am with the winner."
The winner takes home a check for $130,000, and for his seventh-placed finish Townend adds an additional $14,000, making it a profitable weekend for his team.
"I'm very fortunate to have two nice horses also belonging to Cooley Master Class' owner Angela Hislop, and we're living in dream world," Townend said. "Angela came up to me about six years ago and said if she was going to own horses for me she wanted a four-star winner and a British team horse, and now we've had both. So, we're both living in dream world, and hopefully it will continue for another week--please."
KENTUCKY added a $225, 000 CSI3* Invitational Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon after the completion of the cross country, and it was a huge success.
There was a qualifying class Friday evening, and both events drew almost sell-out crowds.
Equestrian Events, Inc. president Stewart Perry was on hand to give the event a ringing endorsement.
"I have a prejudice in this because I own a show jumping horse and my daughter is a show jumping rider," he said. "But our spectators have told us they want something else to do. The reining worked. The concert (last year) worked. But clearly, the show jumping is a truly outstanding addition. We're thrilled."
Katie Prudent of Middleburg, Va., had two students in the grand prix and was on the cross country course Saturday afternoon.
"It was great to see the stadium filled for last night's class," said Prudent. "We don't get that many people for the horse shows here. I hope this will encourage more people to come out for the horse show's grand prix. It's also great for the show jumpers to be able to see the eventers compete."
Santiago Lambre of Mexico on Dingeman flew across the finish line to win the inaugural $225,000 Kentucky CSI3* Invitational Grand Prix , finishing in 48.9 seconds to edge Californian Eve Jobs on Venue D'Fees Des Hazalles, who finished second in a time of 49.62, and Conor Swail of Ireland and Rubens LS La Silla was third in a time of 50.64.
The competition featured two rounds, with cumulative scoring, and the top 10 from the first round advanced to the second round.
As the top 10 all jumped clear in the first round, and the top four jumped clean in the second round, the winner was determined by their time in the second round.