Germany’s Michael Jung has became the second rider in history to win the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event on the same horse in consecutive years. As a result, he has also taken a step towards winning the Rolex Grand Slam.
Jung’s winning score of 39.2 with Fischerrocana FST was 13.3 penalties clear of Lauren Kieffer on Veronica in second (52.5) with Maya Black and Doesn’t Play Fair in third (53.9).
Kim Severson on Winsome Adante is the only previous partnership to record consecutive Rolex Kentucky victories since it became a CCI4* in 1998. They won in 2004 and 2005, after also winning in 2002. In addition to the iconic Rolex watch that goes to the winner, Jung takes home the first prize of $110,000.
“I am normally not a man of many words or so much drama as this weekend has been,” said Jung. “I have to thank all the people behind me and my horses. It’s a success of the whole team. Every horse in my stable horse has had a part in it.”
On Saturday, Jung eagerly attacked the cross-country course as if it weren’t raining and the ground wasn’t muddy. The German added just 0.8 time penalties to increase his lead with Fischerrocana FST – the fastest horse around the course – to 12.3 points, giving him three fences in hand going into the show jumping.
It was a lesson in how to ride confidently and accurately around one of the world’s most difficult cross-country courses, designed by Derek di Grazia. Seeming oblivious to the conditions, he rode aggressively forward to every jump, often appearing to throw his heart to the other side while keeping his bay mare in perfect balance.
He admitted that his ride may not have looked as carefully planned as it was. “It was a really great feeling. She was really concentrated from the start box, and I knew we could gallop today,” he said. “I gave her more time in the beginning of the course, and at the end she had a enough power so that she could go faster. In the cross-country, you need a fighting horse, and she’s a really fighting horse, because not everything on the cross-country is perfect. You have to know your horse, like I do with her, because we’ve been together for many years.”
His attention now turns to the third leg of the Rolex Grand Slam, The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, which begins on Wednesday. His mount there will be La Biosthetique Sam, on whom he won the 2010 World Championships and 2012 Olympics. If Jung wins Badminton, he will become only the second rider to win the lucrative Grand Slam – the winner earns $350,000 – in the 16-year history of the prize. Britain’s Pippa Funnell is the only previous winner of the Rolex Grand Slam, in 2002-2003.
The key to winning Badminton and the Rolex Grand Slam, said Jung, is to ride like it’s a normal event. “I think always the same thing when I go a championship or a four-star event. I say to myself, ‘This is a normal competition.’ I try not to change anything. It’s important to win, but it’s important that you have a good feeling for the horse and that you have a good ride.”
Second placed Kieffer climbed from sixth place to finish behind Jung by adding just 1 time fault to her score. That propelled her up the standings when the four horses in front of her faulted, including Phillip Dutton’s third-placed horse, Mighty Nice, and his second-placed horse, Fernhill Fugitive. Dutton finished fourth on Mighty Nice, fifth on Fernhill Cubalawn, and 13th on Fernhill Fugitive.
For Kieffer, her placing made her the winner of the Rolex USEF Four-Star Championship for the second time, again on Veronica. Kieffer also finished 18th on Landmark’s Monte Carlo, with 20 show jumping faults. She also won the Land Rover Best Ride of the Day. With Landmark’s Monte Carlo, she was the American rider to finish closest to the optimum time of 11:15, just 7 seconds slow, winning a two-year lease on a Land Rover Discovery Sport as a result.
“Monte Carlo exceeded our expectations yesterday and had a learning experience today,” performing in front of the jam-packed Rolex Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park, said Kieffer. “But Veronica is better the more atmosphere she has. It lights her up a bit, and she tries harder.”
Black and Doesn’t Play Fair lowered one jump to move up one place from their two-phase standing. “He’s kind of a pain in the barn, but he’s a great little horse who comes to work everyday,” said Black of her 15.2-hand partner.
Britain’s two representatives were US based James Alliston and Parker and Panda Christie and Little Leo. Alliston finished in 27th whilst Christie finished 53rd.
Photography courtesy of John Waugh
Cross Country Action