Lexington, Ky.—April 27
Derek di Grazia’s cross-country courses carry the designer’s distinct stamp, often requiring competitors to ride on instinct through questions set into undulating terrain. This year’s Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L cross-country course carries that stamp.
Competitors will face 28 fences and 49 jumping efforts spread out of 6,520 meters, to be completed in an optimum time of 11 minutes and 26 seconds.
After an inviting first few fences to get horses into their galloping rhythm, di Grazia’s real questions start at Fence 4ABC, Mars Sustainability Bay. This is a sponsored tailgate spot and usually draws crowds, so fresh horses will come upon a scene with lots of fences and lots of people and background distractions. The complex features a rolltop drop onto dry land followed by a gallop through water, up a mound to a narrow house. From there it’s a short turn to a brush fence.
“The riders, once they land off the house there, they will have to determine how they want to make the bend to the brush, based on how their horses land,” di Grazia said. The line walks in four strides, though it’s also possible to do it in five.
Navigating the first water is rewarded by a long gallop into the infield for another friendly fence before a 180-degree turn to set them up for the Park Question at 6ABCD. This coffin-type combination has historically caused problems and will require an accurate ride. There are two alternate routes, should the need arise, but di Grazia thinks that as long as the first combination goes well, riders will feel confident going the straight route here.
“The Park Question comes early on the course this year, so the horses and riders are going to have to be ready,” he said. “And have really a good positive ride on a good canter, not being flat, because it is on the MIM clips in there, so they’re not going to have that MIM break and have the rail go down.
“Again, how they jump in and get over that ditch will determine how the two jumps out will ride,” he added.
One more straightforward fence brings them to the Equestrian Events Trifecta, at 8ABC, which features a triple-bar, five stride to a slender table and four strides a right-handed open corner. Di Grazia doesn’t expect to see many riders take an option here unless they didn’t feel confident jumping a corner on such a severe angle.
“From there I think the riders have choices in the strides that they take between the jumps,” said di Grazia. “I think they will probably walk the strides they want, but they may change their mind when they get into the combination.”
Riders will meet the second water at 10ABCD, the Rolex Grand Slam Challenge. They’ll start over an upright brush jumping into water and go three strides to a brush corner in the water. They’ll finish over a brush chevron back up the hill.
“Coming out, I think you will see a variety of strides coming up to that narrow brush on the hill … just because of the different terrain after they jump over that brush in the water,” di Grazia said. “If they land off the brush jumping in, land on the horse’s neck or just have a stumble, they can pull out to the left and jump an alternate corner and an alternate narrow brush.”
Next riders head to the highest point of the course—with a big table in their way—to tackle Pete’s Hollow at 12ABC. While this combination has featured tougher fences in the past than this year’s three massive but natural logs, the terrain will present enough of a challenge. Riders have to determine the best line for their individual horses from the 12A log atop a steep hill, down into the hollow to jump 12B before bending left up a slope to jump 12C on a severe angle.
“Really it’s up to the riders to pick their line to the second log, which is at the bottom,” said di Grazia. “If they want to angle it a lot or a little that’s sort of up to them, they can do five strides, six strides up to that log at the bottom. Up the hill they’re going to have to find their line and really kind of keep moving up the hill to the top because the hill is quite steep and want to have momentum to carry them up over the log.”
Di Grazia cautioned that riders can’t let their guard down even after they jump the final fence of this combination.
“After that they’re really going to need to take care of going around that turn. Because of the way the ground is, it’ll take some time off the clock going through that combination as a whole,” he said.
They’ll jump another fly fence on the way to 14AB, Narrow Knolls, which features two doghouses on top of mounds. This combination shouldn’t pose too much trouble, but riders will need to make sure they don’t come in too fast and miss their turn to the second house.
After this they’ll head across Nina Bonnie Boulevard towards Kentucky’s iconic water complex, the Defender Head of the Lake (16ABC, 17 and 18ABC), catching another open oxer shortly after the road crossing. This year horse-and-rider pairs drop in on the right side at 16A, and canter four strides over a carved fish at 16BC. If they have a poor jump in, there is a pair of ducks in the water, but doing a serpentine over them will add quite a bit of time to their watches.
The next jump at 17 is a straightforward rail fence, but how a competitor rides it will affect how they finish this complex.
“I think the riders always have to make sure that they really get their horses underneath them coming to the turns so they can pop up over those rails because again the ground drops away from them quite a bit going down into that water,” di Grazia said.
They’ve got a tougher challenge at 18ABC, a bank out of the water, three strides to a left-hand brush corner, a question that caused a premature end to some riders’ days back in 2021.
“Through the water they’ve got to make sure they maintain that control but, at the same time, ride really positive up the bank to be able to get right into the base of that corner,” he said. “As we’ve seen in the past when we’ve used that area, a lot of times the horses jump up there [and] their stride gets quite short, then they get long to the next fence.”
They’ll catch another fly fence on their way back up the hill toward the infield and the Normandy Bank at 20AB and 21. The Normandy bank (a bank with a ditch in front of it) will be jumped on its own before competitors jump 20B and 21, a pair of offset brushes set as a combination but numbered separately. Unless things go seriously awry (in which case riders can jump the brushes individually without picking up a stop) riders should truck right along.
Another fly fence brings them to what will be a hugely popular combination for spectators, Cosequin Cove (23ABC). Here you’ll find an oversized corgi and his dachshund friend, who is part of the CCI4*-S course. The corgi sits atop the hill, and after jumping him, riders will gallop down into the water, up the hill to a righthand corner, turning left to a narrow double bush. This should be a fairly forgiving combination that will be fun for spectators to photograph.
They’ll catch three more straightforward fences on the way to the final combination, the Angled Trakehners at 27AB. Di Grazia noted that while the trakehners are skinny, they shouldn’t pose too much of an issue, but riders will want to be sure to stay on their line to get a comfortable three strides between on their likely tired horses. After that, just one fence, the Lucky Horseshoe at 28, stands between them and the finish line.
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