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Holder Hangs On to Lead at Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event
Lexington, KY, USA
by Amber Heintzberger
Photo: Anthony Trollope/
Becky Holder and Courageous Comet
A fit and focused Becky Holder maintained her overnight lead riding Courageous Comet in the dressage phase at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** at the Kentucky Horse Park presented by Farnam in Lexington, KY April 24-27, 2008. Yesterday, which happened to be Holder's 39th birthday, Holder and her elegant grey gelding performed an accurate and elegant test to score 39.3 matching her new age. Holder said that she was "sweating bullets" as she watched the second half of the field perform today, but her lead remained secure with Heidi White coming closest on Northern Spy with 40.6.

White has been training with multiple Rolex winner Kim Severson in dressage and said that she has improved her style and accuracy, which helped her earn extra points in the ring today. Last year White was the top-placing US rider at Rolex last year and is aiming to improve on her performance this year, but Holder saw the lead slip through her grasp two years ago in the final phase and certainly won't give anything away.

"I've been trying hard to concentrate on the moment," she said. "Tomorrow is a difficult day and I'll jump one jump at a time and hopefully finish clean and in the time."

White rode this morning and it took until the final horse in the arena, Phillip Dutton on Bruce Duchoissois' Connaught, for a new face to break into the top three.  Dutton's experience showed as he piloted the chestnut gelding around the electric arena that left several of the less experienced horses snorting and spooking earlier in the day. 19.756 spectators showed up, possibly a new record for dressage day at Rolex.

Dutton said, "I was pleased with the horse and as always there's room for improvement. It was very exciting with the amount of people there today. Connaught trotted well and though one of the canter changes has been a problem for us, overall I was happy with the test."

Young Rider Emilee Libby had a beautiful test on her big bay gelding Cahir to stand sixth after dressage on a score of 44.8. The other two Young Riders in this year's competition are Waylon Roberts on Paleface, 32nd, and Bonner Carpenter on Acapulco Jazz in 33rd.

Just a few foreign riders are trying their hand at Kentucky this year. Boyd Martin and Cammy O'Rourke are representing Australia and Polly Stockton is the only British rider this year, riding Charles Owen Tangleman who has already competed at Kentucky several times in his impressive career. She is placed ninth on 52.2 after dressage. Six Canadians made the trip to Lexington this year, with Mike Winter and King Pin leading the pack on 52.1 in tenth.

Competing in her and her horse's first four-star, Selena O'Hanlon of Elgin, Ontario made the trip south with her mother and coach Morag. Riding Colombo, Selena is tied for 20th with fellow Canadian Sandra Donnelly on Buenos Aires.

"I was pleased with my horse today - the electricity in the stadium actually helps him. Afterward I just dropped my reins and rode out on the buckle. Cross-country looks doable; there are a few big fences just to scare us but the rest is just grid work, and I like grid work."

Morag commented, "I'm very proud of her - it's a wonderful thing as her mother and coach and I was proud of the way she held it together in the ring today."

Sadly California competitor Gina Miles, who recently won the CIC*** at Galway Downs in Temecula, California had to withdraw from the competition after her horse McKinlaigh colicked last night. Fortunately he recovered from the bout but was of course not fit to compete this weekend.

With a recent rash of high-profile riders involved in riding accidents and an article on the front page of the New York Times two weeks ago highlighting the dangers of eventing there is an added emphasis on safety in the sport. USEF President David O'Connor said, "For several years the USEA has been focusing on safety...there is an inherent risk in the sport and we need to respect the risk and try to make it safe so that we can keep enjoying the sport that we enjoy now." Riding instructors should be aware that O'Connor said that one of the ways the USEA plans to improve safety is to make instructor certification mandatory.

When questioned about whether he will change his thinking about safety issues Captain Mark Phillips, chef d'equipe of the US team, said, "As course designers we have been looking at the safety issue for a long time. The construction and shape of the fences has changed a great deal and course designers around the world talk all the time, exchanging ideas, so it's an ongoing evolutionary process. We're not planning to change how we think about safety - we think about it every day, every week of every year."

Course designer Michael Etherington-Smith noted that he used frangible pins on several of the fences on course, but that pins are not applicable to all types of fences. He also pointed out that while pins can reduce the likelihood of a rotational fall, they cannot actually prevent a rotational fall.

On a less serious note the crowds enjoyed not only a good day of sport but an extensive trade fair and outside entertainment including a "celebrity" Pony Club games competition. With the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Kentucky 2010 fast approaching, the anticipation is tangible for not only tomorrow's cross-country excitement but for the future of eventing in Kentucky.

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