Lexington, Ky.—April 23
With four water fences and 10 combinations, Derek di Grazia’s Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L cross-country course will be no walk in the (Kentucky Horse) park.
To come home fault-free, horses and riders will have to cover the challenging 3.9-mile (6,270-meter course) in 11 minutes or less. A nearly 100 percent chance of rain forecast for Saturday is likely to make the going difficult and time penalties numerous.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’ve had two years to think about this course,’ but this course was produced for last year’s event, which we didn’t run. I didn’t make any changes to it from last year to this year,” course designer di Grazia said. “There’s a lot of size out there and a lot to do. Riders will have to stay focused, and they’ve got to be fit. The horses need to be fit because there are quite a few climbs on the course.”
While he predicted the optimum time will be difficult to make, di Grazia also said the course, particularly its second half, offers opportunities for fit horses to roll along and make up time.
Check out a preview of some of the main combinations below. For full course photos, click here.
Riders start off over three straightforward fences, the Produce Stand, Cedar Lodge and the Hillside Oxer, before reaching the first big question at 4ABCD, Mars Sustainability Bay, a big drop into the water followed by a narrow table positioned at the top of a steep slope on the other side of the pond.
“It’s important that the riders take advantage of these jumps to get the horses out and jumping because when they come to fence 4, which is the first combination 4ABCD, or going the direct way, which is actually only two jumps, it’s a decent drop into the water there, and for some of the horses and riders, they’re going to have to be quite positive because I can see some of the horses getting backed off,” di Grazia said. “Once they’re into the water, then they can try to maintain their position to try to get to [fence 4CD on] the top of the hill, which is not a small fence. They have to be quite positive to it to make sure the horses jump it well. I think most riders will probably ride straight here and only take the alternate route if they have a problem jumping in or if they have a stop at the top of the hill.”
Riders will gallop next to the infield and jump the Bourbon Barrel Table at 5 and the huge CR’s P Bars oxer over a ditch before a left-handed turn to another water, the Frog Pond, 7ABCD.
“When you approach the boat, it doesn’t seem like much of a jump, except I think it’s going to ride quite big with the drop coming in and then immediately having to make the decision how they’re going to ride the double brush at the top of the hill.
“Riders can opt for a forward, four-stride line to the double brush, followed by three strides to the chevron, or a more conservative five-stride to four-stride, or use one of the longer routes.
“You definitely need a plan to jump this obstacle, but at the same time, that plan could fall apart landing in over the first fence, then you have to be able to know your Plan B. Your reaction has to be quite seamless to be able to do that,” di Grazia said.
From here, competitors gallop to Fence 8, the Stairway Table and on to the Normandy Bank, 9ABC, at the top of the hill, which looks different from years past with a cabin on top of the mound.
The Normandy Bank, 9ABC, looks a little different this year. If riders can’t quite make one of the quick turns happen, there’s a longer option over a brush.
“When the riders ride this, they have to know how well their horses turn. I think that left turn comes up quite quickly to the chevron or the hedge,” di Grazia said. “Horses that are going to be able to come up and pop over that cabin will be able to make the turn quite easily. Too much pace, and they might not make it.”
Next is a huge ditch brush at 10.
The Head of the Lake, fences 11AB and 12AB, will look quite different with no spectators lining the ropes, but it will be just as challenging. It comes early in this year’s course, around the 4-minute mark, so horses should meet it feeling fresh.
They enter at 11AB by dropping in over a log, then take three strides to a stump in the water. An alternate stump provides an option for anyone who has problems recovering from the drop in.
Exiting the water, competitors have to turn left and attack a big brush fence with water on landing at 12A.
“They have to be very well-prepared when they go into the water, to really know the line to jump up the bank at B to get themselves to the other brush at C, which is two strides from the up bank. I think you may see some riders opt to do a three, but I think it will be two strides,” di Grazia said.
A new fence, the Park Gates at 13, is a vertical with frangible clips.
On to 14ABC, the Goose Bumps, a new combination. It starts with an oxer to show scope, but the real key is making sure riders have a good line to jump the carved goose on top of a mound. They could add a stride to the corner at C, or they could ride a more regular bend and do one less stride. “It’s just something which will cost them a little bit of time, but not much. The ones that are really going to be in it will jump the goose, land and probably do the four strides there.”
Mick’s Picnic Table at 15, named after course builder Mick Costello, is a visually attractive but seriously big jump. It will give horses and riders a breather before Pete’s Hollow, 16 and 17AB.
There’s a new combination at this always-influential question this year. Going into the hollow, there’s a large fence at the bottom followed by a brush at the top of a steep slope. When they land, they must hold their line to the brush, which is on a bend from the jump at the top of the hill. There’s also an alternate long way.
“When they jump over the fence at the top, some horses might jump out; some might land short,” di Grazia explained. “Whatever they do, it’s very important that the riders are able to keep their lines to the next fence and are able to have a horse that, if need be, can add a stride if he needs to. You could see three small strides at the top, but it should be two.”
Riders will head down the hill for fence 18, the Market Table, followed by 19ABCD, the Rolex Grand Slam Challenge.
The straight way here is three jumps—a rolltop landing on the edge of the grass and water, on to a duck in the water and then a chevron back on land. The challenge will be the changes from land to water to land, but di Grazia thinks it shouldn’t cause too much trouble for the more experienced horses. There is a longer way if a horse needs more of a chance to size up the jumps.
The Footbridge at 20 comes next, then up the hill to 21AB, the Cornundrum Hedgeline Corners, where a good jump over the first should set riders up for a comfortable, bending-line distance to the second.
Fence 22, the Triple Scoop triple bar, is a big jump equipped with MIM clips. A long spot or sloppy jump here will trigger the rail to drop, and extra penalties along with it.
Fence 23 is Fox On The Fly, a skinny stump.
The Park Question at 24ABCD is quite late in the course this year. It’s on MIM clips and is just past the 9-minute mark. The straight route here will save time for horses who are going well.
Fence 25, the Stick Pile, brings riders to 26ABC, the Mighty Moguls. This combination of two narrow logs to one of two corners—a trickier direct line to one corner or a longer, safer route to the alternate—is next to Mars Sustainability Bay.
The last two fences to get home are 27, the Hillside Cabin, and 28, the Kentucky Collective Horseshoe.
The Chronicle of the Horse will be on-site all week for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event bringing you reports from each round of competition, beautiful photos and stories from the competitors. Follow along with all of our coverage here, and be sure to read our May 17 Kentucky Results issue for more in-depth coverage and analysis of the event.