Michael Jung of Germany eagerly attacked the cross-country course at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Land Rover, as if it weren’t raining and the ground wasn’t muddy. The result was the Fischerrocana FST finished just 2 seconds slow to increase the lead she took in dressage to 12.3 points.
Fischerrocana’s time was the fastest among the 63 horses that started on course. The combination of Jung’s winning dressage ride and the fast cross-country time means that he can knock down three rails on Sunday’s show jumping course and still win his second consecutive Rolex watch.
American Phillip Dutton rode all three of his horses to quick rounds with no jumping faults, and he stands second on Fernhill Fugitive (47.5) and third on Mighty Nice (49.8).
Jung, 33, gave spectators and his fellow competitors a lesson in how to ride confidently and accurately around one of the world’s most difficult cross-country courses, designed by Derek di Grazia. Seeming oblivious to the conditions, he rode aggressively forward to every jump, often appearing to throw his heart to the other side while keeping his bay mare in perfect balance.
“Watching him ride gave me inspiration, that’s for sure,” said Alison Springer, who stood second after dressage but had a refusal today to drop to 44th place.
Jung admitted that his ride may not have looked as carefully planned as it was. “It was a really great feeling. She was really concentrated from the start box, and I knew we could gallop today,” he said. “I gave her more time in the beginning of the course, and at the end she had a enough power so that she could go faster.”
He believed that Fischerrocana’s performance showed what an exceptional horses she is. “In the cross-country, you need a fighting horse, and she’s a really fighting horse, because not everything on the cross-country is perfect,” he said. “You have to know your horse, like I do with her, because we’ve been together for many years.”
Dutton rode Fernhill Fugitive to a clear jumping round (11 seconds slow) as the days’ first starter and Mighty Nice to a clear round (12 seconds slow) as the second-last starter. In between, he rode Fernhill Cubalawn to a third clear jumping round (18 seconds slow) to stand ninth.
As the 2008 Rolex Kentucky winner, Dutton, from Coatesville, Pa., is the last American to win here. “I thought all three went well. It wasn’t easy—every stride they were working hard to pull their feet out of the ground,” he said.
“The ground didn’t get very deep, but every stride was hard work. The footing at the jumps was well taken care of, but the galloping tracks were soft,” he added. “But it was always safe—Derek did a great job.”
Di Grazia has been designing Rolex Kentucky since 2011, and earlier this month he was named the cross-country course designer for the 2018 World Championships in Canada and the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Riders called his redesigned Rolex Kentucky course “brilliant” and “superb,” partly because no single jump caused more than three horses to incur faults.
“You’re always a little bit nervous about the weather,” di Grazia admitted. “We ran in the rain last year, and the footing held up well, so I thought we’d probably be OK. Still, I will take my hat off to these riders, because they produced some great rounds.”
Forty starters finished di Grazia’s course without jumping faults, but all had time faults, ranging from Jung’s 0.8 to 40.4. Five horses were eliminated; riders retired three horses on course; and seven horses were withdrawn before they started.
The “leap of the day” belonged to James Alliston of Great Britain on Parker, who jumped his fifth faultless round at Rolex Kentucky and finished with just 3.6 time faults, to vault from 64th to 21st.
Dutton, fifth-placed Boyd Martin and sixth-placed Lauren Kieffer have given Team USA a big lead in the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge. With 151.5 points, they lead New Zealand (222.0) and Australia, Germany and Great Britain (263.5).
Kieffer, of Middleburg, Va., stands sixth on Veronica (51.5) and seventh on Landmark’s Monte Carlo (52.8), and she won the Land Rover Best Ride of the Day. With Landmark’s Monte Carlo, she was the American rider to finish closest to the optimum time of 11:15, just 7 seconds slow.
Kieffer won a two-year lease on a Land Rover Discovery Sport. “I’m pretty ecstatic to win this car,” said Kieffer with a smile. “Monte Carlo is a homebred, and he hasn’t always been the easiest horse, but he was foot-perfect today in his first four-star.”
Lynn Symansky and Holly Payne Caravella also finished with 2.8 time faults, but Kieffer won the car because she had the best dressage score.