Allison Springer has been in the catbird seat after dressage before, but not on the last day. This is her fifth Rolex with Arthur, and she entered the arena at 11:30 a.m. with the brilliant but somewhat quirky gelding who gave her pretty much everything she asked. The judges rewarded the duo’s test with a score of 39.8 penalty points, thereby ousting Parklane Hawk and William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on 41.3pp from the first place berth they had earned a couple of hours earlier. Allison and Arthur held their lead with no further threats until the close of Friday’s dressage rides.
Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen followed in third placeon 43.2pp, followed by Karen O’Connor, who yesterday stood second on Veronica (47.8) and on Firday rode Mr. Medicott into fourth place on a score of 44.2. Veronica stands ninth, but two in the top 10 going into the cross-country is a very nice place to be for a veteran like Karen. Her preparations have left no stones unturned in this bid for more than a Rolex watch: she’s going all-out for the Olympics. One thing’s for sure: even if a horse is somewhat inexperienced at the four-star level, a rider like Karen, mentally and physically up to the challenge, can make a monumental difference. [We can't help it: we're flat out rooting for her - as unprofessional as that might be, going on record and saying so - this is, after all a blog!] You gotta admire Karen: she may be 54, but she shows both attack and spunk; she’s ramped up her fitness to the nth degree, and she knows how to pursue with single-minded concentration her ultimate goal- those five rings at Greenwich Park in London – with a stop along the way in the top five at Rolex Kentucky…
Fox-Pitt, the 2010 Rolex Kentucky winner on Cool Mountain, has been one of Great Britain’s top international riders for more than a decade. He said he wasn’t sure if Parklane Hawk, on whom he won the Burghley Three-Day Event in England last September, will be ready to be his Olympic mount this summer.
“I think that this week will tell me more about the Olympics and this horse. If he goes well, then he could be the one,” said Fox-Pitt.
Clark Montgomery, 30, of Fairburn, Ga., has yet to ride on a U.S. team before, and Rolex Kentucky is Loughan Glen’s debut at the four-star level, which means the duo face the toughest cross-country that the horse has ever seen. But the rider has a game plan and is aware of the mental aspects of the training aspect of tackling Rolex.
“I’m going to try to be competitive, but if it any point I have to slow down or take a slower option, that’s what I’ll do,” stated Clark. “He needs to gain confidence from this event more than he needs to win this event.”
Fox-Pitt praised the cross-country course, designed for the second year by Derek di Grazia of Monterey, Calif. Fox-Pitt said that no one fence was causing him unusual anxiety.
“It’s a very clever course, and it’s a track that you can certainly attack, but I think it will have a cumulative effect going around,” said Fox-Pitt, noting that the third-last fence—two narrow brush fences with ditches below them—will require a tremendous physical and mental effort from horse and rider. “There are lots and lots of opportunities for things to go wrong, and you’ve got to keep on doing it.”
Echoing Fox-Pitt’s praise of di Grazia’s course, Allison said, “Derek designs a beautiful course, and there’s no one thing out there where I wondered what he was doing, but you do have to hold your line at almost every fence. They’re great questions, but there’s a lot to do out there.”
Allison Springer knows from experience not to take anything for granted on a di Grazia-designed course: the offset brush fences last year proved her Waterloo, so to speak: Arthur stumbled and she tumbled, resulting in immediate elimination after a clean and clear cross-country round following placing third in dressage.
Springer, 37, of Marshall, Va., noted that Arthur’s quirky personality has disappointed her here and at other events, but she explained that’s she’s riding him differently than in the past. They won their last start prior to Rolex Kentucky.
“My horse is a bit of a spook, and so I’ve had a bit of a different attitude this year. I’ve just really focused on my goals and the path I have to be on to get there with him. I’ve just tried to focus on having a good ride and to not think about the results, to try to keep him as relaxed as possible,” said Allison. “This is the first [dressage] test here at Rolex Kentucky that I’ve actually been really excited about. He tried so hard, and he listened to me, and I think the difference is the change in my approach.”
The first horse leaves the start box for the cross-country at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Follow the action at rk3de.org
We’ll post a quick update, if possible, during Saturday’s lunch break along with a quick report about the leaders at the conclusion of the cross-country in late afternoon before we head out to Thoroughbreds for All, presented by New Vocations and Retired Racehorse Training Project. Photos and more details late Saturday night and Sunday morning with a recap Sunday following the show jumping finale. Then it’s pedal to the metal to meet the print deadline with several pages of photographs capturing the excitement, drama and action.
You can see who’s where on the leaderboard and find all sorts of interesting “stuff” at 2012 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.