Lexington, KY - William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain smoothly rode Cool Mountain into the lead on the second and final day of dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Bridgestone. His score of 42.8 penalties put him just in front of the Thursday leader, Karen O'Connor on Mandiba, and Allison Springer on Arthur, each with 43.7 penalties. Three-time Rolex Kentucky winner Kim Severson, on Tipperary Liadhnan, lurks just behind in fourth place (44.8).
Rolex Kentucky marks the first four-star start for Cool Mountain, a 10-year-old English-bred Thoroughbred, but Fox-Pitt, 41, is one of the world's most accomplished riders and has been a stalwart of the British team for more than a decade. Still, he said he flew to Kentucky with education more on his mind than victory.
"Cool Mountain is a very talented horse on the flat and has been a pleasure to train. But I didn't expect it all to come together today-although I hoped it might," said Fox-Pitt with a smile. "To produce his best test today, in this atmosphere, is a credit to him, but I think he's got more in him."
This is the third Rolex Kentucky start for Springer, of Marshall, VA, and Arthur, an 11-year-old US-bred Thoroughbred-cross, but it's the first time they've been among the top three. "It's great to be here with these riders, for sure," said Springer, 35, as she sat at the press conference with international stars Fox-Pitt, Oliver Townend, O'Connor and Severson. "I've been working really hard to improve myself and my horse in all three phases, and I hope that this weekend we can really put it all together."
Townend of Great Britain, who has brought two horses to Rolex Kentucky seeking to win the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam, stands sixth on Ashdale Master Cruise (46.2) and ninth on ODT Master Rose (49.8). When asked what he thought of today's placings, he succinctly replied, "I'm not high enough." Townend, 27, added, "The horses were about as good as they could be today, but it's very tough competition we're up against."
Tomorrow's cross-country phase should be extremely influential, as course designer Michael Etherington-Smith has created a demanding track that could be made even more demanding by the rain that's forecasted. Just 7 points separate the top nine horses, with scores ranging from 42.8 to 49.8, and the next 25 horses have scores in the 50s. The difference between first and 35th places is 16.4 penalties, less than the 20 penalties that are added for a refusal or run-out at a jump.
Townend said his strategy on tomorrow's 11-minute course is simple: "Go clear inside the time."
But Fox-Pitt allowed that the weather might be a deciding factor tomorrow. He recalled that the last time he won the dressage phase at Rolex Kentucky was in 2002, when a deluge that began during the lunch break made the course barely rideable for the last several horses and he didn't even start on the cross-country course.
"I very much believe that [Cool Mountain] is ready, but this is certainly bigger than anything he's seen before," said Fox-Pitt. "I personally feel that last year was a bit trickier. Still, the weather could do anything tomorrow."
The Saturday weather forecast for Lexington calls for scattered thunderstorms, potentially with lightning and high winds late in the afternoon. Competition begins at 9:30 a.m. and is scheduled to continue until 3:30.
The Kentucky Cup Show Jumping Grand Prix, a test event for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Kentucky Horse Park's main arena. Beezie Madden, Olympic team gold medalist in 2004 and 2008, will be one of the riders competing in the Kentucky Cup.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Bridgestone, is America's only four-star competition and is a member of the HSBC Classic Series. The world's best horses and riders vie for $250,000 in prize money and the coveted Rolex Championship.
This year NBC has expanded its television coverage of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event from 60 to 90 minutes. The program will air on Saturday, May 15, from 3:00 to 4:30 EDT, just prior to the Preakness Stakes.