Buck Davidson thought long and hard about which of his five entries should compete in the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, ultimately choosing to withdraw The Apprentice and Mar de Amor. He’ll compete Petite Flower, Park Trader and Ballynoe Castle RM in Lexington, April 23-27.
“The Apprentice is only 10,” said Davidson, who will instead aim the gelding for the Jersey Fresh CCI***. “He’s definitely on the improve, but it doesn’t hurt him to wait another year and keep working on his rideability.”
Mar de Amor presented a more difficult decision as Davidson had ridden the now-14-year-old Selle Francais gelding to ninth place at Rolex Kentucky last year.
“He had a little nerve issue last summer while I was at the Burghley CCI**** [Great Britain], so he missed the fall season,” said Davidson. “I talked to [owner] Leigh Mesher, who’s a good friend of mine, and of course she’d like to have her horse at Kentucky, but her No. 1 thing and my No. 1 thing is what’s the best thing for ‘Dinero’ moving forward. He’s a really nice horse, and he’s got all the jump, the movement and the speed. He just has had a few issues with confidence.”
Dinero will also train for the Jersey Fresh CCI***, slated for May 8-11 in Allentown. “We’re probably going to try to put a group together to see if he can go on and maybe take him over to Europe to make it to the Luhmühlen [CCI****, Germany] or something like that,” said Davidson, of Riegelsville, Pa.
“If they all have their weekends, they all have a chance,” said Davidson of his Rolex picks, acknowledging that some might be wondering why he chose Petite Flower over Mar de Amor.
The 12-year-old Thoroughbred mare, owned by his student Caroline Martin, won the Galway Downs International CCI*** (Calif.) last year but had a disappointing run at The Fork CIC*** (N.C.) last month. Since The Fork, where the pair was eliminated on cross-country, Davidson has been treating a wound on the inside of the mare’s upper cheek with saltwater flushes.
“She sucks her cheek when she gets nervous,” he said. “The dressage wasn’t up to standards; her show jumping wasn’t up to standards; the cross-country was just a disaster [because] I couldn’t touch one side. But she has all the makings. She moves like a dressage horse. She jumps like a jumper, and she runs like a race horse. I know she’s one of the best horses in the world, without a shadow of doubt. It’s just a matter of how much she’s going to let me ride her and touch her.”
Davidson said he feels Carl and Cassie Segal’s 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse Park Trader, who finished second at last year’s Dutta Corp. Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) and 22nd at the 2013 Rolex, and 14-year-old Irish Thoroughbred Ballynoe Castle RM, an experienced four-star horse who was off for last year’s fall season, are rock solid heading into Rolex.
“Park Trader skipped around [at Rolex Kentucky] like it was training level last year,” said Davidson. “I just went thinking he was green; I went too slowly. I started off too slow, and I picked back up but had gotten myself too far down.
“He’s not the easiest in the mind, but he is as talented a horse as I’ve ever sat on,” he continued. “I feel that this is what he was made for—these four stars [with] galloping, long courses. His dressage is way improved, and his show jumping is also. Hopefully I can show that off this weekend.”
Though Ballynoe Castle RM finished fourth at Rolex Kentucky last year, “it doesn’t mean anything,” Davidson said. “It’s a whole new year. But I feel like he’s going better, and I feel like I’m riding better, and I would like to improve on what we did last year.”
“I feel really good with all three horses, but I’m just so thankful to have an opportunity to ride at Kentucky, whether it’s on one horse or three horses, and to have the people that support me—the coaches, the farrier, the vet, everybody. Everybody’s done their part to get five horses here and to have a choice to pick three—that’s pretty lucky. Anybody would love to have any one of these five as their top horse. So for me to be able to leave two at home—I’m a lucky person, and I do realize that.”
Davidson, a big fan of AP McCoy, related his tough decision-making process for Rolex to the British-based jockey.
“He had all these rides at Cheltenham, and he had to pick, and he picked mostly the wrong horses every time," said Davidson. "The other horses that he was supposed to ride that he didn’t ride ended up winning, and he came in behind them, and so I thought, ‘God I hope I don’t do that!’ I feel really good about the three that I brought.”
In other Rolex news, New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson withdrew last year’s winner, Quimbo, and the horse is slated to run at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** (Great Britain) instead. Nicholson is still listed with Avebury. Australia’s Peter Atkins, also accepted at Badminton, has withdrawn Henry Jota Hampton from Rolex.
Emily Renfroe is no longer entered aboard Walk The Line. As of April 21, 76 horses will start.