Lexington, KY. - Michael Jung of Germany took dead aim on becoming only the second rider win the Rolex Grand Slam by emphatically grabbing the lead at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Land Rover, riding Fischerrocana FST to an outstanding dressage score of 34.4 penalties.
The Rolex Grand Slam Trophy goes to a rider who wins the CCI4* events at Rolex Kentucky, Badminton (England) and Burghley (England) consecutively. After winning Rolex Kentucky in 2015, Jung did not ride at Badminton, but he did win Burghley (on Fischerrocana) in September. He would need to win this year's Rolex Kentucky and then Badminton next week on La Biosthetique Sam FBW to win the Rolex Grand Slam.
Only Pippa Funnell of England has won the Rolex Grand Slam before, in 2003.
Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp rode Fernhill By Night to a distant second place (43.0), and 2008 Rolex Kentucky champion Phillip Dutton rode Fernhill Fugitive to third place (43.1). Dutton also stands seventh on Fernhill Cubalawn (48.2) with a full day of dressage on Friday still to come.
Fischerrocana FST, 11, earned a score 5 points better than she did when winning in 2015. Jung, 33, declined to compare the two scores, however. "Every competition is different, and today we had different judges than last year, and this was a different test, so it's hard to compare the tests. But I had a really good start today," he said.
"I'm very happy with my dressage test," Jung added. "She was very concentrated. She traveled very well to Kentucky and was very nice to ride on the last few days, so I expected her to perform well."
Halliday-Sharp said she was pleased with the relaxation and obedience that Fernhill By Night, 13, showed. "'Blacky' is like a big, black Labrador," said Halliday-Sharp, of Ocala, Fla. "I got the warm-up right today, and he really worked with me. He really, really tried."
Dutton was pleased with the score the three judges (Ernst Topp of Germany, Sandy Phillips of Great Britain and Andrew Bennie of New Zealand) gave Fernhill Fugitive as the first horse in the ring.
"It's not always great going first-you never know what kind of score you're going to get. So I was pleased with the way he went. It was probably his best four-star score yet," said Dutton. "He's really matured. He's come together and is maturing, and he's a good-natured horse."
Did he think he could catch Jung aboard his third horse, Mighty Nice, on Friday? "I hope so," quipped Dutton with a smirk.
Once dressage is over, the riders' attention will turn fully to Derek di Grazia's cross-country course. "I'd say it's sort of what we expected-a big, forward-riding course," said Dutton. "If you're on a green horse, it can still be a good experience, but it's certainly strong enough to sort everyone else out."
Jung said that he believes that di Grazia's course is tougher than last year, because he uses the terrain of the Kentucky Horse Park more. And that could be a factor in determining the results if the rain that's predicted falls. But Jung said that the weather conditions will not change his riding attitude.
"When I come to a competition, I come to win. There is no other way," Jung said. "Fischerrocana gave me a very good feeling today, so I will ride her the best I can on Saturday and see how she goes in whatever the weather is."
Dressage competition resumes Friday at 8:30.
Known as the "Best Weekend All Year," the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is being held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, April 28-May 1.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by Land Rover is the nation's premier Three-Day Event and one of the most prestigious equestrian competitions in the world. The Fédération Equestre Internationale (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 World Championships and six annual events around the world. "Rolex Kentucky" is the only four-star event in the Western Hemisphere.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, May 8, 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.
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.
For more information, or to purchase tickets to the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by Land Rover, please visit the Rolex Kentucky website at www.RK3DE.org.