April 28—Lexington, Ky.
William Fox-Pitt  had the luxury of a noon cross-country ride time with Parklane Hawk, so he made sure to get up nice and early to watch.
“I was out there on course waiting to see the first few experts show us how to do it, and when they didn't get to me, I thought, ‘This isn’t a very good start,’ ” he admitted.
The first three on course were all four-star veterans, New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson, Karen O’Connor and Becky Holder, but it took four-star rookie Marilyn Little-Meredith on RF Rovano Rex to turn in the first completion over Derek di Grazia’s testing track.
Despite the ominous beginning, Great Britain’s Fox-Pitt turned in a textbook double-clear round aboard his 2011 Land Rover Burghley CCI**** winner to go into the lead over Allison Springer  on Arthur and New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget  on Clifton Promise.
“I was very happy with ‘Parker.’ He was as good as I hoped he was going to be. You don’t dare go there before you ride, particularly when the morning goes as it did,” said Fox-Pitt, 43. “You do begin to think, ‘Maybe I should do this or that,’ [after seeing riders have trouble.] But there wasn’t anything else to do. You just had to get out there and ride it as best you can and be as positive as you can.”
Three horses were withdrawn before cross-country: Jolie Wentworth's Killian O'Connor and Buck Davidson's Absolute Liberty and Titanium. (The latter scratched because his broken collarbone had not yet healed enough to bear the strain.) Of the 54 starters, 32 finished. Of those, 20 went clear, and seven made the time. Ten riders fell, and four were eliminated for three refusals. Seven retired, and Becky Holder was pulled up and eliminated on her second ride, Can’t Fire Me, for his bloody right knee, two fences from home.
Fox-Pitt said the riders who attacked the first part of the course had good results. “The horses responded to that. The ones that didn’t get a very good start were the ones that fell foul of [fence 9, the Bridgestone Park Question coffin] and the horrible skinny brush thing coming out, which I never liked in the first place.”
Fence 9 was the most problematic combination on the course, causing issues at all three elements, with 19 riders incurring stops or falls there.
“It was a truly legitimate coffin. You had to jump the jump in, and you had to jump the jump out,” said di Grazia. “For many, if they jumped well going in, they usually jumped well going out. The ones that had that hesitation and that four-legged jump over the ditch had a harder time coming out. The ones that flowed through there were quite good and very straight. The riders had to get it done. There were a lot of really good rides where the riders were telling their horse, ‘This is where we’re going,’ and they got their horse over the last fence.”
Regardless of the difficulty of the course, Springer, 37, went out determined to make it around. She and Arthur, her 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Brandenburg’s Windstar, have competed at Rolex Kentucky every year since 2008, but she fell off last year and had a run-out the year before.
“It rode hard,” said Springer, who moved down from her top placing after dressage with 3.2 time penalties. “I never walked around this course thinking it was a piece of cake. I thought the questions were fair, and I thought Derek had a very well thought out plan for all these jumps. I knew there would be issues throughout. You had to be determined to get to the other side of every fence. I’m not sure why it rode so much harder. He wasn’t setting out to make an easy course. It’s an Olympic year. It was a very fair course, but it was tough.”
Springer said things didn’t go completely according to plan, but she was thrilled with her horse. “I’m pleased that I dealt with the different things that came up. I was close to time coming home. I was looking at that last combination [the Offset Brushes at 27AB], and it was always my plan to go the long route there. There’s the odd horse that has a funny look at it, and he had a funny look at it last year, so I was like, ‘Don’t do it, Springer! Be smart.’ It was good to have him come home and look good.”
The leaderboard shuffled considerably as rider after rider had issues. The frangible pins broke at least twice at fence 9—Nicholson retired his first ride, Calico Joe, after breaking the pin there, and then Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen broke the pin as well. They didn’t have a stop there, but they later had a fall at 27AB, the Offset Brushes.
Other problem spots on course included fence 5ABCD, the HSBC Water Park, where Karen O’Connor popped out of the tack on Veronica at 5C. Lainey Ashker’s day on Anthony Patch ended at the Double Corners at 14A when she fell off. James Alliston retired his first ride of the day, Jumbo’s Jake, when he stopped at fence 17, the Sunken Road, after having an earlier stop at 9.
The Rolex Head of the Lake caused a few issues—Lucy Jackson’s horse, Kilcoltrim Ambassador, slipped coming up the bank and fell at the out element, 20D. Debbie Rosen’s horse, The Alchemyst, had a bad jump in at 19 and refused to jump back into the water at 20. Holly Payne’s Madeline incurred her third stop there after having stops at 9 and 17.
Holder fell off Courageous Comet at 22C, the corner after the HSBC FEI Classic Series Normandy Bank. Great Britain’s Lucy Wiegersma also fell off Granntevka Prince there.
The Offset Brushes at 27AB were the last combination on the course, and Great Britain’s Oliver Townend pulled up there after two stops with Pepper Anne. Australia’s Andrew Hoy had a stop there as well on Rutherglen.
The only serious fall of the course came at fence 2. Alliston’s second ride, Parker, took a good tumble there and was transported off the course, but veterinarians reported that he checked out fine and was munching grass while he was awaiting his ride. He's now back in the stables.
Fox-Pitt thought some of the early questions on the course were quite tricky. “You weren’t quite going to know how horses were going to read some of the fences,” he said. “The turning in the water is something. It’s quite hard to change your horse’s direction through water when you only have three to four strides to do it. It’s much easier to do it when you have five or six strides. [Di Grazia] committed you at three out of the four water crossings to a very definite distance. You're turning, you’re trying to alter your horses’ stride, and you’re trying to keep straight for a skinny on the way out.
“The first water, the HSBC pond, didn’t look very difficult, but it didn’t ride quite as well as we all thought,” he continued. “Then you dropped into the next water, and the four strides there didn’t always come up very well. You were also pulling off to the left again. By the time they’ve got to No. 9, they just weren’t always looking straight ahead. As we saw, that’s where a lot of things went wrong. There was a definite knock-on effect around the course. It was a four-star track. It didn’t walk the biggest four-star track, but neither did the World Games when they were here. And look at the trouble that track caused, and the caliber of horse was even higher than it was this weekend.”
The third horse inspection will take place at 8:30 a.m., and show jumping begins at 12:30 in reverse order of placing.
For full results, visit RK3DE.org. 
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