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Tight at the Top After XC at Rolex
Lexington, KY, USA

The gamble with the weather paid off on cross country day at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Bridgestone and the Organizing Committee was rewarded for their efforts and cancellation of the lunch break with a sunny cross country phase. The storms loomed toward the end of the day, but the competition went off unscathed and Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt held on to his lead with a text book double clear round on Cool Mountain to carry his dressage score of 42.8 into Sunday's show jumping.

One of the most decorated riders in the sport doesn't have much room for error, as two of America's top riders, Kim Severson and Becky Holder are just behind in second and third respectively. Both riding lovely grey horses, the women also jumped double clear but just barely behind them is Phillip Dutton on The Foreman and Woodburn in fourth and fifth - there are less than five points separating the five horses.

A three-time Rolex Kentucky CCI4* winner: Severson's faith in the giant Tipperary Liadhnan was rewarded. The 13-year-old Irish gelding romped around Mike Etherington-Smith's course easily and Severson (Scottsville, VA) was thrilled with his performance, finishing the cross country without adding anything to their dressage score of 44.8 leaving the pressure on Fox-Pitt.
William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain
"I am honestly surprised to be sitting here," said Severson at the press conference. "Cross-country is Paddy's strongest phase, aside from trotting the corner in the water, I am not sure what happened there. He did get more tired than I expected, he was really good up to minute nine."

Severson will have to use her considerable experience in tomorrow's show jumping - but she is one of the best, so Tipperary Liadhnan (owned by the Friends of Kim Severson Syndicate) couldn't ask for a better pilot. The pair lead the USEF National CCI4* Eventing Championship. It would be a record fourth title for Severson if she can pull it off.

"My horse will be good. It sort of depends on how I ride, if I choose to speak louder than I should it might hinder his jump, but hopefully it will go well and I'll give him a good ride," said Kim about the show jumping.

Just over 11 minutes, the course caused its share of troubles but those that went well made it look easy.

Holder (Wadesboro, NC) and Courageous Comet were in that category.  The 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding has been a little inconsistent at the highest level, but the Olympic veteran shone over the Kentucky bluegrass and finished spot on the optimum time of 11:08 despite taking one long route. They also finished on their dressage score and 45.2 leaves them very close to the lead.

"Comet doesn't really do well with changes in footing so I was a little concerned about the Lake," said Holder. "Then Phillip said that The Foreman had some trouble reading that so I opted to take the long route. Comet has a really good gallop so I trusted that if we were careful through the water we could still make the time. I made an effort to make all the lines clear and direct."

Holder makes it a point to take each day and each jump one at a time with Comet (who is owned by her husband Tom). Even though they have a very long partnership, she doesn't take anything for granted

"Even though this is his eighth four-star you still have to take the course jump by jump and work with the horse you have that day," said Holder.

Fox-Pitt will have his work cut out for him tomorrow, as Cool Mountain is contesting his first CCI4*. The 10-year-old gelding (owned by Teresa Stopford Sackville) rose to the occasion and lived up to the expectation.

"I am happy for sure," said Fox-Pitt. "You never know how it's going to go when you take a horse to a four-star for the first time. He's a bit lazy and probably would have liked to pull up after three minutes, but its part of what makes him so good at dressage. You also never know what the journey is going to take out of a horse. Today he fought a little harder than expected, but overall it was a fantastic day for us."

Fox-Pitt's fellow Brit, Oliver Townend, has his Rolex Grand Slam dreams looking like an uphill battle, in seventh after the cross-country on ODT Master Rose, he had a fall on his second horse Ashdale Cruise Master which meant he was Eliminated. Townend was transported to the hospital, but he was fully conscious.

There were 10 double clear rounds, four by Americans. Thirty horses had no jumping faults. Following tomorrow's show jumping the winner will be awarded fifteen points and the lead in the HSBC FEI Classics Series.

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