Lexington, Ky. - The last time Michael Jung rode at the Kentucky Horse Park, he won the individual gold medal at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. This year he's back, with two horses, to ride for the first time at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, and he took a commanding lead on the first day of dressage, scoring 39.3 on Fischerrocana FST. On Friday, Jung, 32, will ride La Biosthetique Sam FBW, with whom he also won the 2012 Olympics, at 3:54 p.m. Laine Ashker rode Anthony Patch to second place (44.2), and Phillip Dutton rode Fernhill Fugitive to third (47.3) and Fernhill Cubalawn to seventh place (50.9). "Today was one of her best tests. She gave me a really good feeling. She was clean and quiet, and I could do everything I wanted to do the first time," said Jung. "Sam is in very good form, but he is nervous and more difficult to ride, so we will see tomorrow if he beats her."
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the year's first leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, which awards $350,000 to a rider who can win Rolex Kentucky, the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (Eng.) and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (Eng.), in succession, but not necessarily on the same horse. Only one rider-Pippa Funnell of Great Britain in 2003-has ever won it.
Jung said that he decided to bring both of his four-star horses to Rolex Kentucky, instead of sending one to the Badminton in two weeks, because, "I'm more focused on the championships, and I have to choose one or the other. I cannot do it all." Plus, "I have very good memories from Kentucky. It's a really nice place with really good conditions for the horses and good places for you to work them. And it's a very quiet stadium," he said.
Ashker, 31, of Richmond, Va., has been honing her dressage skills by competing at Intermediaire I in dressage on another horse, so she was expecting a good test. But on Wednesday Anthony Patch became very anxious during the ring-familiarization session. She said she got off and left the Rolex Arena before he became too upset, but then she was very pleased when he went in the ring and stayed focused on her. "I was pretty stoked today. It was pretty damn good. It's been a long time coming, and those were tears of joy I was wiping off my eyes at the end," said Ashker.
Dutton, 51, the 2008 Rolex Kentucky winner, said he was "pleased-ish" with the performance of his two horses. "Fernhill Fugitive is the greenest of them. I didn't ride him this morning, which goes against all my instincts, but he went down there and worked in well in the ring," said Dutton, of West Grove, Pa. "Fernhill Cubalawn was going great, but I asked him to do a little bit too much, and he lost it in the canter. I could have given him a better ride. As for Mighty Nice- I hope he beats them tomorrow."
Jung and Dutton each have one more horse to compete on Friday, but on Saturday their attention will be on Derek di Grazia's cross-country course. Ashker, riding for the eighth time riding at Rolex Kentucky, has all day Friday to ponder the course. She says that "the course is a lot more open in the first half. It's going to be good for my horse, but my job is to get him settled and jumping well early in the course. I have to remember to keep a hold of him in the beginning and not to wear him out."
Dutton, who has ridden at Rolex Kentucky every year since it became a CCI4* in 1998 (and placed in most of them), called di Grazia's course "as big as I've ever seen here. It wouldn't be super-technical, but it's super-big-and it doesn't let up. There's not a lot of room for error."
Jung wasn't able to describe the differences between this course and the one he rode in 2010, designed for the last time by Michael Etherington-Smith. But he did say, "The park is very hilly, so you're always going up or down, and that's tough on the horse. They are very big fences-there is a lot to jump. It's tough, but the jumps are very clear for the horses."
Thursday's paid attendance was 7,230.
"Rolex Kentucky" is one of the world's most prestigious equestrian competitions, and is one of only six Four-Star Three-Day Events in the world and the only one in the Western Hemisphere. It is a part of the FEI Classics Series, which unites the top four-star Eventing competitions from around the world. It also gives competitors a shot at the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, which is awarded to any rider who wins the Rolex Kentucky, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley Four-Star Events in succession.
The Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge is featured again this year, awarding $20,000 in prize money while helping national teams prepare for the team competition at the Pan American Games this summer. The winning nation will be the nation with the fewest penalties after adding together the final scores of the three highest-placed individuals from that nation. The prize money will be split among the top four teams.
Held in conjunction with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the $120,000 Kentucky Reining Cup, the crown jewel of the annual FEI Reining schedule, which features an FEI-recognized CRI3* event. The Kentucky Reining Cup also includes the World Freestyle Championship which will award the title of "World Champion" in Freestyle Reining, as well as $20,000 prize money that will mark the largest purse for a Reining Freestyle anywhere in the world.
Known to fans as "The Best Weekend all Year," the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event offers something for everyone: the highest level of equestrian competitors, tailgating, music, shopping, bourbon tastings, and, new this year, a 5K and a Commemorative Maker's Mark Bottle Fundraising Auction and Reception. Visitors also receive general admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, America's only theme park dedicated to horses.
Horses and Hope, a breast cancer initiative of the Office of Kentucky's First Lady and the Kentucky Cancer Program (KCP), is the Official Charity of the 2015 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by Land Rover and will be the recipient of the proceeds from the Maker's Mark Commemorative Bottle Auction and Reception. Tickets to this fundraising event are $200 per individual or $300 per couple. A voucher worth $100 will be included with each individual or couple ticket purchased. That voucher can be used during the bottle auction. Tickets will not be available at the door. Limit of one bottle per ticket.
Call (859) 254-8123 to order tickets.
Equestrian Events, Inc. has a long history of making financial contributions to charities that support local equine interests and serve the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The mission of Horses and Hope is to work alongside the state's equine industry to provide breast cancer awareness, education, screenings, and treatment referrals. Since the program was founded in 2008, Horses and Hope has reached nearly 1 million race track and horse show attendees, and educated nearly 16,000 equine employees. The program has screened nearly 700 workers and detected breast cancer in three individuals who have received treatment.
For more information please visit www.horsesandhope.org.
Equestrian Events, Inc. is a non-profit charitable Kentucky corporation that was established initially to produce the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park. Following the success of those championships, EEI established an annual event that evolved into the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by Land Rover. Coverage of America's only Four Star Event includes an NBC broadcast - the Rolex Equestrian Championships presented by Land Rover - which will air on Sunday, May 3 at 12:30 pm EDT.
All four days of the competition is being streamed online LIVE on www.USEFNetwork.com, presented by SmartPak, beginning on Thursday, April 23.
For equestrian fans throughout the rest of the world, FEI TV is airing LIVE coverage of Saturday's cross-country and Sunday's show jumping competitions. To sign up for FEI TV, visit www.feitv.org.
For more information visit the Rolex Kentucky website at www.RK3DE.org