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April 26, 2014

Fox-Pitt Is The Hero After Rolex Cross-Country

William Fox-Pitt found himself in a familiar position at the end of cross-country day at Rolex Kentucky: in the lead with Bay My Hero.

Lexington, Ky.—April 26

If you overhear people at Rolex Kentucky talking about “Moonie,” don’t think there’s a cult takeover in Lexington. It’s just the nickname of overnight leader Bay My Hero (by Cult Hero), the latest of William Fox-Pitt’s horses poised to win the Rolex Kentucky event.

Fox-Pitt, winner here in 2012 and 2010 for Great Britain, rode Moonie into a 2.7-point lead over a cross-country course that saw 29 clear rounds out of 55 starters, with 19 inside the time. There were 10 eliminations, and six riders retired on course. [Read where all the riders faulted, as well as statements on the two horses who were injured on course.]

The leaders after dressage, Allison Springer on Arthur, had a glance-off at 21C, an angled brush at the Normandy Bank complex, to drop to 26th.

For Moonie, the course was a big step up in terms of the fences and the terrain, and although Fox-Pitt said the horse was surprised a bit at the Head of the Lake for a few sticky fences, he was clearly thrilled with the horse’s performance. “He’s as clever as a cat and super genuine,” he said. “And he carried his tubby body around in the time as well.”

Lauren Kieffer, of Middleburg, Va., rode Veronica into second place, and Phillip Dutton, of West Grove, Pa., sits third with Mr. Medicott, both former rides of Karen O’Connor, who hasn’t competed since a fall from Veronica in October of 2012.

Kieffer said she knew she’d have to fight for her clear round today at the pair’s first four-star together. O’Connor had a crash with the mare at this event in 2012 and again at Morven Park (Va.) that fall. But Kieffer credited the time they had to spend meeting FEI qualifications, going back to the two-star level and doing two three-stars for owner Team Rebecca LLC.

“We’ve done enough courses, and I trust her,” she said. “With Karen she was green, new to the level. She’s quite strong, and it also helps that I’m bigger than Karen.”

Dutton said he’s pleased with the partnership he’s formed in less than a year with Mr. Medicott, with whom he finished fourth at Pau (France) last fall. “He goes a lot like a Thoroughbred, and I learned my trade on hot Thoroughbreds, and I think we get along,” he said. “I’ve had to give in a little to the way he wants to go, and he’s starting to respect me too.”

While there’s still some jumping to be done before the three-day winner is named, Dutton has already taken home a two-year lease on a Land Rover Evoque, thanks to his foot-perfect round, which he finished just on the optimum time of 11:12 aboard Trading Aces, who’s standing in ninth place.

Dutton’s filling in on the ride for Boyd Martin, who’s sidelined with a broken leg. But don’t worry, he won’t have to share the car with Martin since Trading Aces has already won a Mercedes for Martin with their win in the Red Hills CIC*** (Fla.) in March.

There were 35,471 spectators who turned out for today’s cross-country.

The riders will battle it out for the most coveted prize, the Rolex watch and bragging rights to the biggest event in the country, starting at 12:30 Eastern time tomorrow. The final horse inspection will take place at 9 a.m.

Jimmy Wofford Weighs In On The Day

The riders rose to occasion, and the course rewarded aggressive riding. A lot of these guys are hustling to make the team, and so they put their foot to the floor. That was the right plan to have for a Derek di Grazia course because, above all, he wants to see the riders go forward. There’s an emphasis on straightness with an open distance, and you solve that problem by being aggressive. While in the past they maybe tried to hand ride, they’re starting to figure out how to ride these courses.

There were more people inside the time and way more people with double clears than I had thought. The standard has finally gotten high enough that you can no longer Forrest Gump your way into a rhythm. We had some try, and they’re further down the list. It speaks to growing expertise of the American pool of talent.

Phillip Dutton had a super ride; Lauren Kieffer had a super ride; William Fox-Pitt had a very expert ride because Bay My Hero showed his lack of experience at this level. Lucky for him, he had William in the tack. It was the same thing for Avebury; he would not have jumped clear with anyone but Andrew or Phillip Dutton.

Phillip was phenomenal on Trading Aces and really good on Mr. Medicott, and behind the scenes he was even better on Mr. Medicott because that horse is such a difficult ride.

This was Lauren’s first time in the top 10 at Rolex, and she rode a sparkling round on Veronica. Her results have not matched her talent until today.

I don’t want to jinx Buck Davidson by saying anything nice about him, but he rode like a veteran today on both horses. Hannah Sue Burnett really made up for blotting her copybook three weeks ago (at The Fork CIC***); she came out with attitude.

I’m so thrilled to see Shiraz [with Colleen Rutledge] jump clean again, and for the first time ever she allowed him to make the time. He always had the capability, but she’s always been afraid of him going so fast he would over-rotate in the air. She can now go forward and get him back.

This was a very legitimate four-star course, and there were a gratifying number of American riders who look like they belong at this level. In past years that was not the case.

Part of what happens tomorrow is going to hinge on how much going that fast and far took out of each individual horse. That’s kind of a subtle point that people miss these days. It was much more obvious in classic format: If you used your horse up on Saturday, he wouldn’t jump clean Sunday. The horses who jumped clean all spring might not because they might be tired.

Only thing I can say for sure is that we won’t know until the last horse jumps the last jump; this is about as tight as could get.

Bay My Hero is green at this level, and they have to get a good ride tomorrow. Don’t think William is winding his watch yet.

Full results available on the Rolex Kentucky website.

Read all the Chronicle’s Rolex Kentucky coverage and make sure to check out the gallery of photos from today’s cross-country action. 

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