Lexington, Ky.—April 28
It’s a fabulous day for the sport. No horse falls. A couple of unfortunate pop-offs. No injuries. No holds on course all day long. That’s unheard of at a four-star.
The course, I thought, was the most difficult course Derek [di Grazia] has built yet, and I haven’t seen the jump-by-jump breakdown, but it’s going to look like a Pony Club course. Everybody jumped around and got a happy ribbon.
That’s not what happened. The course was so challenging that people had to rise to the challenge. It’s a great day for the sport, but it’s also a great day for the sport here in the U.S. because I feel like the riders are starting to rise to the level. In the past we’ve had Phillip [Dutton] and a couple of professionals jump around and finish in the top 10, and then our “regular” riders look like they rode in on a load of turnips. This year, even the ones who went a little steady, they understood the questions, they dealt with them correctly. I just thought the standard of cross-country riding has gotten better.
You have to say two-thirds of that influence is Derek. He designs [the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill CCI*** (Maryland), Pedigree Bromont CCI*** (Quebec)] and here. My math is wrong, but my idea is right. His courses are making people get better.
I have a formula that I use, and that is that if you walk a cross-country course, and you say there are 100 jumping efforts, how many of those efforts require precision or accuracy? If 50 of them do, you would rate that course as a 50. Over the past seven years Derek has been building here, he’s ranged between 42 and 47. By comparison, Mike Etherington-Smith’s last couple of courses were in the 60s. So very technical, two out of three required some precision or accuracy or stride control or something besides going wide open at a big jump.
Derek, in the past, the most technical one a couple of years ago was a 47. This was a 52. I thought, “Uh oh. He’s turned it around, which means people think they can go faster, and they’re not going to be quite fit enough to go fast all the way around. This is going to be a hard course.”
No, take a look at the jump sheet, Jim. That was not the way it happened. All I can say is the only reason that happened is because the riders are better. I’m a coach. I hate to tell anybody they got better, because I want them to get a little bit better.
The most obvious thing for people watching the livestream and looking at the results is the effect of the [dressage] scoring change on the scores. In the past, I’ve used a kaleidoscope as an image for the sport. Whenever you tap a kaleidoscope, it changes everything. We’ve changed that scoring. As Richard Jeffery, the show jumping course designer, has pointed out, we just made the show jumping more important because the scores are so close.
Chris Burton won [the Land Rover Burghley CCI**** (England)] two years ago with four rails. You’ll be 22nd if you have four rails. You might go in in first, but if you have four rails, you’re going nowhere.
This is the first four-star of the year. The rest of the sport is really going to be studying this and talking to Oliver Townend and Chris Burton when they come home. “What’s going on? That looked like an absolute scuffle.” It’s just a hairball of people until after the last horse jumps the last show jumping jump.
It doesn’t do the competition element any harm at all. It has happened in the past. In 2006 Andrew Hoy won this event, he went into the show jumping ring sixth, and when it was all said and done he was first. Even then one could back into it. There is a very good chance that somebody that we’re not really paying a lot of attention to wins this thing tomorrow.
[Michael Jung’s horse fischerRocana FST] doesn’t always jump clean. Now if there’s anybody with the nerves enough to stand that it’s the Terminator, but he’s going to have to stand that because the margin’s just too close.
As I’m watching him more, I’m more and more impressed with him, and the more I see of “Roxie” the more I think of Michael as a rider because she is wonderful, but she’s well trained. She’s not naturally talented.
[His save at the Land Rover Head of the Lake] was impressive, and you know both of them went, “Yeah, terrible but what’s next?” It didn’t rock their confidence. It didn’t rock their belief in each other at all. And so I hope people are looking at his videos, kids with four-stars in their eyes, and they see what it’s supposed to look like.
His round last year was from first to last desperate, and there were several people sitting in the TV truck who would start groaning because we would see his thought process and go, “No, Michael don’t do that, don’t do that, oh my God he got away with it!” And he’d stand off a few more fences. “No, Michael, no, you can’t go to the well too often,” and he’d get away with it. And this year it was not. It was a very cerebral, well judged round. He’s the man.
Chris Burton, he’s going in there knowing that he’s on a horse that can knock four jumps down, and this is a more technical course than they set at Burghley, so he’s got his problems.
[Oliver Townend] has dreams of a [Rolex] Grand Slam like sugar plums dancing through your head. Ollie, he can smell that money.
He asked for a couple of strides that were real stealth strides because nobody else in the building saw them, and he got them. Ollie he knows what’s at stake here, and it’s not just winning another four-star. He’s done that.
The Rest Of The Field
I’ve said before there’s a dandelion in the Kentucky Horse Park for every broken heart, and there will be plenty of them in the stables tonight. The one leading them is Kim Severson. She’s 200 yards from the finish line and disaster. I know no physical harm was done, but you hate to see that. It’s so disappointing.
It should not be a surprise that Donner just kind of Pony Clubbed and gymnasticked his way around because he understands the game now. He is not quite the master of the game yet, but if [Lynn Symansky] improves her dressage by this summer, she’s going to make everyone sit up and take notice. This is his year.
Sharon White had a wonderful round [with Cooley On Show]. She’s had a good season of preparation, so if you were just looking at her scores all year you’d say, “Yeah, that’s what should have happened.” But Kentucky has never been nice to Sharon, and “Louie” has not gone well here in the past. Louie was a star.
Some of the West Coast riders—I expected them to jump around, but I did not expect them to jump around that well. They’re starting to bring their game up to this level.
[With Tamie Smith and Wembley, it was the horse’s first four-star, and they finished with just 4.4 time faults.] I’m happy for her because we need horses like that, really up-and-coming four-star horses, and that’s one of them now.
Boyd [Martin’s] first ride Tsetserleg was much quicker than I thought he’d be. Boyd remarked later that the horse is really adjustable, and he needed to be a couple of times, but he had Boyd riding him, so he made good adjustments, but he’s much quicker than I thought he’d be. There were quite a few people who I thought rose to the occasion.
[Erin Sylvester and Paddy The Caddy moved up from 25th to 12th with a double-clear round.] That was no surprise. She is such a good rider, and I hope that Paddy goes from strengths to strengths now. He’s not the one that I would pick for her as the horse of my dreams, but you’ve got to take what the Lord sends you to ride and do your best, and her best is good enough.
[Phillip Dutton sits tied for eighth with I’m Sew Ready and Z.] Both of those horses are inexperienced at this level. I was listening to John Kyle’s voiceover [on the livestream], and both Ollie and Phillip have ridden in 86 four-stars. 86. So someone like Phillip can take horses like Z and I’m Sew Ready who are not quite ready, but they look fine, and the scoreboard sure looks good for them. Phillip’s dead accurate on Sunday, which we know and expect. One of those horses will be in the top five I would say. Whichever one is less tired. They won’t be tired because they weren’t conditioned. They’re just tired because being mentally green they wear themselves out. Sometimes that doesn’t show up until later.
Want to know what happened where? Check out the Chronicle’s “As It Happens” live blog from cross-country day.
The Chronicle is on site at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI****. Keep an eye out at coth.com for all our coverage of the event.