Michael Jung of Germany has won the top prize at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day-Event the last three years aboard Fischerrocana FST, so it comes as no surprise that after the first day of competition he is sitting in the top spot on a score of 27.1 penalty points. Chasing him are two Americans: Boyd Martin in second riding Tsetserleg (31.2) and Tamra Smith in third aboard Wembley (32.1).
Jung, 35, from Horb, Germany, may be the closest thing the sport has to a sure thing, but he doesn’t let that pressure get to him. “I think I always have pressure from myself,” Jung said. “When I go to the competition and I show, I want to give the people and myself the best results. So, that’s the pressure I have.”
Fischerrocana FST, a 13-year-old German-bred bay mare showed off her customary relaxation and focus in her test. “With Rocana, I know her. I know how I have to prepare her, and from every competition I get a bit more experience, so it makes it a bit easier,” said Jung. “I had two good competitions before this and she arrived here last Friday very well and she had a good feeling. Also, when I arrived I had a good feeling from her, which made the preparation much more relaxed.”
Tsetserleg is a gleaming, black 11-year-old Trakehner gelding who is contesting his first four-star, but he has history in his blood being a son of the Olympic and Kentucky competitor Windfall. “Thomas” put in a clean test punctuated with his flashy gaits.
“I was very pleased,” Martin, 38, of Cochranville, Penn., said, “It’s his first four-star, and our first through the new (dressage) test. When you finish you always wish one part here or there was a little better, but Thomas did as well as he could do for where we are at the moment. I’m very pleased with him.”
Martin’s most famous mounts have been Thoroughbreds, so a Trakehner like Thomas is a new experience for him. “He’s the first I’ve had into the top of the sport. Ten years ago when I first came to America I saw Windfall, and I’ll never forget watching his dressage. Who would have thought 10 years later I’d be riding a Windfall baby? Thomas’ personality is wonderful, like a big pony, very cuddly in the barn. At home he doesn’t try that much, and you wouldn’t think he could do a four-star, but then you get to a big competition and he grows into an 18-hand horse. The atmosphere perks him up.”
Kevin Baumgardner, an upper-level rider and a former president of the U.S. Eventing Association, bought Wembley in England originally as a competition mount for himself. Baumgardner trains with Smith, and last fall he handed over the reins to her.
“It’s been great,” Smith, 43, of Murrieta, Calif. said. “I’ll never forget when we tried him we took him cross-country schooling and he said, ‘You get on him first’ and I said, ‘No, because if I ride him I’ll just tell you to buy him.’ They are huge supporters of me, and that’s what its all about, really. They’ve become family to me, so to be here is really great.”
The big, gray Dutch Warmblood, 15, is a powerful mover and a flashy presence, but Smith seemed a little surprised to find herself in the top standings. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect, because he can go in and be quite tense in the ring, but he was quite relaxed, and very workmanlike,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked him to go better. I think I did a little too much warm up, so he got a little tired, but I was thrilled. He was very good.”
All three riders expressed some trepidation about Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course, which they will tackle on Saturday.
“I think this time the course has changed a lot compared to the last few years,” Jung said. “But it seems nicer to gallop, it’s a really nice track, the ground is perfect and the weather is great. I’m looking forward to the cross-country. There are many places with different jumps or alternate jumps, so you can change your options or your idea if feel your horse is tired. I really like it at the moment, but I have to walk a few more times.”
“I think it’s really tough,” admitted Martin. “The first half is forward and gallopy and looks nice, but the second half gets much more difficult, and we know horses tire a bit in that second half. It’ll be hard to make up time on course. (Di Grazia) usually gives us a nice long gallop somewhere in the second half, but not this year. It’s as tough as I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s pretty technical,” agreed Smith. “The Head of the Lake will be quite influential, and the brush combination towards the end might catch out some tired horses.”
The sun shone on the 6,026 spectators who turned out to watch the first day of dressage. Day two of dressage kicks off tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m.