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April 29, 2011

2011 Rolex Kentucky Course Walk With Jimmy Wofford

This year, the course starts at the far west end of the park next to Jenny Lane and begins its clockwise progress over three easy fences, all of them tending uphill. This allows horses to gallop in balance and encourages riders to put their hands down and go forward to the fences.

The year 2011 begins what will prove to be the Derek di Grazia era. The longtime course designer, Michael Etherington-Smith, has mentored Derek for the past three years, and this year Derek steps out onto the international stage with his first four-star design. I have walked the course, and it is not at all what I had expected. If I were in Derek’s shoes (and I’m glad I’m not), I would have designed a three-star course on steroids. I would have wanted the riders to handle my course easily, gain confidence in my designs and look forward to returning in other years. Derek has built a terrific four-star course.

The course this year has 28 numbers with 46 jumping efforts. The optimum time is 11 minutes and 11 seconds, and the course is approximately 4 miles. I predict that the time will be difficult to make this year because of the torrential rains that have hit the Kentucky Horse Park over the past month. Having said that, this ground drains as well as any course in the country. There were a lot of long faces among the riders and coaches yesterday who walked the course at its worst, but two days of sun and the high wind on Thursday will produce very acceptable footing for the cross-country on Saturday.

The overall technicality of the course is slightly lower than in years past. For example, Michael E-S used to build courses that were typically 60 percent accuracy questions (i.e.: narrows, corners, angles, etc.). On the other hand, Derek’s inaugural course has a technical difficulty coefficient of approximately 48 percent.

By that I mean that of the 46 efforts, 21 of them require a precise approach. Although I was slightly taken aback by the difficulty of Derek’s course, it is fair and what seems difficult to impossible to the onlooker will prove to be just another day at the office for the established four-star riders here.

An in-depth analysis of the 2011 cross-country course reveals that Derek has constructed a supremely balanced and symmetrical test. I will explain that as we go through the virtual course walk.

(Click on the gallery for jump photos and Jimmy's fence-by-fence analysis)

Read Jimmy's rider predictions.

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