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The Wait is Over: Dutton Finally Wins Rolex
Lexington, KY, USA
by Amber Heintzberger
Photo: Anthony Trollope/
Phillip Dutton (USA) and Connaught
After finishing second five times at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, Phillip Dutton finally claimed the top prize and his Rolex watch today at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington riding Connaught, a 17-year-old Irish TBX gelding by Ballysimon out of Bromehill Rogue and owned by Bruce Duchossois of Aiken, SC. It was also the first time that Dutton, a world-renowned event rider who has competed at multiple Olympic and World Equestrian Games, won a four-star level event.

"I haven't been too worried that I hadn't won," said Dutton. "A few times I was lucky to be second - just once, on True Blue Girdwood, I was in first and had a rail down."

Dutton's wife Evie said, "I'm so happy for him to win Rolex. He says it never mattered to him that he hadn't won, but he works so hard. I'm obviously biased but I think he's the best rider and not to have won a four-star, this is an affirmation of his hard work and skill and dedication." She also noted that Ducossois had never been able to attend Kentucky because of scheduling conflicts, so it was a bonus that he could be here this year.

It was also a fun weekend for Evie's daughter Leelee, 14, from Evie's first marriage, who groomed for Phillip. "She has been a great help and she loves it, and she loves Phillip - they have a great relationship," said Evie. "Her birthday's in April so coming to Rolex is her birthday present. She rides too and is competing Hannigan, a horse Phillip used to ride, at training level and won her first event at Plantation last week."

20,462 fans packed the stands today, cheering wildly when riders had a successful round and gasping when the rails fell. Dutton, 44 of West Grove, PA was second going into stadium jumping, and put in one of only two clear rounds all day), inside the time allowed (the other was Stephen Bradley on Brandenburg's Joshua). They finished on a score of 41.7 to put the pressure on overnight leader Becky Holder, who started with 39.3, riding her ex-racehorse and longtime international eventing partner Courageous Comet, who could not afford to have a rail down.

Holder, 39 of Mendota Heights, MN spent the winter working hard on stadium jumping - two years ago she was in the lead on Sunday at Rolex and had several rails down, and she did not want to repeat history. Unfortunately today a rail came early in the course, and then a brick was knocked out of the wall, but Holder's new poise and confidence under pressure showed when she left the rest of the rails in their cups, even over the very upright and airy white planks at fence 8, which was a bugaboo for many riders on course - including Dutton's first ride, Woodburn, owned by Acorn Hill Farms, who had three rails down in total.

"I was thrilled with my round and not too sad to have come second to Phillip Dutton," smiled Holder. "I expected a clear out of Phillip since Connaught consistently performs not just clear rounds, but beautiful clear rounds. I kept my concentration and focus and I'm happy with the improvements that Comet and I have made throughout the season."

Dutton commented later, "I was disappointed with my ride on Woodburn and I wanted to redeem myself [on Connaught]. I didn't like the way he started out in warm-up today so I made some adjustments and got some advice from Mark Phillips. I rode him forward to the jumps; he never wants to hit a rail but he often has a hard time making the time."

Since only two horses went clean, leaving as many rails up as possible became essential to placing well today. Holder finished second while Missy Ransehousen and Critical Decision, an enormous Irish gelding owned by Missy's mother Jessica, a renowned dressage rider and judge, had one rail down to finish fourth.

Ransehousen has had Critical Decision since he was three and has done all his training herself. Since this is an Olympic year it might be assumed that her sights are set on taking him to Hong Kong, but she has other plans - she is the official coach for the US Para Equestrian team and is already signed on to go to Hong Kong in that capacity.

"I'm happy enough to do the coaching - last summer when I agreed to it I never thought I'd be in this position," she said. "He's a big horse and it's going to be hot in Hong Kong. You never want to turn down the Olympics but I'd rather come here for the World Games."

Critical Decision has been for sale and while Ransehousen would love to take him to the WEG, she said that she would never turn down a good offer to a good home. "If I can't take him to the WEG I hope someone else can, because I think he's that caliber of a horse," she said.

Stephen Bradley and Brandenburg's Joshua moved up from tenth to fourth on their double clear round, followed by Kim Severson on her own Tipperary Liadhnan, also of Irish descent, who had one rail and four time faults. Karen O'Connor and everyone's favorite super pony Theodore O'Connor had two rails and finished in the time to place sixth overall, moving up from eleventh place.

The top placing foreign rider was Australian Boyd Martin riding Neville Bardos, a striking chestnut ex-racehorse with a bald face named after a notorious Australian gangster. The pair had three rails down and two time faults and finished in a tie for ninth place with Phillip Dutton on Woodburn. Fellow Aussie Cammie O'Rourke finished eleventh riding Kirby Park Irish Jamie.

It was not certain that Martin would ride today, after he took a swim facedown in the Head of the Lake yesterday when his other horse, Ying Yang Yo took a big leap in over the second brush into the water and apparently knocked Martin unconscious. He was helped ashore by a couple of volunteers and tried to remount before medics took him aside. Later he was checked out at the hospital and after a CT scan he was given the all clear to ride his Neville on Sunday.

Mike Winter was the leading Canadian riding Kingpin, finishing 12th overall. He also had three rails down. Allison Springer and Arthur had been fifth after cross-country but finished 13th after four rails down.

The Markham Trophy for the highest placing Young Rider did not find a home this year. Sadly Bonner Carpenter's Acapulco Jazz did not pass the final veterinary inspection, nor did Canadian Waylon Roberts' Paleface.

The most heartbreaking ride of the day belonged to 22-year-old Cayla Kitayama, a student of Phillip Dutton (as well as Boyd and Silva Martin) who was placed 21st going into show jumping. After a fantastic cross-country round yesterday Kitayama looked poised to finish her first four-star attempt in style, but halfway around the course she jumped the first fence instead of fence seven and was eliminated from the competition.

If there was an award for good sportsmanship, Kitayama should receive it. After her ride she was smiling and enthusiastic about coming back next year to complete the event. "In the end I have more confidence for next year," she said. "The amount of support from my friends and family has been amazing, and everyone knows how much it takes just to drive into the Horse Park with a horse for this event. To get here and do it is a dream, no matter what happens."

Kitayama is originally from California and has been eventing since age 9. She attended Villanova University Pennsylvania in order to train at Dutton's True Prospect Farm, and graduated in three and a half years with honors, all the while competing at the upper levels. Her dedication to improving her riding and her education are sure to take her far.

Dutton said, "I told Cayla yesterday [after cross-country] that I couldn't be more proud. It's a big horse for her - she's a tiny girl - and she'll have another day. She's a strong girl and it'll be okay for her."

Looking forward to the Olympic Games this summer, Dutton, who won team gold in 1996 riding True Blue Girdwood and in 2000 riding House Doctor, both for his native Australia, has four candidates for Hong Kong: Connaught, Woodburn, TruLuck and The Foreman.

Now riding for the United States, Dutton said, "To get to the Olympics is a dream everyone has - that hasn't worn off me and it'd be a great thrill."

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