April 29—Lexington, Ky.
Ice water in his veins. Cool as a cucumber. Nerves of steel. All of these clichés have been used to describe William Fox-Pitt as time and time again he’s gone in the ring on Sunday afternoon and closed the deal at the world’s most prestigious three-days.
And show jumping at Rolex Kentucky was no different. Great Britain’s leading rider found himself in the enviable position of jumping last in the order after a foot-perfect cross-country round on Parklane Hawk took him into the lead over Allison Springer and Arthur. When Arthur had the liverpool oxer down at 7, Fox-Pitt even had a little breathing room.
But he would need that cushion, as “Parker” took down the first fence in the one-stride combination at 6A.
“I thought that was going to be a tricky fence for him,” admitted Fox-Pitt, 43. “He was just arguing a little bit today and yesterday, and I’ll have to have a little think about his bitting, because he used to be very strong, and I think he’s not so strong now. So he was chucking his head around, and I was thinking, ‘You have to look at this in a minute, mate,’ and he didn’t really. When that came down it was a horrible feeling, because when you have a fence in hand it makes a huge difference mentally, because you’ve got a cushion, and then suddenly that cushion is gone, and then panic can set in.”
He didn’t panic. Catherine Witt’s Parker neatly jumped around the rest of Richard Jeffery’s track to earn Fox-Pitt his second Rolex watch in three years and his second four-star in a row. The 12-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred from New Zealand (Grosvenor—DeeBee Lady, Brilliant Invader) also won the Land Rover Burghley CCI**** in England last fall.
While other riders might take a little vacation to celebrate a big four-star win, Fox-Pitt is off to the Mitsubishi Badminton CCI**** (England) next weekend under even more pressure: Can he become the second rider ever to win three in a row and collect the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam?
“It’s the closest I’ve ever got to the Grand Slam. I’ve won four-stars before but never managed to win two in row,” he said. “Still, to win three is fairly unlikely. Next week is another week, and the horses are good.”
While Springer didn’t win the event, she did win the USET Foundation Pinnacle Cup as the highest-placed U.S. rider. And taking home the red ribbon was every bit as good as blue for Springer, 37, as her 4-fault round with Arthur, her 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse by Brandenburg’s Windstar, put some demons to rest.
“Four years ago, before the Hong Kong Olympic Games, I went into show jumping [at Rolex Kentucky] in fifth place, and I think I had, I don’t know, I stopped counting after five [rails]. I’ve worked very, very hard,” said Springer. “My bogey jump is the big square oxer over the liverpool, so I’m going to be jumping a lot of those. But I was thrilled with him.”
Arthur also took the prize for best-conditioned horse.
Fox-Pitt joked that he was very glad Springer took a long route at the angled brushes on cross-country, because her time faults on that phase allowed him to move into the lead.
“If I knew how today was going to turn out, I still would’ve taken long route there yesterday,” said Springer. “That was the smart thing to do, and I’m thrilled that my horse had three solid phases and good focus. It’s a huge, huge future. We’re finally coming together, and, touch wood, we’re sound, healthy, and he has many years ahead of him.
The third-placed rider going into show jumping, Jonathan “Jock” Paget of New Zealand, wasn’t so lucky. Two rails with Clifton Promise knocked them down the order to sixth. But it also gave Boyd Martin the opportunity to move up into third with Otis Barbotiere. Martin finished on his dressage score of 51.0 and went up the scoreboard 13 places on the 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Quidam de Revel SF—Java Barbotiere SF, Veneur de Baugy).
“We picked up ‘Otis’ in France at the end of 2010, and I was very fortunate that I rallied a syndicate to buy the horse, and the syndicate believed in my choice. It was a huge gamble, I’m just so happy that this horse has confirmed what I thought of him,” said Martin. “He’s as good as anything I’ve had. He’s going to be very strong in all three phases. It’s a fantastic result in his first four-star.”
Karen O’Connor slotted into fourth place on Mr. Medicott with a clear round ahead of Will Coleman on Twizzel, who finished on his dressage score as well. But clear rounds were few and far between. Only five riders jumped double clear in show jumping—the other two were New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson on Qwanza (seventh place) and four-star first timer Madeline Blackman on Gordonstown (24th place). Grand prix show jumper turned eventer Marilyn Little-Meredith had three rails aboard RF Demeter, but her ninth-placed finish still earned her the top four-star rookie ranking, and Little-Meredith won the HSBC Training Bursary for her accomplishment.
Find complete results on www.RK3DE.org.
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