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Becky Holder and Courageous Comet Lead the Pack After Cross-Country Phase at Rolex Kentucky
Lexington, KY, USA
Photos: Anthony Trollope/EWBNews.com

EWB News Service
Bonnie Mosser (USA)
It was a big and challenging course that greeted the 59 horse-and-rider combinations going into Saturday's grueling cross-country phase at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Farnam. And while many Kentuckians' minds were on next weekend's Kentucky Derby and the "most exciting two minutes in sports," the eventing world and tens of thousands of visitors to the nation's horse center in Lexington jammed the expansive cross-country course.

The course also proved, once again, how demanding and unexpected the results can be in eventing - perhaps the most challenging of all equestrian disciplines. With horses being withdrawn or retired left and right, the overall placings were sent into a scramble.

But it was a big smile across the face of Minnesota's Becky Holder. She and her Courageous Comet ran clear and maintained their 43.7 score carried over from the dressage phase. Somewhat of a "dark horse," the pair certainly proved the mettle over the Mike Etherington-Smith-designed course. The pair masterfully took on the course, described by most riders as being "very big."

"I kind of feel like Cinderella at the ball," said an elated Holder. "I keep waiting for the coach to turn back into a pumpkin."

She said that she looked forward to the final test of show jumping and that she has been focusing on it in her training. "My plan is to try to sleep tonight - if I can - and to really have a good plan for the show jumping...and to go in there and do the very best I possibly can."

Speaking about her horse, Courageous Comet, Holder said, "He's a very, very careful horse, but often if he hits a fence, he goes quicker across it, which causes him to have a flat rail rather than jumping higher up into the air. He's naturally a little bit suspicious of footing and color.

"You have to keep your pedal to the metal," said Holder. "It was touch-and-go...at the four minute marker, he clicked into gear and turned it on."

"My husband, Tom, keeps asking me if I know the answer to, 'What's the most important question on the course, Becky?' The answer is, 'The next one!'"

The pair stands strong going into the final day of the three-day test - show jumping.

It was a big jump up in the standings for Britain's Polly Stockton and her Tom Quigley, the 14-year-old bay Thoroughbred (owned by Anne Heston) who placed 20th in the European Championships (CCI*** without Steeplechase) at Blenheim. Standing with a score of 48.2, the pair cleared the expansive course, adding no time penalties to their score. It proved to be a very satisfying day for the pair, landing the only foreign rider in the top five spots going into show jumping.

Asked about this year's course, she replied, "I think the course was probably harder this year. In the beginning we thought it walked easier, but after we started watching everyone go, it was definitely apparent that it was going to be more difficult."

South Carolina's Heidi J. White, aboard her 13-year-old bay Thoroughbred, Northern Spy, climbed in the rankings (from 10th after dressage) with a clear round today. Her 49.4 score landed her in third place going into Sunday's show jumping round.

"The course was really wonderful," said White. "It's probably the best ride I have ever had on a four-star. He [Northern Spy] was pulling me the whole way."

Washington's Jessica Heidemann and her French Twist (a 15-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred-Belgian Warmblood gelding) sit in fourth position after posting no additional points to her dressage score of 50.6.

Amy Tryon's partner - the 12-year-old brown Thoroughbred Woodstock - carried her to fifth place on a score of 51.1 after their clear round.

EWB News Service
Polly Stockton (GBR)
"This is quite a green horse," said Tryon. "He was noticeably green and 'looky' in a couple of places...this is a big step up for him. I'm thrilled with him." But it was her Olympic partner, Poggio II, which ended as a surprise in being withdrawn.

A handful of horses withdrew or were retired within minutes from the start of competition. By day's end that list grew by leaps and bounds. William Fox-Pitt (pop music star Madonna's riding instructor) aboard Coup de Coeur was eliminated early on (he later retired his second mount Mr. Dumbledore). Retirees included Canadians Penny Rowland aboard Windswept and Garry Roque and Waikura. Two Americans joined them - Jonathan Holling withdrew Lion King II and Stephen Bradley withdrew his mount From. Bradley had stood in fifth place coming into the cross-country phase.

But the two biggest surprises of the day were the less-than-hoped-for performances of veteran Rolex champion Kim Severson (aboard Royal Venture) and Darren Chiacchia (aboard Windfall II).

Severson, who had elected to give her star partner, Winsome Adante, a rest this go round at Rolex, found herself unseated at the Head of the Lake. Royal Venture, the 16-year-old dark bay Thoroughbred owned by Plain Dealing Farm, and Severson simply couldn't make it through the tricky combination that proved to be too problematic a question.

A disappointed Severson found herself drenched from the lake and retired (uninjured). It was certainly a disappointing end to what many had hoped would be a surprise victory for the highly-respected rider. She took it all in stride, and with her other three Rolex watches and championship titles, she will most definitely return. However, it will be another year before she has a chance to add an unprecedented fourth Rolex watch to her already legendary collection, but she has her sights set on the challenges that the FEI World Equestrian Games will bring in August.

On the other hand, Chiacchia and Windfall II were high on the list of many to take home the big prize this year. Long lines filed out of the autograph sessions for the rider, a testament to his grassroots fan base.

There were problem across the course for the pair, and the Head of the Lake dealt them a heavy hand to answer. After stopping earlier in the course, Chiacchia did his best to maneuver the black Trakehner stallion through the Duck obstacles, but they proved too bold a test during today's campaign.

Another veteran competitor, Britain's Leslie Law found himself and his partner Shear L'Eau, Gold medalists from the 2004 Athens Olympics, retiring as well. Law placed third at last year's event aboard Coup de Coeur (ridden this year by

It was an unlucky day for the Davidson family, too, as both father (Bruce) and son (Buck) saw three of their mounts call it quits. Davidson, Sr., withdrew both Jam and Little Tricky, while his son withdrew Idalgo.

Phillip Dutton, who last year placed an amazing three horses in the top five spots, found himself setting at a tie for 13th place aboard Connaught and at 28th aboard Amazing Odyssey.

Australia's indomitable Andrew Hoy placed two mounts in the top 10 - Master Monarch (seated at 6th place and a score of 53.1) and Yeoman's Point (seated at 8th on a score of 55.8). Hoy and Master Monarch placed third overall at the 2005 CCI**** at Badminton. Hoy guided Yoeman's Point to an 8th place at last year's Rolex event.

Rounding out the top 10 spots headed into the final and lightening-fast show jumping phase were Nathalie Bouckaert-Pollard and West Farthing (7th with 55.0 points); Buck Davidson aboard his Hyperlite (9th with 57.5 points) and former two-time Rolex Champion and Olympic medalist Karen O'Connor and Upstage (10th with 58.0 points).

The 2006 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the sole CCI**** in the U.S., and this year's challenge will serve as the lead qualifier for the U.S. for the 2006 WEG in Aachen, Germany. In addition, to serving as the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) National CCI**** Eventing Championship, the event will crown the winner of the 9th Annual Rolex/United States Equestrian Federation CCI**** Championship for the Pinnacle Cup - awarded to the highest-placed U.S. rider.

Copyright © EWB News Service