Riders in Mad Dash Across Atlantic for Start of HSBC FEI Classics™

This weekend’s Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event (22-25 April) could not be a more gripping start to the 2010 HSBC FEI Classics™ season of five 4* events. As a host of US and Canadian riders gear up for what will be a crucial showcase for selection for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at Kentucky (USA) in September, two British riders were facing a race against time to get there in time just to start the competition.

With all Northern European flights grounded due to the Icelandic volcanic ash crisis, last year’s HSBC FEI Classics™ winner Oliver Townend, who is bidding to become only the second rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, and William Fox-Pitt had to travel by private plane and car from Britain to Madrid in Spain where they were hoping to catch a plane to Miami, and then across country to Lexington.

Fortunately, their horses had already flown before the global emergency hit. Townend, winner of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials and Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials last year, has ODT Master Rose, 5th at Boekelo CCI*** (NED) and 3rd at Blenheim CIC*** (GBR) last year, plus a new ride, Ashdale Cruise Master.  

The latter was 26th at Burghley CCI**** and 5th at Bramham CCI*** last year with Emily Gilruth (GBR), who is having a baby. The partnership with Townend got off to a nervous start with a fall in a national event, but things looked up with an emphatic  win earlier this month at the Burnham Market CIC*** (GBR).

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Townend, who finished 8th on Carousel Quest at Kentucky last year at his first attempt. “I’ve just got to try and do what I did at Badminton and Burghley. Ashdale Cruise Master is a really classy horse and it’s now up to me to get them both prepared well. I know that there will inevitably be a lot of interest in how I do, but I’ve just got to forget the pressure and view Kentucky as another event that I’d rather like to win!”

Fox-Pitt, a perennial visitor to Kentucky, rides Cool Mountain, winner of Blair Castle CCI*** (GBR) last year, while two other riders who may struggle to travel to Kentucky are Ireland’s Geoff Curran with The Jump Jet and France’s Stanislas de Zuchowicz on Quirinel du Bastide.  

However, there’s no such problem for an intriguing third British entry in Leslie Law, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist. Now based in the US, he rides Fleeceworks Mystere du Val in what will be his first 4-star ride since 2005.

Home Challenge
Once there, the Europeans, however, have a strong challenge to face from the home side. Phillip Dutton (USA), always a hard man to beat, has three rides: Kheops du Quesnay, a new ride at this level, Waterfront, The Foreman, and Woodburn, who may not be able to travel to Badminton. His Olympic team mates Amy Tryon (Leyland, Coal Creek) and Karen O’Connor (Mandiba) are also in the 71-strong field, plus last year’s leading American Buck Davidson (3rd on My Boy Bobby), who this time rides Titanium.

Searching for WEG Clues

Kentucky has received 71 entries, one of the biggest fields since the event became 4* in 1978, but anyone looking for clues in advance of the WEG may be disappointed. Cross-Country Course-Designer Mike Etherington-Smith (GBR), whose last year it is at Kentucky, was another to be stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic. “It will all be completely different in September,” he promises. “This weekend course goes the same way around as usual and I’ve made a few changes, but I’m keeping the main ideas up my sleeve for the WEG.”

71 entries received from 8 nations (Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, USA)

There are 3 former Kentucky winners in the field, all US: Karen O’Connor (1999, Prince Panache), Kim Severson (2002, 2004, 2005, Winsome Adante) and Phillip Dutton (2008, Connaught)

The Rolex Grand Slam (worth $350 to the winner) is for the rider who can win Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley consecutively; it has only been won once before, by Pippa Funnell (GBR) in 2003

HSBC FEI Classics™ Calendar of Events in 2010
1. 21-25 April -  Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event (USA)
2. 30 April - 03 May Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR)
3. 17-20 June - Luhmühlen CCI**** presented by E.ON Avacon (GER)
4. 2-5 September – Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR)
5. 4-7 November – Les Etoiles de Pau (FRA)   

Prize Money
HSBC will contribute US$ 1million to the series over the next three years. Prize-money is awarded to the top five riders on the leaderboard after the fifth and final event:

1st - US$ 150,000 (Series Champion)
2nd - US$ 75,000
3rd - US$ 50,000
4th - US$ 33,000
5th - US$ 25,000

Very good news for the international equestrian community as FEI TV (www.feitv.org) will offer live streaming and extensive Video on Demand coverage from the first leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™, the Rolex Three Day Event in Lexington, KY.

The provisional schedule for the live broadcasts is as follows:
Saturday, 24 April 2010: 15:00-22:00 CEST / 13:00-20:00 GMT Cross Country
Sunday, 25 April 2010: 19:00–20:30 CEST / 17:00-18:30 GMT Jumping

Please check www.feitv.org for broadcasting times and further details!

1. Oliver Townend (GBR) - US$ 150,000;
2. Dirk Schrade (GER) - US$ 75,000;
3. Andreas Dibowski - (GER) US$ 50,000;
4. William Fox-Pitt (GBR) - US$ 33,000;
5. Sam Griffiths (AUS) - US$ 25,000