William Fox-Pitt (GBR) kept the cool head for which he is famous to win his third Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in five years.
Fox-Pitt, already a triple winner of the FEI Classics™, now heads the 2013/2014 leaderboard by 15 points after three out of six legs.
The runner-up, Lauren Kieffer (USA), competing in only her second CCI4*, must have made American hearts beat faster with her brilliant clear Jumping round on Veronica which left Fox-Pitt no margin for error in a nail-biting finale.
But Fox-Pitt, who has now set a new record by winning the Kentucky CCI4* on three different horses, does not give away many prizes and he had Catherine Witt’s attractive bay gelding Bay My Hero jumping on springs to produce a faultless round.
“He was superb,” said Fox-Pitt breathlessly afterwards. “Lauren really put the pressure on me so I was going in there thinking I am so pleased that even if it’s not me then it’s going to be an American because the support is so amazing over here. The atmosphere in there is crazy; he jumped so well, he was magic!”
“It took a lot of focus to go in there and stay cool,” admitted 26-year-old Kieffer, who took over the ride on the 12-year-old mare from Karen O’Connor, with whom she is based in Virginia. “I tried to go in there and ride it like anything else. I think my coach will be pleased!”
New US team trainer David O’Connor had a dream weekend as home riders dominated the top placings, with Buck Davidson rising to third place with a clear round on Ballynoe Castle RM, revealing that the horse suffered pneumonia a couple of months ago. “He has been so consistent over his career and has such a great heart,” said Davidson. “You only have to tell him it’s Kentucky and he’ll go!”
Marilyn Little was fifth and sixth on RF Smoke on the Water and RF Demeter, and Jan Byyny climbed back up the order to seventh place on Inmidair.
“The Americans are looking really strong,” said Fox-Pitt. “We’ll all really have to watch our backs at the World Equestrian Games this summer.”
Fox-Pitt claimed another top-10 finish with ninth place on Seacookie TSF, last year’s runner-up, which is also owned by Catherine Witt, and Selena O’Hanlon was best of the Canadians in 10th place on Foxwood High.
Disappointingly for US supporters, Phillip Dutton (USA) withdrew Mr Medicott, with which he was lying third overnight, before the Jumping. Dutton did have the consolation of finishing eighth on the injured Boyd Martin’s ride Trading Aces and won a two-year lease on a Land Rover for having finished bang on the optimum Cross Country time the day before.
There were 11 clear Jumping rounds (one with a time fault) from the 37 finishers. Michael Pollard dropped from fifth to 14th when Mensa G hit three rails, while Andrew Nicholson (NZL) had an uncharacteristically disastrous round on Avebury, incurring 25 penalties to drop to 21st place.
Kentucky has provided an uplifting start to the 2014 international season and should whet the appetite for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (8-11 May) which takes place in a fortnight’s time. Fox-Pitt will hoping to maintain the momentum there, when he has the choice of former Kentucky winners Cool Mountain and Parklane Hawk, plus Chilli Morning.