The Chronicle Staff's 2015 Rolex Kentucky Picks

Apr 19, 2015 - 3:54 PM

Watching the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** entry list grow every year is an enjoyable spectator sport for sure. And this year’s list—which started at a record 88 entries, though we’ve lost a few since—is especially impressive, with top Europeans like William Fox-Pitt and Michael Jung coming to battle for the top prize. But there are also plenty of U.S. riders who’ll make a bid for keeping the Rolex watch in the country this year. 

Of course, it should go without saying that we Chronicle staffers want everyone entered to have a fun and safe weekend. But there are always those competitors especially near and dear to our hearts, so here they are!

Senior editor Kat Netzler’s pick: Jennie Brannigan on Cambalda

Jennie Ping
(Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda. Photo by Jasmine Wallace.)

I don’t consider myself to be an especially superstitious person (an assertion echoed by many a rider in our “Ask Five: What’s Your Rolex Crazy?” feature in our April 20 issue, which you won’t want to miss), but when the preview issues for our big events roll around, I start to seriously believe in the jinx. I won’t list for you all the Rolex combinations whose misfortune I seriously believe I might have had a hand in, but trust me, the curse is real.

For this reason I’m always hesitant to pick a particular rider, lest by publicly uttering my intent to cheer for them I inexplicably bring down a hex upon their household. Why tempt fate?

On the other hand, Jennie Brannigan has had so much bad luck on her own that my rooting for her surely can’t make it worse, right? As a Rolex trivia reminder, Jennie’s horse Cambalda, aka Ping, got loose from his groom the morning before his dressage test at Rolex 2013, taking off at a gallop, slipping on a blacktop road and Tokyo drifting to an eventual stop with a side full of gravel, necessitating his withdrawal.

Then last year the pair made it through the first phase and the second as well, jumping clear around cross-country before Jennie was informed her horse had jumped outside the flags over a brushy corner—meaning he’d cleared the widest part of the fence. But there are no bonus points for this kind of extra effort, and they were heartbreakingly eliminated. 

This is their year. IT HAS TO BE. With Michael Jung and William Fox-Pitt in attendance, I’m realistic about their slim chances of a four-star win, but this girl seriously deserves a top-five finish. I stuck my neck out for Jennie prior to the Fair Hill CCI*** last fall, and that turned out OK, so as long as she keeps on kicking, I’m going to keep on cheering for her. This girl has the tenacity of a honey badger.

Associate editor Molly Sorge’s pick: Lynn Symansky on Donner

Donner
(Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.)

I know all the riders at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** have interesting back stories, hopes, fears and doubts. You can’t get to a four-star without pondering a lot of life’s mysteries and going through quite a few ups and downs. Lynn Symansky has done us the honor of blogging for the Chronicle’s website, and it’s been a really fun process to get to know her through her words. I’m frequently very impressed by how eloquent and reflective our bloggers are—we’re lucky they’re out there making a living riding because quite a few of them could put us writers out of a job if they wanted!

I got to know Lynn when I wrote about young eventers trying to make their way as professionals for the magazine in 2012—the struggles they face not only making a name for themselves but also just to make money to put grain in the feed bins and hay in the loft every month. She was honest, open and realistic, and I really enjoyed talking to her. In her blogs, Lynn has opened up to us about when things have gone downhill and when she’s been reminded of how winning isn’t everything.

She’s let us and our readers into her life behind the scenes, and it makes me want to cheer even harder for her because I know just that much more about how much it means to her.

Donner, or the Deer, is an all-American off-the-track Thoroughbred, which makes a lot of people cheer for him. But he’s also a quirky horse that Lynn’s brought along carefully, with respect for all his foibles.

It’d be a lot of fun to see the Deer fly around Rolex and do well. Plus, Lynn had quite a bit of bad luck last year, and I’d love to see her have a fantastic 2015!

Editorial staffer Lisa Slade’s pick: Leah Lang-Gluscic on A.P. Prime

AP Prime
(Leah Lang-Gluscic and A.P. Prime. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.)

Quick shoutout to the Retired Racehorse Training Program’s Bloodline Brag here. Without it, I likely wouldn’t even know that my own horse’s brother from another mother is competing at Rolex this year. But it’s true. Thanks to the website, I know that A.P. Prime, who’s about to do his first four-star with Leah Lang-Gluscic, is by the same sire (Aptitude) as my new off-the-track-Thoroughbred.

So that’s pretty neat! But the family connection is really not the only reason I’m cheering on Rolex rookies “AP” and Leah this year. It’s also because AP was a CANTER horse (can we also get a shoutout for CANTER?), and he cost $750 just a few years ago. Sometimes riding is a discouraging sport, and not just because of the falling off and the frequent equine lamenesses and whatnot, but also because it can seem prohibitively expensive and impossible to get anywhere without a large trust fund and/or wealthy spouse and/or life of organized crime. 

But then, thanks to a lot of hard work and some good luck too, Leah makes it all the way to the country’s largest event on a horse she bought off the track for $750? It gives me some hope—not that I can make it to Rolex (can I get yet another shoutout for those of us who realize we’d never be brave enough to do that in a million years?)—but that I can achieve something cool. Maybe even with my own Aptitude offspring.

Editorial staffer Lindsay Berreth’s pick: Buck Davidson on Ballynoecastle RM

Buck Reggie
(Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.) 

I’m as excited as ever to watch Michael Jung and William Fox-Pitt’s brilliant riding at Rolex, but I have to root for a U.S. rider to win! For my Best Chance At Cracking The Top 10, I have to pick Buck Davidson and Carl and Cassie Segal’s Ballynoe Castle RM.

I got to meet “Reggie” for the first time in person this year and while he might be a simple guy on the ground, once he’s tacked up, he’s all business. Buck treats every one of his horses as individuals and even though he has a huge string, he knows the ins and outs of each one, but none more than Reggie, who he’s ridden for the last nine years.

It’s no secret Buck wants a Rolex win, and he’s come close with Reggie, placing fourth in 2013 and third in 2014. While he had a blip at the World Games in France last year, Buck told me Reggie has come out stronger and fitter than ever this season.

Buck admits that while competing and winning with Reggie is fun, he’s more appreciative of the bond that the 15-year-old gelding has created between himself, his longtime groom Kathleen Murray and the Segals. Buck said he plans on listening to what Reggie tells him as they prepare to tackle Rolex for the fourth time, which is a sign of a great horseman. I think a win would be a well-deserved cap on the career of this great horse.

There are also a lot of Rolex rookies this year, and I’m hoping all of them have good goes, but I’m picking Maya Black and Dawn Dofelmier’s Doesn’t Play Fair.

Originally from the West Coast, Maya came east to work for Jan Byyny and immediately held her own last year. She had a standout debut season at advanced, culminating in a big win in the Plantation Field CIC*** (Pa.) with “Cody.” Maya is a talented, humble and friendly rider who’s earned her place at the upper levels and deserves a great ride at Rolex!

Managing editor Sara Lieser’s pick: Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Fly Me Courageous


Sara K
(Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Fly Me Courageous. Photo by Jasmine Wallace.)

There’s a little corner of northern Virginia that houses some of my favorite people in eventing. Sharon White, Tim Bourke and Sara Kozumplik Murphy all spend at least part of the year on the Virginia/West Virginia line, and that means those of us who live in the area are very lucky to have such fantastic professionals in our backyard.

Not only are these guys great riders and teachers, but they’re kind people and good horsemen too. I’ll be cheering hard with fingers and toes crossed for all three as I head out on cross-country day.

I’m also going to be holding my breath until I see Rolex rookies Maya Black and Allie Sacksen gallop through the finish line on cross-country. These ladies represent the future of eventing, and again you won’t meet anyone nicer or more dedicated to their horses.

Editorial staffer Mollie Bailey’s pick: Gina Miles on SVR Ron

Gina Miles SVR Ron
(Gina Miles and SVR Ron. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.)

Individual Olympic silver medalist. Chronicle of the Horse eventing horseman of the year. A-level Pony Clubber. Mom of two. And best of all, this.

Sure, Gina Miles hasn’t had a four-star horse since her Olympic partner for individual silver, McKinlaigh, and she hasn’t competed in Kentucky since 2006, but that doesn’t mean she’s lost any fans. Her partner this time around, SVR Ron, represented Uruguay at the Pan American Games (Mexico), and Gina took over the ride in 2012. While he’s green at this level, they’ve made great strides—especially in dressage. I know I won’t be the only one cheering her on.

Editorial staffer Kimberly Loushin’s pick: Eleanor Doughty-Hume and Sir Oberon

Sir Oberon
(Ellen Doughty-Hume and Sir Oberon. Photo by Sara Lieser.)

While I love our event picks a part of me groans every time they come up. How am I supposed to pick just one? Several times when I sat down and looked at the entry list my number of choices increased rather than being whittled down.

Ultimately I decided to root for Ellen Doughty-Hume and Sir Oberon. I interviewed Ellen last year before Rolex when she was in the midst of planning her wedding, which would take place on the cross country course that weekend. While she never got to start (Sir Oberon was spun at the first jog), I’ll never forget how nonchalant she was about getting married while contesting her first four-star. Most people I know would be freaking out about having to do one—let alone both in the same weekend.

If she can be that calm, certainly I can do the same when facing a far less daunting task. I’m hoping she’ll have a great first run.

Editorial staffer Haley Burton’s pick: Caitlin Silliman on Catch A Star

Catch A Star
(Caitlin Silliman and Catch A Star. Photo by Molly Sorge.)

My pick goes Caitlin Silliman, riding Catch A Star. 

This will be Caitlin and “Hoku’s” third time competing at Rolex Kentucky, and the pair have been through a lot together. In 2011, Hoku was one of many horses badly burned in the barn fire at Boyd Martin’s True Prospect Farm, and Caitlin has since discussed the impact of how taking care of her mare in the fire’s aftermath made them bond as partners.

Silliman and Hoku have proved themselves fighters, and I’m hoping they fight for each other and for victory this year at Rolex.

 

Editorial intern Jasmine Wallace’s pick: Courtney Cooper on Who’s A Star

CC Tag
(Courtney Cooper and Who’s A Star. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.)

I had the pleasure of doing trot sets on Who’s A Star when I was a working student for Courtney Cooper at her C Square Farm about six years ago. I remember watching “Tag” jump some of the intermediate fences at Full Gallop Farm in Aiken, S.C., that winter and how impressive he was then. I got to come full circle by watching them run advanced at The Fork Horse Trials (N.C.) this spring.

The fact that Courtney bred Tag herself and has had him since the very beginning makes them an even more special pair. Since I worked for Courtney, I know firsthand what an incredibly dedicated and hard-working rider she is. In addition to her own horses, she trains and competes an incredibly varied and always-changing group of sales horses and she definitely deserves all of her success.

She and Tag are an incredibly talented and tenacious pair, and I was beyond thrilled to see their names on the entry list this year. I’m excited to cheer them on at Rolex!

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