Lexington, Ky.—April 27
We’re at the lunch break on Day 2 of dressage, and only one rider has broken the 30-penalty mark to join Michael Jung in the 20s at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI****. Australia’s Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 now have the distinction of coming the closet to unseating the overnight leader and three-time Kentucky CCI**** champion aboard fischerRocana FST. Jung still leads on a 27.1, and Burton sits just behind at 27.9.
“I’m really happy with him; he really stayed with me and let me ride him,” Burton said. “There’s always something that can be better, isn’t there? However with horses there always are easily things that can be worse.”
Burton was immediately analytical of his test.
“I had a little change at the end that wasn’t very straight,” he said. “And my darling wife was here with my son watching me, and she said the halt at A he had his hind leg out a bit, and normally that’s his party trick to do a square halt, but that’s just how dressage goes in these big atmospheres.”
The scoreboard flashes live judges’ marks as riders go through their test, and for a while it looked like Burton had Jung beat.
“It was a really cute thing at the end, the crowd awwwwed when they saw I was in second,” Burton said with a laugh.
As the winner of the 2016 Land Rover Burghley CCI****, Burton wasn’t content to be in second.
“Sitting behind Michael? I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Burton said with a laugh. “It’s not enviable at all. Look, there’s a long way to go yet. This is just the dressage. We always love watching Mikki ride on the flat; he’s just the top, and fischerRocana is so sweet the way she stays with him, so it was nice to watch.”
Burton hasn’t ridden at Kentucky since the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, and he’s impressed with the cross-country course.
“I found Derek di Grazia, who I didn’t know very well, and I congratulated him,” Burton said. “I’ve been telling my Australian friends back home in the U.K. and my federation that this is the best event in the world; this course is just beautiful.”
Burton’s test moved Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg into third, where he is tied with U.S. rider Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus, who also scored a 31.2.
“Hopefully this is a trend for him, and he pulls it out when it matters!” Kieffer said with a laugh. “He was great. He was actually a bit cheeky in the warm-up. He was kind of pony trotting around, and it was just getting him back in gear. Then he goes in there and puts his head down and does his job. I’m really happy with him.”
Vermiculus, or “Bug” in the barn, is near and dear to Kieffer’s heart as he is a full brother to the first horse she went advanced on, Snooze Alarm, and she’s ridden him since he was 3.
“I’m super lucky both horses I have here are American homebreds,” Kieffer said. “I broke them; we’ve had them from the start, and it does make it really special when you’ve had them their whole lives. That definitely puts another component to it.”
Britain’s Oliver Townend took over the fifth position with MHS King Joules on a score of 31.3. MHS King Joules has been previously campaigned by big-time riders like Mary King and Andrew Nicholson; Townend took over the ride in 2015.
“I’m happy enough. He’s probably one of the trickiest ones I’ve ever ridden in some ways,” Townend said. “I’m the last in a long line that’s ridden him. He’s tricky, but I’d be happy with that, but obviously two more days to go.”
It’s what’s between Joules’ ears that can make him a difficult ride for Townend.
“It’s the brain, the production. He’s had seven years with other riders, so it’s tricky to get on and find the buttons sometimes,” Townend said. “He’s a very, very sensitive horse, which is in his pedigree as well.
“I actually tried to buy him as a 4-year-old, and I think you’d see a different horse if I’d had him from word go,” Townend continued. “But at the same time, talent’s not a problem. He’s an exceptionally talented horse, probably one of the most talented I’ve had, but along with that probably the most tricky.”
Tamie Smith and Wembley’s score of 32.1 from Thursday held on for sixth place with the first ride of Friday morning, Buck Davidson and Carlevo, slotting in just behind her with a 32.2.
“He was certainly better in the arena than he was out in the warm-up; he’s still just a little bit green,” Davidson said. He admitted going first is not his favorite position but is happy with the outcome regardless and ready to tackle the cross-country Saturday.
“I’m really proud of him. Tomorrow is going to be a very big day for him,” Davidson said. “For all three of my horses, but they’re good. I’m thankful to have the horses that I have, and we’ll see how we get on.”
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.