It’s a good thing that the 2015 Rolex Kentucky event had such a strong foreign contingent because otherwise people would think that Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course was impossible.
New Zealand’s Tim Price, Germany’s Michael Jung and Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt gave out riding lessons to the rest of the field. We are fortunate that Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin have joined the U.S. team as free agents, or otherwise it would be a pair of relative newcomers in Colleen Rutledge and Elisa Wallace to lead the way, with just one other U.S. veteran, Will Coleman, in the top placings after cross-country.
Despite torrential rains the bluegrass turf here at the Kentucky Horse Park held up remarkably well. Course builder Mick Costello and his crew had a great deal to do with that because there was a lot to be done. The footing was slick on a few turns, but the takeoffs remained acceptable throughout the duration of the competition. Di Grazia once again proved that he is in the top flight of international course designers. I hope that he is showing his compatriots how to design cross-country courses that truly cross the country rather than presenting an endless succession of angles, corners, wedges and tricks. The course was designed to produce aggressive, forward riding, and we certainly saw that from the riders in the top places. Dutton, in seventh on his top horse Mighty Nice, rode as well as I have seen him ride in years, and sixth-placed Master Frisky (Martin) showed his inexperience at places but benefitted from Boyd’s expertise. Hopefully Coleman, in eighth place with Obos O’Reilly, is ready to fulfill the promise that he has shown for a long time now.
It would be wrong not to make a special acknowledgement of Shiraz and the trip that he and Rutledge produced as the icebreakers. This makes his seventh four-star, and he has yet to have a cross-country jumping fault. Rutledge, now in 14th place on him, later admitted to me that she had no idea what her time was until she crossed the finish line because she was going so fast she was afraid to move her hand on the reins. I have watched this horse throughout his career. This is the best he has ever gone, and I am thrilled for the two of them. Both Rutledge and Wallace have made the rest of the U.S. eventing scene sit up and take notice as they rode very, very heady rounds on horses that are green (Rutledge had a second clear round about her homebred Covert Rights, a four-star first timer currently in 10th) at this level. James Alliston’s double clear with Parker gives me hope that our West Coast riders have learned how to be competitive at the four-star level.
We saw some lovely performances from our team veterans, but the killer instinct is still lacking. Until our riders take their cross-country riding to the next level, Michael Jung, “the terminator” and his European friends will fly over here every year and once again terminate our riders’ dreams.
For a full report from Rolex Kentucky CCI****, check out the May 11 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.