Lexington, KY- Among the more than a dozen top-scoring performances in the dressage ring before a crowd of 13,402 at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Land Rover, none was quite so excellent as Clark Montgomery's aboard Loughan Glen, who stands firmly ahead of the pack with an epic score of 33.6. At the end of the dressage phase, defending champion Michael Jung of Germany and FischerRocana FST stand second (37.1) while three-time winner Kim Severson is holding down third with a new horse, Cooley Cross Border (41.0).
Known as the "Best Weekend All Year," the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by Land Rover is being held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, April 27-30.
"I was really happy," said Montgomery, 35, Lexington, Ky. "He came out this morning for his pre-ride and was a little on the muscle, so I didn't know what he was going to be like in the test. But he came back out for warm-up and felt good, and in the test he felt great."
Montgomery is a recent transplant to the Lexington area, having returned to States after several years of living in England. "I think it will be a great place to have a business and a great place to raise a family," he said.
In addition to being in the overall lead, as the highest-placed American, Montgomery also leads the Rolex/USEF CCI4* Eventing National Championship.
Jung comes into this weekend as the favorite, as his list of CCI4* wins is long and impressive, especially at the Kentucky Horse Park. Although he is standing in second, he was still pleased with his mare's competitive performance.
"I was very happy; she was very nice to ride," said Jung, 34, Horb, Germany. "She was very relaxed, so I could try to go forward and push her a little bit to get some very good marks. I think it was a very good test for her, but maybe not good enough.
"I was not watching the dressage today but maybe I should have, I heard it was very beautiful," he finished, indicating Montgomery's ride.
Severson is a veteran and has three Rolex Kentucky titles to her name, but Cooley Cross Border is competing for the first time at this level. She was thrilled with how he handled the atmosphere in the Rolex Stadium for today's dressage.
"My horse was fantastic today," said Severson, 43, Charlottesville, Va. "He has really grown up a lot over the last six months. I got most of my flying changes today, which has been my thing, but I couldn't have been happier with him. He was quite good."
With dressage day behind them, tomorrow's run over Derek di Grazia's cross-country course now looms prominently in the riders' minds. The weather is predicted to turn stormy overnight, but be clear and hot by the time the horses start at 10:00 a.m., and the heat will factor in the rider's preparation.
"We have very good conditions (now), and if it's not too hot tomorrow, I think we will have a lot of fun," Jung said. "I will check on Rocana in the morning, and if everything looks perfect, I won't ride her again before the warm-up."
"Glen goes out early in the morning and gets loosened up, and especially with the heat, I'll do most of my warm-up in the early morning," Montgomery said. "So all I have to do in the afternoon is a little trot, canter and just jump a few jumps."
"Here in Kentucky we're very lucky to have the closed-circuit TV to watch the early riders go," Severson said. "I haven't decided about my warm-up yet. I'm going to have a look around (in the morning) and decide what to do."
Di Grazia's course is big and galloping, and it's clear by the placement of some of the more challenging combinations, he expects the riders to leave something in the gas tank as they go around the course.
"I'm worried about the heat," Montgomery admitted. "Glen doesn't like the heat, though he likes the fast ground here. Derek's done a beautiful job. You just have to ride well. For Glen, we just have to make sure we don't come out too fast because it's big and tricky all the way around, and at the end of the course you need ridability."
"I think it's a very nice course," Jung said. "It's changed a bit from last year, and it's a bit better for galloping in a rhythm. In the beginning, to not have (two water combinations) directly is nice, but it's very tough and there are some big fences and some tricky combinations in the end."
"I think a lot of us are going to find out a lot about our horses tomorrow," Severson said. "Hopefully, we're all smart."
In the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge, the combined team of New Zealand/France/Germany (Michael Jung (GER), FischerRocana FST, 37.1; Maxime Livio (FRA), Qalao Des Mers, 44.6; Tim Price (NZL), Ringwood Sky Boy, 46.9; Joe Meyer (NZL), Clip Clop, 57.4) leads with a score of 128.6 over Team USA (133.8) and Team Canada (147.7).
Dressage day ended on a sentimental note as fan favorite Alison Springer rode her venerable partner Arthur into the Rolex Stadium for the last time. Arthur was recently diagnosed with a cardiac condition that will bring his career as an event horse to an end, and he will be retired in a formal ceremony later in the year but, with the permission of the ground jury, Springer performed one last dressage test in the arena that has seen so many memorable moments for them. The crowd surged to its feet, screaming and cheering as she performed her final halt, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Springer broke down in tears as she cantered a victory lap around the arena to a standing ovation.
Following the end of this afternoon's press conference, Jung received with a replica of the massive sterling silver Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing trophy he won last year for winning Rolex Kentucky, Badminton (Eng.) and Burghley (Eng.) consecutively. This trophy has only been won one other time, when Pippa Funnel did it in 2003. Jung also took home $350,000 in prize money for his Rolex Grand Slam victory.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the nation's premier Three-Day Event and one of the most prestigious equestrian competitions in the world. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the world's governing body of equestrian sports, has designated the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event as a 'Four Star' eventing competition, the highest designation, which is given only to the Olympic Games, World Championships, and six annual events around the world. "Rolex Kentucky" is the only Four Star event in the Western Hemisphere and is part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. It hosts the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge and serves as the Rolex/USEF CCI4* Eventing National Championship.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, May 7, from 1:30-3:00 p.m. EDT. USEFNetwork.com will livestream the competition in its entirety live as it happens and will also have the coverage available on demand. FEITV.org will also livestream the event internationally.
Further information is available at the event's official website at www.RK3DE.org.